I ENJOY a good single malt. In fact, I feel very proud of myself when I can afford a single cask malt. But those are rare occasions. For the most part, I nurse a blend style of Scotch. They are good too—smooth and consistent—and do well with being watered down or cooled over ice. In single malts—although the drink may not mind—add a cube of ice and suddenly you find the malt police descend on you over having it with ice.
The thing is, if you think about it, a single malt, exalted as it may be, is not a tough thing to make. I was once told by the master distiller at Glenmorangie that it takes a man and a dog to make good whisky. The man is there to feed the dog and the dog is there to ensure that the man doesn’t touch anything. His message was that good whisky makes itself. Man’s skill lies in reducing his margin of error and that comes with experience. But as far as whiskies go, the real exercise isn’t in ageing a cask for a definite time before bottling it, but to take samples from various casks and then to blend them in a specific manner in order to arrive at a final product that will taste exactly the same as the one that was made the year before. And the year before and so on…
It’s like serving a cut salad versus making an elaborate dish. The first one comprises fresh ingredients served raw—all we needed was a fine knife. The other, however, requires toil and the knowledge of how to bring together all the ingredients to make it into a harmonious dish. And if this was a restaurant, the chef would have to repeat this ad infinitum and would be expected to arrive at the same final dish every time.
In the world of drinks, the produce is drastically different every year. This is because it relies wholly on natural stuff, meaning that, with a new set of ingredients, the blender/distiller is expected to derive the textbook taste as decreed by precedence and tradition. It is well nigh impossible a task and this is why it takes decades before one can blend with proficiency and precision.
Even in wines, a vintage Champagne, although more precious, is a product involving less skill. This explains why a prestigious house like Krug presents its Grande Cuvée blend well after it has showcased the Grand Cru vintage stuff. While the latter may cost thrice as much (on account of its rarity), the real skill lies in making the Krug blend year after year consistently.
What I am trying to say is don’t eschew a Scotch (or any other spirit) just because it is a blend. If anything, know that it is the one for which a more concerted effort was needed. Just like when I was in school, a good boy with perfect grades, mum needed little to tell me to do. It was with some of my friends, the backbencher types, whom she worked harder with. Today, they have a more anecdotal story to tell about their growing up years than me. A good product is always to be praised, but sometimes a misplaced sense of awe can make us forget what makes a product truly great. Blends are awesome, embrace them.
The writer is a sommelier