Opinion: A triumphant return for blended whiskies

Opinion: A triumphant return for blended whiskies

The long-maligned style seems to be right back on trend, thanks to a new band of producers and bottlers in the UK, US, and elsewhere putting out quality blends

Editor's Word | 03 May 2024 | Issue 199 | By Bethany Brown

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They say that styles or trends always come back around, a proverb that is perhaps most often employed in the realm of fashion. If you’re a child of the 1990s, like me, you may have felt the painful truth of this statement seeing Gen Z teens wandering around in the low-rise jeans and cargo pants that we swore off in about 2006 as the height of fashion faux pas.


‘Athleisure’ (as it has been termed in its modern iteration) has also recently experienced a revival. Spawned by the fitness craze of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and standing in contrast to the professional power dressing of the latter decade, the ‘leisurewear as casual wear’ trend has always had a home among the fitness conscious but found fresh fuel during the pandemic when more time spent at home encouraged the mass adoption of more comfortable style choices. Stilettos were out; sneakers were in.


A quick search in my web browser for “style trends coming back in 2024” lists everything from animal prints, bows, sequins, and metallic shades to “more relaxed” corporate wear, “preppy” polo shirts, androgynous outfits, and micro-shorts (the last being a pick from men’s lifestyle mag GQ).


Fashion is a particularly interesting field in which not only to watch the ebb and flow of trends, but also to see how a trending product can be democratised. An item or style starts on the catwalk and finishes on the rail in your local fast-fashion outlet (for a more detailed explanation of this ecosystem, see an eloquent explanation from Miranda Priestly, played by Meryl Streep, to Anne Hathaway’s Andy Sachs over a cerulean sweater in 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada).


According to some trend-setting circles of the old-world whisky industry, blends could well be on the cusp of this kind of comeback — one of Rocky-level proportions. The style that was once beloved by millions of whisky drinkers from Dundee via Dublin to DC fell out of favour in the 20th century, only to have been picked up by a new generation of producers and drinkers who think — and are proving — there is more to the act of blending than a way to maximise profit or hide bad product. They are proving the artistry in blended whisky.


One champion of blends in particular, Compass Box, has been in the news recently with the announced departure of its founder and CEO, John Glaser. Established in 2000, Compass Box has helped whisky enthusiasts to connect with blends and appreciate them in a way that has not been commonplace for decades. Its pioneering first child, Hedonism, essentially launched a new category in blended grain Scotch whisky (and was celebrated in the recent short film From Grain to Gold). Meanwhile, its flagship blend Asyla — and the Extinct Blends Quartet released to honour it after it was discontinued in 2018 — proved the power and elegance that blends could demonstrate.


Not only that, but Glaser and the company have been and continue to be vociferous advocates of transparency and sharing information with drinkers about what exactly is in their glasses. This was a far cry from the obfuscation that was rife in corners of the whisky market before their coming, and the philosophy is now penetrating deeper not just into blended whisky but other styles, too. For example, the blended whiskeys in Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Fusion, Discovery, and Collaborative Series clearly displayed the component spirits on their bottles, while the Waterford and Bruichladdich distilleries’ “terroir-driven” whiskies show how this utmost transparency can be applied to single malts.


Following the strides made by Glaser and his ilk, a global collective of blenders are taking up the baton and yet again reconfiguring the way that blends are perceived and positioned in the whisky market. A number are featured in this issue, from Leith’s Woven Whisky to Texan brand Milam & Greene to Barrell Craft Spirits in Kentucky. Far from going the way of the T. rex or the ‘newsboy’ cap, blended whiskies are taking a fresh turn in the trend cycle through these innovative and quality-conscious producers — and this time, they are making a play to stay. 

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