I am delighted to welcome back Neil Ridley, our winner from the 2015 Challenge, and a new contender, George Keeble, (Manager at The Soho Whisky Club). The casks have been supplied by Master of Malt and are now being seasoned not once but twice. The rules are very simple; create a blend that will be judged by our readers throughout the world and from within the industry. The blend must be complete by 2 December and the winner will be announced at Whisky Live London in March 2017. I would like to thank Ben Filby for the comic strip that now accompanies this year's challenge. For the complete rules please visit www.whiskymag.com
Neil 'General Mashtun' Ridley
Well… that ended rather spiffingly.
For a second, I feel like pulling out a trumpet and blowing a celebratory tune, whilst dancing a little victory dance and sloshing a large measure of my winning blend, Orville, around a Glencairn.
But victory is such a short-lived thing and this month, I am back at the blending desk, working on the sequel of this epic battle of blended whiskies. Rather like pool, the competition rules state that the 'winner stays on' and I have to create an entirely new blend from scratch, to be pitched against another fearsome and terryfying adversary.
This time, please welcome George Keeble, a man I have known for several years now and as Manager of The Soho Whisky Club, arguably the best place in London to enjoy a dram, an opponent whose whisky knowledge and blending ability I shall not take lightly.
However, if I have one thing in my favour in this next bout it is the experience of the last battle: seeing the way the previous blend developed - rather unexpectedly on several occasions - and hopefully I can retain the knowledge of just how to steer the ship back on course if things get a
So the next beast has already begun to live and breathe. As with the previous one, I have to give the blend a name. This time, she's going to be called 'Woody' - in homage to the comedy genius of the late, great Victoria Wood. Like its namesake, I'm looking for the perfect balance of personality, panache, zestiness and a dryness that can capture the hearts - and palates of anyone the world over. A tall order indeed, but I am more than ready for the challenge.
My cask is currently being seasoned before I begin to construct the blend, built again on the foundations of the mighty Clynelish 14 Years Old - more about that whisky in the next issue. As for the seasoning, this time I have explored the depth and complexity of port. About ten litres to be precise and a recipe which is made up from a blend of both ruby and tawny styles.
Hopefully, the ruby will impart a fresher fruitiness to the wood and the tawny a slightly drier, oxidised, more spicy element. At this stage, all I know is that port can be difficult to work with if it gains too much of a hold on the cask, so I'll be keeping a very close eye on just how it is developing before introducing it to the blend.
George - the time for small talk is over. The gloves are on and the bell is about
Ding dong… Round one.
George 'Aegir' Keeble
When Neil asked if I was interested in challenging him to Battle of the Blends, I couldn't resist picking up the gauntlet. Don't get me wrong, I knew my work was cut out for me, even more so now whilst nosing his triumphant tipple from last year's Battle against Dave Broom.
When my 20 litre cask from Master of Malt arrived, I saw no time for dillydallying and poured in a case of my favourite sherry, Solera 1847. It's a sweet cream produced by Gonzalez Byass, a rich and fruity blend of Palomino and Pedro Ximénez grapes. I left my cask to season for one month in the warm surroundings of The Soho Whisky Club, turning it every day or so and tasting the sherry from time to time to ensure it wasn't spoiling the cask. It has since been moved to the cellar for ageing, where the temperature is slightly cooler and more consistent.
I have eight months in which to create this blend. And there will be many amendments and additions along the way, so I'm in no rush to fill my cask up to the bung straight away. After much consideration, I've chosen my first few soldiers for Battle…
With the standard litre of Clynelish already added to my cask, as per the rules, I can tick the Highland category off my list of must-have components. However, the rules stipulate the grain whisky can come from anywhere in the world and Teeling Single Grain immediately sprang to mind. This sweet, wine-finished, flavoursome, and award-winning whiskey will surely make an excellent base for my blend. I poured generously without a moment's hesitation. I'm certain this will be the only grain whisky I require.
I know from toying with blends in the past that a little peat goes a long way, so have decided to postpone the addition of anything of that ilk until later on - in the final throes of the Battle. For my first Island whisky, I've opted for Bruichladdich's Classic Laddie. I trust this crisp and refreshing liquid will marry suitably with the cask's sherry influence. Plus, the higher strength should act as a fortifier to ensure my blend doesn't drop below 40 per cent over the coming months.
Finally, for my initial Speyside constituent, I'm proud to make the addition of Glenfarclas 15 Years Old. This balanced and sherry rich whisky has a long lasting finish and will undoubtedly hold steadfast in the cask.
My family name can be traced back to the Dark Ages. And in those bleak times, my ancestors were makers of cudgels, club-like weapons. It seems only fitting as I do battle against Neil, to bestow upon my cask the name… Cudgel!
Glenfarclas 15 Years Old
Bruichladdich Classic Laddie
Teeling Single Grain
Clynelish 14 Years Old