They Think It's All Over... It Is Now

The Battle of the Blends, the final salvo
By Rupert Wheeler
That's it. The final whiskies have now been added, the blend is complete and now comes the judging. We will, in conjunction with Master of Malt, be sending one sample of each blend to 99 independent judges where they will be invited to vote online by no later than 30 September 2015.

The votes will then be added up and the winner will be announced in issue 132 which publishes 4 December. We hope that the two contenders will meet at Whisky Live London 2016.

Dave 'The Rummager' Broom

... And now, as Frank sang, the end is near and I'm back home in the Lowlands. What to pick?

Auchentoshan is close to my Weegie heart for sure, but not right for the style of blend I've been making. Bladnoch? I haven't come across any recently. It had to be Glenkinchie. It has the right light, meadow like, sweet hay element that would add a little lift, a certain subtle crispness and also texture - Glenkinchie is nothing if not full in the mid-palate. But that wasn't enough. I wanted a little sweetness, I still wanted length.

I tasted the blend. There were stewed fruits, a hint of sherry and some depth. The palate was slightly richer than before, but the grain was still doing its job. It was also longer. Problem was, it was smokier than I had expected.

I'd been gentle - or so I'd thought - with the peaty element, but the combo of a dribble of Caol Ila, some Springbank, and Ardmore had given it more smoke that I'd intended, both on the nose and especially on the finish and it was the latter which was now concerning me. The blend needed to cohere when it trickled down the throat.

So, rather than Glenkinchie 12, why not the Distiller's Edition? It would not only add a discreet sherried element but have the requisite complexity and softness on the end to bind flavours together. It would bed the smoke down. Worth a shot and to be honest, what else could I do? I'm not a blender (as if that wasn't obvious enough by now).

So, I contacted the lovely folks at Diageo and requested some. The package duly arrived. I opened it, popped the cork and tasted. It was richer than I remembered, more sherried, with real depth and complexity. There were dried apricots and sultanas, some pot pourri and a dry element. The palate was all fruit syrups and a real bodega note. It was rich and deep. It was in fact, huge, it exhibited long maturation. It also wasn't what I remembered at all.

I looked at the label, 'Distilled 1986'. Ah... that would explain it. This was the limited edition Distiller's Edition, not the standard bottling. Problem was, the 1986 was certainly not under £50. Then it struck me. It could act as the top dressing and the Lowland element of the blend. It was too late to change. In it went.

The temptation now is to add more of other elements, but there is a time when you have to say. Enough. Stop. It is done.

How Dave's blend is developing

"The temptation now is to add more of the other elements," Dave

The Glenkinchie 12 Years Old Distiller's Edition

Ardmore Legacy Kilkerran Work in Progress 6 matured in ex-Bourbon casks

Springbank 12 Years Old

Aultmore 12 Years Old

Caol Ila 12 Years Old

Greenore 8 Years Old

Cameronbridge No Age Statement

Girvan Apps No4

Teaninich 10 Years Old

Clynelish 14 Years Old

Neil 'Copper Dog' Ridley

The final push. Having started this blending challenge back in December, the resulting seven months have seemed like a very long time indeed. In fact, they have been filled with much trepidation: Would the experiment work?

What would be the effect of maturing our blend in tiny casks for over six months?

More's the point, can two numpties who write about whisky actually pull off a palatable blend?

The experience so far has been very enlightening indeed. Starting from the base of Clynelish and Aberlour, the blend went critically dry in a matter of days, but managed to swerve death by the slimmest of margins. It became lighter and fresher, but then over time has developed a richness that I'm really pleased with. The smoky elements added last month have proved to be dominant, but not too detrimental to the overall balance.

It was now time to wrap up the proceedings and I only had two elements left to add: whisky from the Campbeltown region and my 'wildcard' bottle, which, according to the rules cannot cost more than £150. The first part was a fairly easy choice. There are very few Campbeltown whiskies that come in under the £50 price bracket, but what is available is stupendous liquid. The subtle malty/sweet notes in Springbank 10 Years Old will hopefully improve on what I wanted the blend to achieve naturally, a whisky that tasted slightly older and more well-balanced than it actually was. Springbank tastes completely unique. Back at the turn of the last century, it was often seen by blenders as being too pungent and overpowering, but clearly a little goes a long way and immediately, it provided a welcome missing link between the smoky notes and some of the more fruity and fresh aromas and flavours that have been developing in the blend.

Being the curious type, I also wanted to explore the effects that Hazelburn 12 Years Old might have on the blend. The modern Hazelburn was first distilled back in 1997 and has a profound nuttiness, which is markedly different to that of Springbank - and its heavily peated sibling, Longrow, which I decided to steer away from for the obvious reasons.

With the Campbeltowns duly added, this just left me with one final whisky to add. The dilemma here is that £150 is a lot to spend on a 'top dressing' whisky; especially as anything too delicate and aged would most likely be lost in the overall blend of flavours. Add anything vintage and peaty - and it may tip the smoky balance out of kilter. Adding an old grain seemed like a fairly fruitless exercise too.

So I decided to take the plunge with a whisky that has impressed me enormously since I first chanced upon it 18 months ago. My final addition is from the Old Hobart distillery in Tasmania and its Overeem Port Cask expression (43%) is absolutely bursting with fresh, fruity notes. If anything, its presence will hopefully give the blend a slight wake up call before it is disgorged from the 20 litre cask.

With these final liquid additions, the fate of my beloved Orville is now in the hands of the voters. God speed Orville.

How Dave's blend is developing

"The experience so far has been very enlightening indeed," Neil

Springbank 10 Years Old

Hazelburn 12 Years Old

Overeem Port Cask (Tasmania)

Bowmore Darkest

Arran Machrie Moor

Highland Park Svein

Glenkinchie 12 Years Old

Auchentoshan Three Wood

Nikka Coffey Grain No Age Statement

Dailuaine 16 Years Old

Aberlour 12 Years Old

Clynelish 14 Years Old