The protagonists are now getting down to the serious art of blending. Before the next issue comes out both contenders will have been given the opportunity to detail their blend when we have a 'half way stage' event at The Soho Whisky Club on 31 August in front of an enthusiastic audience. John Glaser, Compass Box Master Blender, will also be there to give his advice as well as take part in a Q&A session. This will be reported in issue 138. For the complete rules please visit www.whiskymag.com
Neil 'General Mashtun' Ridley
So far all is quiet down in the cellars of Ridley Towers. My 20 litre cask has been slumbering away nicely after being liberally soaked in a mixture of different ports for about three weeks. My first whisky addition to the vessel was the mandatory Clynelish 14 Years Old, as bold but silky a drop as you're likely to find and arguably one of the most underrated whiskies in owner Diageo's portfolio
After two days, I drew a sample and was surprised at the profound influence the port had taken on the cask. The whisky was pretty much bright pink and tasting/ smelling absolutely superb: rich, but with subtle rose/floral notes and a delicious wine gum fruity sweetness. If I could give up now and bottle this, I would, but 'one whisky don't maketh a blend' and I have begun to think about where I could take the recipe, that doesn't stray too much into that of my winning blend from the inaugural competition.
From a grain perspective I have chosen to go down a similar route to my competitor in that I am using Teeling Single Grain, a wonderful light, profound beautiful Irish grain whiskey.
Grain is such a hugely important element to a blend and in my last one I perhaps skimped on its presence, giving a big blend which was clearly a hit with you, the judges, but certainly very malt heavy. I'm not going to go gung-ho and add all my grain just yet, as last time I found that adding some more near the end of the blending process lifted the final dynamic perfectly. I actually have a not-so-secret addition to make here too, so watch this space over the coming instalments.
Three bottles of the Teeling went in first and… Boom… the mixture was well and truly on its way. The colour was still there and the fragrance was dialled up to the absolute maximum. It was almost too perfect, so to bring the fresh fruitiness back in check, I elected for a whisky that I haven't really explored before.
I suspect that the Royal Brackla 12 Years Old may well prove to be a secret weapon in the armoury of this part-time blender. At a shade over £40, it is supremely affordable and possesses a maltiness like no other distillery I have come across: think rye bread and bran flakes, doused in creamy sweet milk and you're half way there. After a couple of days, the elegant bouquet of the Clynelish and Teeling grain have been rounded out with a stout backbone of malt and the blend is beginning to resemble exactly that. I am officially excited. Game on! See you next month.
Teeling Single Grain
Royal Brackla 12 Years Old
Clynelish 14 Years Old
George 'Aegir' Keeble
It seems that Cudgel is living up to its name! One month has past since the first components were poured into my sherry-seasoned cask and what an impact that sweet oloroso has made! Sherry and wine dominate. The light, fruity wine notes from the Teeling Single Grain have married excellently with the sherried robustness of the Glenfarclas. The Bruichladdich, as crisp and fresh as ever, maintains an underlying presence. Nosing the empty glass, all that's left is a dusty sherry aroma.
So far, so good. But the time has come to make some further additions.
A recent trip to Jerez has reignited my love of wine, sherry not being the least. Whilst enjoying a bottle of fine Burgundy a fortnight ago, a certain Tullibardine expression came to mind. The '228', finished in wine casks from that highly regarded region, seems like the perfect addition to this already outstandingly quaffable blend. I trust the big, red fruits of this whisky will sit well within my trusty cask and marry steadfast with the present components.
I leave the cask to mellow for a few days and return to the damp, dark cellar to re-taste… The fruits of the Tullibardine shine through the resonating sherry profile. It's oily on the palate, with strawberry laces, toffee apple, a little liquorice, melon, pear and some raisin too. The oils quickly dissipate to leave a long-lasting and fruity finish. I'm reminded of some childhood confectionaries - wine gums, fruit salads and black jacks. Long gone are the days of 1p sweets!
It's time for a classic Speyside malt to suit up for battle - Glen Moray 16 Years Old. This tasty tipple, aged in a mix of Bourbon and sherry casks, should bring a rounding balance to the ensemble. Again, I leave it for a few days before resampling. The sherry notes are more prominent than ever. It takes me back to Jerez, to the bodega, where the inescapable scent of sleeping sherry casks fills the air.
I feel the time is right to add some smoke and have opted for Benromach 10 Years Old. Finished in first-fill oloroso sherry casks, I'm certain it will fit in with my growing battalion. This smoky drop is a whisky that has something for everybody. Both the sherry and smoke shine through prominently, from the nose to the finish. Of all that's been added thus far, I suspect this smoky number will make the biggest difference.
Grain, Highland, Speyside and Island have all joined the ranks. But before I consider my Lowland and Campbeltown regions, I'm going to charge ahead by adding my wild card to the fray. This beast of a whisky will be a game-changer…
Glen Moray 16 Years Old
Benromach 10 Years Old
Glenfarclas 15 Years Old
Bruichladdich Classic Laddie
Teeling Single Grain
Clynelish 14 Years Old