Dial B for blends

Dial B for blends

In the second of our ‘back to basics'guides Dominic Roskrow looks at the letter B and in particular blends

Production | 10 Nov 2006 | Issue 60 | By Dominic Roskrow

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If there is one word purpose-built to confuse newcomers to whisky, it’s the word ‘blend.’ This has always been the case but it has become even more so now that the whisky industry has adopted a new descriptor which uses the word.The trouble with the word ‘blend’ is that it is used as a technical descriptor to define specific types of whisky, but it is also used loosely and misleadingly to describe other production processes in whisky.The dictionary definition refers directly to whisky: “to mix together to produce a desired flavour; to produce by this method (blended whisky); to form a harmonious compound; to mingle or be mingled; a mixture.” Now let’s define the two terms that refer to ‘blend’ in whisky.1. A blended whisky is a whisky containing single malt whiskies mixed with whisky made with another grain. So you make malt whisky, you make grain whisky, and you blend them together.2. A blended MALT whisky is a mix of single malt whiskies from different distilleries.This is a new industry term for vatted malts.That’s it. Relatively straightforward.Problem is, other styles of whisky can be explained by the use of the word ‘blend’ when it’s used in the dictionary sense of the word.For instance, the Irish produce a whiskey known as pure pot still whiskey. This is how Michael Jackson describes it in his classic book Whisky: The Definitive World Guide: “The pot stills are charged with a wash made from a blend of raw and malted barley. This is pot still whiskey of Irish tradition.” In this case we have a combination of malted barley with another grain type (unmalted barley) but they have been mixed as part of the production process, before the whisky has been made, and not afterwards.This is very different to our definition of blended whisky. Surely, then, a better way to describe the pure pot still process would be to say that the whiskey is made from a mix, mingling or marriage of the raw materials?The same thing happens in bourbon production and even in the creation of Scottish single malt whisky, where casks of different styles and ages from one distillery are brought together to create a balanced malt.In English language terms this can be described as blending, but it’s a different concept to the defined term ‘blended whisky’.This all sounds petty and pedantic but it does cause confusion. If someone is describing a whisky making process and uses the word ‘blend’, challenge it. If the process could be described by the words ‘mix’, ‘marry’ or ‘mingle’ then they should do so.Did you know…
Many believe Ireland gave Scotland whisky. Ireland and the West coast of Scotland are related by language and culture. Yet Ireland has little peated whisky and the west coast of Scotland has lots. Why? Irish whiskey was being produced in commercial quantities before peat digging equipment was invented and it wasn’t economically viable in the production process.Well fancy that!
Whisky is linked to the Jacobite uprisings of the 18th century.The Jacobite campaign slogan was ‘no malt tax, no salt tax, no union!’ GLOSSARY

Backset
Term from American whiskey making. As part of the process of extracting as much sugar and flavour from the grain as possible, used (‘spent’) grain from the previous distillation is added to help control acidity and reduce bacterial infection.This in turn helps with consistency Ball of malt
Irish expression for a glass of whiskey Beading
The method of shaking whisky to get a rough indicator of its alcoholic strength. When it is shaken bubbles will form on the surface of the whisky. The bigger they are, and the longer they stay on the liquid, the stronger the drink Beer
After water has been added to the crushed grain to release its flavour and sugars, the liquid is separated from the grain remains and combined with yeasts which convert the sugars in to alcohol.This is distillers’ beer, or wash Beer still
Distiller’s beer is converted in to whisky by distillation in large copper pot stills. The first one to be used is commonly known as the wash still. But it can be called the beer still Blending
see main text Bond/bonded warehouses
Maturing whisky is held in bond until excise duty has been paid on it Bothie
A building or hideaway containing an illicit whisky-making still, often underground Bottled in bond
Under American law of 1894/97 American whiskey could be stored in federal bonded warehouses without tax being paid until the time of bottling provided the whiskey fulfilled certain criteria. If it did, it normally stated so on the label Bourbon
American style whiskey made using at least 51 per cent corn as well as other grains. To qualify as a bourbon a set of rigid production rules governing distillation and maturation need to be met. Jack Daniel’s infringes them and is therefore not a bourbon. Bourbon does NOT have to come from Kentucky Brewing
The process of making beer – see above
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