The Art of Blending
Blended whisky is only a Scotch thing right? After all it says blended malt right on their bottle. To the untrained eye this would appear correct. Many people believe this is a true statement but in fact the majority of whiskies on the shelves today are blended. Even bourbons are blended whiskies because the very popular mass produced bottles such as Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, and Evan Williams are all blended whiskies. At the heart of the word is the simple definition of blending being the action taken of mixing or combining things together. These mass produced delicious works of art are the result of taking thousands of barrels or “single barrels’ and mixing them together to create the staple flavor profile that people love and then bottling that mixture once it has reached its desired taste. So why doesn’t the bottle say blended bourbon? This is because though they are technically a blended whiskey the mixture is of the same mash bill and there is not a mixture of specific grains. For example, if you had one whiskey that was distilled using 100% corn and a second whisky using 100% malt, barreled separately, and then after the set aging period you opened them up and mixed them together this would be considered a blended whiskey. You could then choose to label it a blended whisk(e)y or a blended “grain” whiskey. Another aspect of blending whisky especially in Scotland or Ireland the blends usually come from different distilleries. On the labels whenever you see the word Blend or Blended it refers to the product combing whiskies from different distilleries to produce a specific flavor profile.
In Scotland during the 1800’s producers would use this process to help smooth out the whisky because most was heavily peated and since peat is such a strong and overpowering flavor they would bring in neutral grain spirits to mix with it so it was drinkable and more demanding by their consumers. Because of this the blended malt business started to take off and blended malts were the most popular form of the spirit for quite a while afterwards. As the years went by, understanding of the distilling process increased, the introduction of sherry and bourbon casks, producers of single malts were honing in on their craft. This resulted in single malts starting to become more in demand again for their uniqueness and drinkability. Having the ability to tap into the flavor profile sparked the single malt movement but blends will always be at the forefront of the industry. This is due to 2 major reasons. The first reason is because blends were the first to market, people knew blends, they trusted blends and typically you could rely on blended malts to be suitable to the many palates that people have. The second reason is because of affordability. Creating a blended whisky is much cheaper, and quicker than producing a single malt. Single malts in Scotland are usually aged for long periods of time and as we know from the last blog, the longer the amount of time that a whisky spends in a barrel the more that is lost to the angels share through evaporation.
Going back to the basic definition of blending, the act of mixing things together means that even you can get started in your own blending experiments. The idea of blends started to create something new and enjoyable. So go ahead and grab your favorite single barrel expressions and mix them together in the pitcher and have yourselves a party! Just don’t tell anyone you did or else the whisky snobs might disown you for life!