To create a blended Scotch whisky of staggering complexity, you do not necessarily need to merge a huge number of components. In fact, you can achieve something truly remarkable by blending as little as two differing ingredients. That is the concept behind The Double Single by Compass Box, the latest expression of which is a marriage of a caramel-creamy malt whisky from Glen Elgin and an apple-fruity grain whisky from Girvan. In the following interview, whiskymaker Jill Boyd fills us in on the story behind this precious pour. Along the way, she also shares a ton of insights into the refined art of whisky making and the eventful history of the Scotch industry.
BarleyMania: First of all, congrats on the release of your new The Double Single, which hit shelves in Europe in early May and will launch in the US in the beginning of June. The concept of making a blend from only two components – one carefully chosen malt and one equally well-selected grain – is not new. You already did your first such bottling in 2003. What were your main reasons for reviving the Double Single series in 2017?
Jill Boyd: The last two releases of The Double Single have been well loved Compass Box limited editions. But they require finding a perfect match of grain and malt whiskies to marry together to get a balance of flavours and ensure that they both bring out the very best in each other. After being offered exceptional parcels of Glen Elgin and Girvan whisky, we knew we had everything we needed to bring it back for a third time.
BM: Made from spirit distilled at Glen Elgin and Girvan, the latest edition of The Double Single features the same malt whisky distillery as its predecessor but a different grain whisky distillery. Why did you go with another grain this time and how did this affect your creation’s feel and flavor?
JB: While our very first The Double Single bottling contained Clynelish and Cambus whiskies, our 10th Anniversary bottling was Glen Elgin and Port Dundas. It is serendipitous that this 2017 edition of The Double Single also uses Glen Elgin but in different casks to our previous bottling. Both the whiskies in this year’s The Double Single have been matured in re-charred Hogsheads. Over the years, this has led to a smooth, creamy caramel flavour developing in the Glen Elgin malt, while the Girvan grain has taken on a fresh apple flavour, which was completely unexpected and paired beautifully with the Glen Elgin.
BM: In theory, I would guess that creating a blend from only two components is easier than making a blend from dozens of ingredients. But maybe this hunch is misleading. Can you give us some insights into the challenges and obstacles you had to master in the making of the new iteration of The Double Single?
JB: The whole concept of The Double Single, and to some extent Compass Box, is “stripped back blending”. How can we create something incredibly complex and desirable without the need to introduce a dozen different malts and grains, giving us the opportunity to create real depth of flavour?
In a way, blending a large number of whiskies – as some popular blends today do – with more than 20 components can be a massively complex undertaking. You’re dealing with a lot of competing scents and flavours, which do sometimes not behave as you expect when mixed together. This can lead to a homogeneity of flavour, where you can’t identify independent flavours or the signature tastes of the distilleries you have used. The whole thing can end up tasting very “whisky” without having one defining feature which comes through.
For The Double Single the challenge was the exact opposite. We have small parcels of specific casks, which have been selected for their quality – be this from the wood choice or from a particularly good distillate at the time of filling. Either way, everything has come together to produce something beautiful, which we can complement with one other whisky.
Before settling on the blend we have now, we tried a number of different grain and malt combinations from different distilleries, at different ABVs and in different proportions – with a smaller proportion of grain whisky being used in this iteration of The Double Single.
On the surface The Double Single is an incredibly simple blend, but the work behind it, i.e. to add just the right amount of each whisky, is where the real challenge appears. We hope that our whiskies are not only instantly recognizable as fantastic blends, but also that the quality and character of each distillery we use has the chance to shine through and be recognized as the exceptional whisky it is.
BM: Although it tends to have gotten a little more recognition lately, grain whisky still has a difficult time with many whisky aficionados who mostly consider this kind of spirit “filling material” for blends. Do you think (and hope) that bottlings such as The Single Double, where the grain whisky is granted a prominent spot in the limelight, help to further give these kinds of drams the appreciation they deserve?
JB: Grain whisky is a much-maligned product of a Scotch Whisky era, where often the focus in production was simply to lay down as much alcohol as possible and finding somewhere to store it. This isn’t a judgment on the industry; decisions had to be made for a wide number of reasons to ensure the survival of Scottish distilleries, and their highly skilled work forces, during the lean period of Scotch sales, particularly in the 80s and 90s. It did, however, leave Scotch whisky drinkers with a conundrum. Very generally, grain whisky would often be put into low quality or exhausted wood. And this would lead to losses if the casks leaked or were spoiled by a less than tight seal. Or it would take far longer for the grain whisky to reach a level of maturation comparable to malt whisky due to the overuse of the wood.
One of the charges often leveled at grain whisky is that it is less flavoursome than its malt relatives. However, I think we are beginning to see a resurgence in using new and interesting malts and grains in whisky. Consumers are looking to experience something new and exciting and I’m sure that this is something which will only develop as more companies use and mature grain in new and innovative ways. Our blended grain, Hedonism, was one of the first whiskies to really showcase how amazing well-tended grain whisky could be. Hopefully, showcasing these fantastic quality grains in blended grains and blended whiskies will encourage people to try something they might have had mixed feelings about in the past.
Compass Box: http://www.compassboxwhisky.com/
The Double Single: http://www.compassboxwhisky.com/whiskies/index.php?id=20