Definitely maybe

Definitely maybe

Do you always know your blend from your malt? See who got it right when whisky magazine hosted a blind tasting.

Tastings | 16 Apr 2000 | Issue 9

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It was the perfect place for a tasting, Milroys’ new bar upstairs in the centre of London’s Soho, soft lighting, gleaming bottles, old oak furniture and not a strip of chrome in sight. The cold, damp night had put our tastebuds on action stations, and Doug McIvor, Milroys’ general manager, had a dram in our hands before one could shout “Mine’s a ...”.Whisky Magazine’s first democratic tasting (experts, novices, confident tipplers and the like) got smartly underway. The glasses were substantial and, while lip service was paid to some decorous nosing, the thought of spittoons never entered our heads. Our job was to tell the blend from the malt, and for our expert Michael Jackson to have a stab at which blend and malt we were drinking. The tasting was conducted in two pairs. As the glasses were circulated, Doug offered us tasting tips to guide us through the challenge. “Malts are more directional, they have a firm, fruity flavour and continue in the same vein,” he said. “In blends you have different grains intermingling. In the way light dances on canvas, the various flavours dance on the palate.”First to appear was a golden brown liquid that seemed to pose little problem. And the first to pipe up with their opinion were Gloria’s Girls, the production team from the Gloria Hunniford day time TV show. “It’s a blend,” they chorused. Such pithy descriptions as “bland,” came from the City corner where Jeremy Jevons and his brother Mark huddled over their glasses looking as though they were exchanging share tips. It was a mixed tasting, not only in terms of drams but also of people. Other guests comprised Dundee man and journalist Ken Hyder who brought his Russian pianist friend and vodka expert Vladimir Miller. There was also Patrick Crawford, an executive from The Daily Telegraph, Judith Quiney who works in the art world and Stephen Cummaford, a psychologist. Then there was Whisky Magazine’s own contingent: publisher Marcin Miller, editor Jane Slade, sub-editor Maisha Frost, and sales executive Nick Marsh.Patrick also found the first one very bland. Jeremy’s girlfriend Shelley actually liked it. “It is very cosy,” she decided. In fact most of the women enjoyed the lighter flavours of first glass but the Scottish contingent was unmoved.The second glass had a deeper golden hue and produced more animated reactions. “More professional,” said Shelley. “Crisper, tangy,” chimed Jeremy, an avowed Islay man. “I would drink the first one with water before dinner, but sip this one before bed.” Number two was universally appreciated and identified as a malt. It had a clean nose, was immensely pleasant to drink. Nick, Stephen, and Patrick smiled with pleasure and drank with little pause, and voted this the best as it had the cleanest taste. Gloria’s Girls voted this their favourite taste of the night. “It is as delicious as a box of Liquorice Allsorts,” chimed Rachael Barnes and Annie Davies. They were right with their answer of a malt. It was in fact the world’s largest selling malt whisky, Glenfiddich. And Doug revealed the first glass to be a blend; William Grant’s The Family Reserve.Nick and Steve liked the honey flavours in the third glass, but Patrick was less impressed. Ken said he could barely finish number three after drinking The Glenfiddich. But Gloria’s Girls liked it. They thought it was a blend, except for Rachael and Beverley who decided it had to be a malt. “It was one single blast of flavour,” declared Rachael, while Beverley became poetically inspired. “A cacophony of notes, punchy, powerful, exploding in the mouth,” she said.The final whisky suffered from being the last in line. The chaps in the Russian and Scottish corner reckoned it was a single malt, but did not appreciate it fully. Beverley did not like it as much as the previous glass, but Rachael voted it her top dram of the night. Annie detected more of a sustained note whereas Jeremy thought it smelled Irish! The answers revealed number three to be The Famous Grouse and number four as The Macallan 10-year-old. But, as Whisky Magazine’s tasting expert Michael Jackson decided, the last two glasses were a trick tasting. He guessed the blend correctly but thought The Macallan was a Bruichladdich. “It was thin bodied and irony. It was not that easy to detect,” he said. “This was tricky because there is quite a lot of Macallan in The Famous Grouse.” Overall the girls preferred the blends because, as Shelley pointed out, “You think you can drink more of them without falling over.” Happily no one did.
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