In a way, whisky blending is like alchemy. Cause just like the proto-scientists of yore, whisky blenders also create an elixir of life (“aqua vitae”), turn differing raw materials into gold (albeit in liquid form) and produce a universal solvent (if the blend is good, one sip is all it takes to solve whatever problems we have). Okay, here and there my comparison is not perfect. But I still like that keen idea and when I was making my own blend at The Whisky Jack’s first blending seminar in Hamburg, I really felt like I was achieving something great – even though I was basically just mixing a couple of whiskies under the qualified guidance of my pal Gearoid O’Callaghan.
Obviously, the tentative steps me and the 14 other attendees of the sold-out event took that evening were light-years away from the accomplishments of blending legends such as Richard Paterson, Fred Laing or John Glaser. But even in such a simplified form, marrying different drams was not only great fun, but it also helped me gain new insights into the art of whisky making. Reading about it in theory is one thing, but trying it out in practice is something else.
While Gearoid brought us all up to speed about what blending is and why it is such a common practice in the industry, we got to savor the various ingredients from which we would later create our own compositions. In between the tasting rounds, we also trained our perceptual apparatuses with fun little sensory games that helped us get an understanding of the interplay of harmonizing as well as contrasting smells and tastes. “Never go into one direction without looking left and right,” Gearoid told us here. “Full-bodied flavor derives from plurality rather than singularity. Take sweetness, for example. In its pure form, it can be rather unpleasant. But add a pinch of salt and an ounce of spice to an otherwise sugary centerpiece and it will become all the more interesting and appealing”.
When we started our own blending endeavors, everybody was given the same core set-up. Cameron Brig grain whisky served as the base of our blends. Though it does not offer much on its own, it holds the whole thing together and allows the added malts to shine. “Imagine it to be the rice on the side of your Indian food”, Gearoid explained. Monkey Shoulder then rounded off the edges, while Old Pulteney 12yo contributed salt and a special Lowlands vatting enriched with wood chips provided texture. The ratio of these basic constituents differed from blender to blender. Once the foundation was set, everybody picked two more whiskies from Gearoid’s own collection to add a personal touch. As so-called “top dressers” I chose an ultra-peaty Caol Ila 7yo by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society and Glenfarclas’ high-strength sherry bomb 105.
Whether or not that little blending experiment of mine was successful, I will only find out a few days from now. Cause although the first bottle of BarleyMania blend has already been filled, the liquid still needs some time to rest, mingle and become whole. But regardless of its actual taste, I am sure I will tremendously enjoy this special slug. After all, every sip I take will remind me off a wonderful evening full of laughter, warmth, fun and… of course… whisky!
Cameron Brig (Single Grain / Scotch / Lowlands/ NAS/ 40% / ~18.00 Euro)
Monkey Shoulder (Blended Malt / Scotch / Speyside / NAS / 40% / ~25.00 Euro)
Old Pulteney 12yo (Single Malt / Scotch / Highlands / 12yo / 40% / ~30.00 Euro)
Special Lowlands Vatting (Blended Malt / Scotch / Lowlands / NAS / 42% / Not for sale)
Caol Ila 7yo “53.242 – Vanilla smoke” (Single Malt / Scotch / Islay/ 7yo / 58.4% / ~65.00 Euro)
Glenfarclas 105 (Single Malt / Scotch / Speyside / NAS/ 60% / ~35.00 Euro)