Let the Blend Begin

In the red corner, Dave 'The Rummager' Broom, and in the Blue corner, Neil 'Copper Dog' Ridley
By Rupert Wheeler
The battle of the century is about to commence! In a truly legendary contest, where there can only be one winner. Whisky Magazine is proud to announce 'The Battle of the Blends', a test of skill, ingenuity and the sternest of palates.

Beginning in January 2015, Dave Broom, our Editor at large and Neil Ridley, our London contributing editor (both men pictured opposite during an intensive training session) will each embark on a titanic task to produce a blended whisky better than the other.

In each of the forthcoming 2015 issues, both contenders will unveil their plans for the blends. They are starting with identical 20 litre first fill American oak casks, which have been toasted and previously filled with a high strength neutral spirit. Both men will then season their vessels with whatever they feel will give their resulting blend the ultimate edge.

This could be a sherry, port, wine - or something completely unusual - there are no rules here. Issue by issue, the contenders will build their blend, beginning with the same foundations: Clynelish 14 Years Old - this classic Highland distillery a perennial favourite of the blender, due to its well-rounded maltiness and balance.

In fact the B word, balance, will be very much under the spotlight as both Broom and Ridley enter the ring. The art of constructing a great blended whisky is a challenge that has confounded many who have tried before. It could be compared to a house of cards; laying a weak foundation whisky will ensure that one's blend will collapse under the weight of additional flavour placed upon it. Similarly, if the top notes aren't detailed enough, a simple gust of wind will bring the whole thing crashing down.

Historically, blenders have drawn their palate of colours from across Scotland, including some incredible malt and grain whiskies, bringing seemingly disparate flavours perfectly into focus by precise measurement - and of course, their experienced palates.

But whilst both of our contenders have tried their fair share of whiskies in their careers, it doesn't necessarily make them absolute experts in the blending department.

To throw in another twist, as well as using whiskies from all the classic regions of Scotland (see the 'Marquis of Ridley' rules opposite) both contenders can throw in a totally wildcard whisky. Literally anything from anywhere in the world. How much is up to them, but too much and their blend may be left destined for an early knockout on the canvas - too little and their blend may have all the punch of a featherweight, with a glass-jaw palate to match.

There will be an opportunity for Whisky Magazine readers to take part in tasting both these blends as well as in the voting process which will decide whether Dave or Neil eventually wins and which blend is crowned the victor. Complete details of how this process will take place will be announced in the next issue out on 30 January 2015. Feedback on this event is to be encouraged so get writing.

One thing remains as yet unknown. Whether the contenders' rigorous training programmes have given them enough stamina to last the distance. Gentlemen, we want a clean fight. No below the belt stuff, and absolutely no cheating!

The Rules

1. The first fill will be a Highland malt, Clynelish, of equal measure (1 litre)

2. All the regions of Scotland need to be incorporated: Islands (which includes Islay), Speyside, Highlands (already accounted for), Lowlands and Campbeltown. There is no order as to when these are used, but in each issue, the details of the whisky must be revealed but not the quantity.

3. No bottle of whisky used must cost more than £50 RRP except for the wildcard detailed below and must be commercially available in UK.

4. There must be at least one grain whisky but there are no rules as to its origin.

5. A wildcard must be chosen - this can be anything, from anywhere. The only rule here, is that it cannot be over £150 RRP. Also it must be commercially available in UK.

6. The blend must be under 50% ABV?when finally bottled.

7. A minimum of 15 litres of blend must be prepared.

8. There are no rules as to how much of each individual whisky category that you can add.

9. The blend must be complete by 1 September 2015 when it will be sent out for tasting and the winner will be published in Whisky Magazine issue 132 which publishes on 4 December 2015.