By Rob Allanson

A golden thread

As high summer passes, a little reminiscing is in order
Well, it’s been a quiet few weeks here at Whisky Towers, as summer hit full swing with the mercury bursting out of the thermometers. Here in the UK it has been an unprecedented summer and start of the harvest season. Farmers have reported crops to be adversely affected by the searing temperature and lack of rain – one to watch to see if an increase in barley prices will have an impact on the whisky world.

Thankfully some much needed rain is now falling as I write this, so hopefully I will not have a garden that resembles a desert, and the few veggies that have survived the onslaught of heat and slugs will regain some form and ripen.
As you delve into the issue, I hope you will pick up the subtle, golden thread that runs through this edition, that of blending.

I think sometimes we forget that without blends in all their shades and guises, we really would not have the plethora of single malts available today.

My few years at Grant’s impressed upon me just how much blending is really an art. The filling sheet I would take a great interest in at Girvan each week or month I was there, would change on a very regular basis. Yet despite the shifting whiskies available to blender Brian Kinsman, he still creates a consistent blend. This is a testament to blenders all over the world, striving to hit an unswerving benchmark of flavour. If you haven’t revisited some of the icon blends of the world in a while, I would urge you to do so. They did not achieve the status they have for no good reason.
One move that came to my attention recently was the redesign of the Grant’s blended range. It is not the redesign that caught my eye, it was that a piece of true innovation has been culled.

Without blends we would not have the plethora of single malts we have today

The Grant’s Ale Cask represented a piece of advancement in the blending world; finishing a blend off in a different type of cask other than Bourbon or sherry. Sure I know single malt has now entered this territory but this was a definite first.

The story goes that master blender David Stewart wondered what would happen if you combined the beer and whisky worlds. He redesigned the Grant’s family blend to mature better in the ale casks, it was a blend you could describe safely as ‘unique’.

According to the brand history, an affidavit had to be signed to appease the SWA, to say beer casks had been used for whisky in the past. So this little blend was a big game changer.
Sure it was probably expensive to create, but its loss for me is a blow. It feels that in the race to appeal to a new whisky drinker, past innovations are being forgotten. I wonder how long before someone tries to do this again, no doubt claiming a first.

Everything in the whisky world works in a cycle, blends have most certainly not had their day yet and I ponder sometimes if there will be a resurgence in blends. There are certainly some producers who are creating gorgeous whiskies out there, we just need to get past the stigma that seems to have built up and enjoy.

Another piece of news that left me wondering about things was a press release about a new cocktail bar opening up.
The idea behind the bar was that it was to demystify whisky, make it more approachable for the drinker, producing cocktails that were simple and straight forward.
All good so far. The problem for me was all of this was washed away when it was explained that the whole place was to be based on a ‘gentleman’s club.’
Instantly the hackles went up. For me the idea of such an establishment is entirely elitist and not at all approachable. Also, I feel that in one fell swoop the owners had lost pretty much half the population. I don’t know where the whisky bar scene is heading but I feel that this is not a good direction. Let’s face it, there are some brilliant examples of whisky bars out there that are ahead of the curve and are doing great things in the name of the drink we all love.

Anyway, enough musing on past things, there’s plenty of whiskies and events on the horizon to look forward to. So if our paths cross out in the whisky world, don’t forget to say hello and share a dram.