Battle of the Blends

Saying Goodbye

Our blenders find that the hardest thing can be to say goodbye
By George Keeble
George Keeble

A few weeks have passed since a friendly chap by the name of Andy from Master of Malt appeared once again in the doorway of Soho Whisky Club. This time not to deliver my cask but to whisk it away for bottling. The bar on which Nectar d’George sat now seems tragically bare. I was a touch sad to see it go.

I created my blend over six months. The first month was spent seasoning my cask with traditional-style English mead, made simply from honey, water and a little yeast. Removing the mead from my cask, it had taken on a great deal of colour, aroma and taste from the wood, indicating the wood had in return absorbed a lot of mead, an entire bottle’s worth to be precise. Boy, did that oak-aged mead taste good!

The addition of the whiskies and the order in which I made them was in a far more carefree fashion than in last year’s Battle against Neil Ridley. The recipe for my blend contains many a peaty beast, Ledaig, Port Charlotte, Kilchoman and of course the Wild Card component... Octomore. Yet, I also chose to balance some of that peatiness with the addition of Auchentoshan, Loch Lomond Single Grain, The Glenlivet Nadurras, Glen Scotia, Deanston, Bunnahabhain and Clynelish. A baker’s dozen in total!

I set out to make a mead cask-finished peated whisky and I feel I have succeeded. I thoroughly look forward to what the judges make of it. I dare say it’ll be fairly obvious whose is whose.

It does sadden me somewhat to announce that, even if I were to win this year’s competition, this must be, at least for the foreseeable future, my final Battle of the Blends. In May 2018, I depart the UK on a one-way ticket. Having spent several years talking about whisky, I thought it time I turned my hand to making it. My destination is a country with an increasing whisky industry. The number of distilleries producing whisky in this country currently sits at more than 90. Destination: Australia.

I plan to live Down Under for one to two years. After that time, I shall return to these fair shores. Should the outcome of this year’s Battle prove me to be once again victorious, then all future competitors should heed my final words. I shall return to take back my crown... Keeble out. Mic drop.

Lyndsey Gray

It’s a new year and my cask is wrapped up and ready for collection. Saying that… I am ignoring the trickle that seems to be escaping from the cask end. Fingers crossed there’s enough to go around.

The most difficult aspect of this task has been reflecting on every decision I make in order to write these articles. Anyone who knows me would be able to confirm that I’m a major overthinker and I always have been. Some of the best work that I made at art school for example was during performance masterclasses where I had to make split minute decisions on what I was going to do so, consequently, I wouldn’t end up talking myself out of the idea by convincing myself that it was stupid. Yes, one of these performances did result in me running into a wall head first but trust me, you had to be there. Back to the point... Blending.

Ah yes, blending. That word that seems to haunt whisky purists all over the world. Working as a tour guide and then behind a bar means that I’m often on the front line of people’s opinions when it comes to whisky. It’s fair to say that the “blends aren’t as good as single malts” argument is still thriving among whisky drinkers. What I don’t understand however is that these blends are created with the very single malts that are constantly praised onto an untouchable pedestal. In my opinion, it’s amazing to think that there are only a handful of people in the entire of history that can create the likes of Johnnie Walker Black and Famous Grouse. Surely that’s pretty darn special. From my own experience of nosing/tasting whisky and creating cocktails, I’d like to say that I understand flavour, yet I know I have only personally scratched the surface and would never dare to compare myself to any master blender within the whisky industry.

Recently I have had the pleasure to work on The Craigellachie hotel’s very own blended malt, Copper Dog, with Stuart Morrison. Now, it’s probably not every day that a blend is created with the feedback of a panel consisting of three managers in a hotel as it’s easy for us to point out what is missing but it takes something a lot more to put it right. As I said, it’s pretty darn special to see a blender at work.

Whether mine can even pass as drinkable is up to you good folks but, it’s been fun trying. I hope that you’ve enjoyed my cask’s little adventure into the unknown workings of my mind and of course my utter ramblings.