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As promised in Issue 36, we asked some experts to cross the usual genre boundaries to see if any combinations worked, what might work and what was best left in itscomponent bottles. Gavin Smith reports
By Gavin D. Smith
The PanelDavid Robertson Co-founder of the Easy Drinking Whisky Company
Billy Walker Distillery owner
Gavin Smith Whisky writer and author
Richard Paterson Master blender, Whyte and Mackay
David Stewart Master blender, William Grant & SonsIt’s one of those ideas that just happens and which gives no clue as to where it might go. But why not mix Scotch with Irish, Japanese with American, and all four of them with whatever takes the fancy? So we put the idea to two highly respected whiskymen. Both loved the idea.So Whyte and Mackay’s master blender, Richard Paterson, and David Robertson, formerly Macallan master distiller and now one of the ‘gang of three’ behind the innovative Jon, Mark and Robbo’s Easy Drinking Whisky Company, made up five samples for evaluation.And it wasn’t just the big four that got included: American rye, corn, Canadian, Australian, Indian and even Bulgarian whiskies/eys also appeared in the mix from time to time.Then we met together along with David Stewart, master blender at William Grant & Sons and with Billy Walker, whisky expert and distillery owner, to give them a whirl.Here are the results.For the purposes of this experiment, all whiskies/eys used were from bottled stock, rather than from the cask, and the average strength of the finished samples was between 40% and 45%.Richard’s sense of occasion and theatre led him to choose emotionally evocative names for his quintet, while David gave his whiskies/eys
titles which acted as flavour descriptors, in keeping with the philosophy of his new venture.The tasting began with the range which Robbo had created and which he decided to call ‘David’s Diplomats’.F3 – Floral Fragrant Fruity33% 12 year old Rosebank, 33% 10 year old Auchentoshan and 33% JMR Smooth Sweet One (comprising two quite young whiskeys from Cooley distillery in Ireland).The panel’s view was that David had indeed created a floral, fragrant and fruity spirit. The consensus was that the nose was terrific – “silky, sensually beautiful”– but that ‘F3’ was a little short on the palate, with some grainy and cereal notes, and a slight woody vanilla character that had not been apparent on the nose.Score: 7Orange Orgasm75% 30-year-old Macallan and 25% Heaven Hill bourbon.‘Orange multiple orgasm’ boasted Richard on first nosing, and there was no doubting the initial dominance of orange from the Macallan. The four year old bourbon helped to dampen down the excesses of the Macallan sherry, however, with orange peel, spice and a whisper of smoke being picked up by the panel.On the palate, the bourbon char came in late and was considerably more assertive than on the nose.“The bourbon has been a bitch,” said Richard, observing that it had started to kick out the warmth of the Macallan. It was even possible to believe that this was a pure bourbon, and it was thought that the whisky/ey would benefit by the use of a lighter bourbon than Heaven Hill. There
was also a view that the Macallan was perhaps slightly fatigued. “Too expensive to be commercially viable anyway”, noted one panel member.Score: 6VV - Vibrant Vanilla62.5% Brown Forman bourbon, 37.5% Glenmorangie.Very perfumed on the nose, with cherry notes and the aroma of fresh linen.The bourbon was held nicely on the nose, with the lighter-bodied Glenmorangie doing a better job than the Macallan in the previous sample, and giving a much more acceptable balance.“The bourbon is caressed by the Glenmorangie, and the character of the Glenmorangie comes through very well”, noted Richard.Score: 8Super Spicy50% JMR Rich Spicy (comprising various expressions of Tamdhu, Highland Park, Glenrothes and Bunnahabhain), 25% Mellow Corn (Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey), 25% Rittenhouse Rye.A delicate nose, the most delicate of the samples so far, and less spice aroma than might have been expected. The palate delivered more spice than the nose, with hints of white pepper. “A wee kick at the back”, said Billy, who reckoned that this might almost be mistaken for a blended Scotch in a blind tasting. The general opinion was that this could have benefited from a spicier nose, perhaps achieved by reducing the percentage of Mellow Corn.Score: 7Cherry Peaty24% JMR Smokey Peaty (comprising nine different expressions of malts from Islay, Orkney and Mull), 76% Woodford Reserve bourbon.Lots of cherry from the bourbon, balanced by some smoke from the island malts on the nose. Water brought out the peat on both the nose and palate, with David Robertson declaring “all cherry on the nose and smoke in the taste”.Almonds, marzipan, honey, and light Christmas cake characteristics on the palate, but samplers considered this a little aggressive in the bouquet, and a touch too hot and spicy in the finish, which was very dry and slightly peppery.Score: 6.5Tongue-in-cheek, Richard