...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Whisky with Florin - Part Three: Blending Whisky

(continued from Part Two, here)

MK: Speaking of Glenlivet ;-) I am two-thousand miles away from a sample of your current house blend. It's going to be one of the first things I'll drink when I get home. Have you attempted your own blends often? How has your hit-to-miss ratio been so far? What inspired you to create this one in particular?

FV: My home blending adventures started a couple years ago, with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Green
15yo. On the side of the box they tell you the four key components of the blend: Caol Ila, Talisker, Linkwood, and Cragganmore. I really liked it, so I figured I'd try to reproduce it. I had the first two malts, but not the latter two, so I replaced them with Glenlivet 12yo as the floral component (instead of Linkwood), and used Glen Garioch 10 for body (instead of Cragganmore). It turns out that you only need a little of the Talisker (5-10%), and not much more of the Caol Ila - they can really dominate the blend. I was pleased with the results, but did not pursue this further. It was just a fun thing to do!

More recently, I started blending in order to "rectify" some malt that I wasn't completely happy with. The Trader Joe's Irish Single Malt is great on its own, but even better with some peated Connemara added on. The dry nuttiness of Speyside 10yo single malt was helped by the fragrant, citrusy Old Pulteney 17yo (but not to the point that I would love it). The butt of a Strathisla 12yo bottle mixed into some Compass Box Oak Cross improved both of them. The "baby" Sazerac Rye was bland on its own, and the 18yo Sazerac Rye too oaky - mixing them played up the strength of the two components.

But the blend that I'm most happy to drink - my "house blend" as you call it - was really a product of serendipity. I already told you I'm a fan of Glenlivet; this summer I tried a bottle of Glenlivet Nadurra 16yo, bottled on 01/12. Despite my high expectations, I did not like it at all! Depending on the day, it was either spirity (ethylic) or buttery (butyric). None of the floral, fragrant, soft, gentle elements that I was expecting based on my previous experience with this distillery were there! (As it turns out, a lot of this is batch variation - a second bottle I opened today, bottled on 04/10, is much better, closer to what you would expect a 18yo Glenlivet to taste like at cask strength.) I was ready to
give up on it completely, when I decided to mix it with some Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength. The effects were amazing! I should say that I love Laphroaig (easily one of my top two distilleries, tied with Springbank), and I adore the 10yo Cask Strength, which I feel best represents the distillery, with its all-out, in-your-face tar, seaweed, and ship engine room notes, nicely balanced by some dark woody sweetness. But sometimes it can get really ashy!

Well, the mix of Laphroaig 10yo CS with Glenlivet 16yo Nadurra is for those days when you don't feel like licking the ashtray on the morning after the party! It retains the iodine and peat of the Laphroaig, but with its edges rounded by the sweet maltiness and floral overnotes of the Glenlivet. Since both malts are at cask strength, the flavors are really concentrated. When is the last time you had a cask strength blended malt? (There is some money to be made right there!) I found that a Laphroaig to Glenlivet ratio of 1:3 to 1:2 works best (25% to 33% Laphroaig). So these days I will buy the Nadurra for this blend
alone! Obviously, the idea of mixing peaty and floral whiskies is not new - besides JW Green 15yo,
John Glaser did it in his Peat Monster and Eleuthera (Clynelish + Caol Ila), and more recently in the Flaming Heart (Clynelish + Laphroaig?). There are other Laphroaig-based double malts on the market as well. Clynelish has an amazing body, which I find too oily on its own, but which makes it best suited for blends. As you know, it's reported to be the basis for JW Gold 18yo as well. The Glenlivet cannot supply that at 40%, but it really provides both body and floral character at cask strength. In a way, the "Glenphroaig", as you aptly named it, is the poor-man's Flaming Heart - I hope that's not too presumptuous! I'm glad you liked it, and I am happy to share it with you and with my other whisky-loving friends! Also, thanks for keeping us updated on your blog with your own blending experiments; I'm looking forward to learning from your hits - and the misses are fun on their own!

MK: I really appreciate Diageo listing the four Green Label malts. It's unusually generous and informative of the drinks giant. Of course they'll be killing Green off soon, so we'll have to design our own! Your interpretation of Green Label sounds fantastic.  I have to say, your blending choices are very bold. For some reason, I'd never considered doing my own blending until watching the Ralfy video where he combined Springbank, Longrow, and Hazelburn. "Outrageous!" I thought. "And probably delicious."

A bottle of Clynelish may be in my future, just to do some blending (and maybe some drinking too). As you mentioned, John Glaser is weaving magic using it in so many of his whiskys. He freely (and refreshingly) talks about most of the ingredients in Flaming Heart via his official tasting video. Laphroaig, Ardmore, and Ledaig -- three of my favorites -- are the peat elements. The only fully cask strength vatted malt I can think of at the moment is one by AD Rattray. It's $90+, a bit steep to buy blindly, but sounds pretty good. Otherwise, I think that market is wide open.

The Glenphroaig is great. It's very rich, which is not only due to that great cask strength power but also feels like it comes from the interplay of two excellent malts. It's not too large, instead it's quite moreish! It's its own whisky. Very well done. It has inspired me to take some more risks with my own blends.

I'm going to do some proper tasting notes tomorrow night. This evening, I'm too involved with a Buffalo Trace hot toddy to allow for focused examination. In fact, I'm afraid the bourbon is about to sabotage this email entirely.

May I request some official tasting notes from the Master Blender? You know your way around the Glenphroaig better than I, so you've likely found some unique nooks and accents in it......

Tomorrow: Part Four - The Glenphroaig