had chosen to call his range of samples ‘bloody foreigners’.The Ghost of Booker30% Booker’s bourbon, 20% Irish, 30% Glenfiddich, 20% Isle of Jura Superstition. Named in commemoration of the late bourbon legend Booker Noe, and the Booker’s dominated on the nose. According to Richard, “Booker was physically a huge man, and he’s still dominating here”. There was a general feeling, however, that the influence of this bourbon was less overwhelming than the Heaven Hill in previous samples, but that a lower percentage of bourbon or heavier Scotch malts might help balance the sample. This was spicy and peppery on the palate, but not aggressive, with quite a short finish. The panel found it difficult to detect any of the phenolic notes that one would expect from the Jura Superstition.Score: 5Cardiac Arrest30% Cardhu, 30% Alberta Distillers’ Canadian, 30% Heaven Hill bourbon, 10% Laphroaig. Sweet, floral, honey notes on the complex nose, which impressed the panellists, and the overall effect was harmonious, with a lingering finish. The real surprise here, however, was that the Laphroaig was virtually undetectable, with just a hint of smoke late on the palate. As David Stewart remarked, 10 per cent of Laphroaig is a significant amount, yet the bourbon had killed it off very effectively. Richard wondered whether trying the same recipe but with 10 per cent of Ardbeg instead of Laphroaig would produce a significantly different result.Score: 8Sensual Smokescreen30% Suntory Pure Malt, 10% Nikka Single Cask Malt, 20% Jim Beam Black Label, 20% Dalmore Cigar Malt, 20% Laphroaig.The two Japanese malts gave this sample perfume and fragrance, with the nose being dominated by plums, pears, marzipan and sherry. The bourbon, unsurprisingly, came through on the nose, but at 20 per cent of the total it did not impose itself too adamantly. The 20 per cent of Laphroaig was detectable, to the relief of the panellists who were beginning to think their noseswere failing them. Nonetheless, on the palate the Laphroaig only ‘kissed’ the sample, to the amazement of the tasters. “We’ve got two great Japanese malts here”, said Richard, “and I think this has all the makings of a really good cigar malt. Bring on the Havanas!”Score: 76920% Indian, 30% Bulgarian, 30% Australian, 10% Alberta Distillers’ Canadian, 10% Isle of Jura.The most international of all the samples, but the nose brought immediate grimaces, with cries of ‘rotting turnips’, ‘dead mice’, and ‘a fousty malt barn’. ‘Grainy’, ‘dried tobacco’, and ‘cereal’ were some of the more positive adjectives applied to the quite complex palate. “It tastes better than it noses”, declared David Robertson. There was a consensus that ‘hot’ wood which had been ‘cooked’ by excessive temperatures during maturation in some of the constituent whiskies had contributed to the dominant stale mustiness. The chief culprits appeared to be the Indian and Bulgarian whiskies, with one panellist simply declaring “the Bulgarian has ****** it up”. It was suggested that only a blender of Richard’s ability could have managed to prise a score of 5/10 from the panel for the taste of this sample, which rated a grudging 2/10 on the nose!Score: 5Sex in the Sunshine30% Glenmorangie, 30% Longmorn, 20% Suntory Pure Malt, 20% Nikka Single Cask Malt.The star of the show, with a lovely nose of cherry, oranges, orange peel and Christmas cake. Spices and dried fruit, full and lingering on the palate, and less obvious citrus notes when diluted. “I don’t want to put this down”, declared Billy. “This is slow sex in the sunshine”, said David Robertson, “it goes on and on. The Longmorn and the Nikka have held their own”.Score: 9Musing after the event, the feeling of the panel was that the results were pretty much as one might have expected in advance. The wood influence was significant, with the fresh oak of the bourbon being hard to tame, often giving the samples too many ‘peaks’ rather than consistent smoothness.“Bourbon is a tricky bugger to play with”, as one panellist succinctly put it.According to Billy: “On paper the Japanese malts would most comfortably be assimilated by the Scotch, due to the obvious Scotch influence on Japanese whisky styles, and that definitely proved to be the case”.Encouraged by the positive reaction of the other panellists, Richard and David felt that they would like to experiment further, cutting back on some of the bourbon percentages, and putting in more heavy, Highland malts.They would also perhaps use cask rather than bottled samples when creating another batch of whiskies/eys for evaluation.In the meantime, however, if you think you can do better than the blenders, then see below. Create your own blendWant to join the league of nations? Then e-mail your ‘blend of nations’ recipes to Whisky Magazine at editorial@whiskymag.comWe’ll make them and put together a panel which will include Robbo and Richard and write up the best ones in a future issue. The three judged to be the best by the panel will win their creators a trio of whiskies/eys courtesy of the Easy Drinking Whisky Company.