GO ON, ADMIT IT, when you read those three words your reaction wasn’t one of unbridled excitement or of uncontainable joy. You didn’t think: “Oh golly gosh, how I’ve waited for a proper in-depth feature on blended scotch. My spirit is overflowing, lead me to the opening paragraph, boss, and hit me with your best shot.” You didn’t even think “oh great”. More likely it was an underwhelming, unaccompanied “oh”.
I write ‘blend’ and you read ‘bland’, right?
In fact, I suspect I’m barely hanging on to your attention even now, despite a cunningly constructed lexicological distraction. So let me level with you: I know blended whiskies aren’t normally anything to get excited about, but trust me for a bit. Give me a couple of hundred words to show you that not only is something stirring in blendsville, but the category is starting to play a leading role in the field of spirits. Or at least a part of it is.
The worldwide market for blended scotch whisky remains huge. It accounts for more than nine out of 10 glasses of scotch whisky sold worldwide, and last year was worth £2.77bn, 72% of the global value of scotch whisky exports, according to figures from the Scotch Whisky Association.
But blends are to the spirits world what burgers are to cuisine – ubiquitous but in the main homogeneous, uninspiring and not very sexy.
While single malt whiskies are a dynamic firework display of flavours, revelling in their evolution and nuanced differences from batch to batch and year to year, blended whiskies are reliable models of consistency. They are like your football club’s solid central defender – he does the same, solid job week in, week out, but nobody puts his name on the back of their replica shirts.
But blends are important. Very important. And the signs are that they are becoming more so by the week, as Diageo’s head of whisky outreach, Dr Nicholas Morgan points out.
“You ignore blended scotch whisky at your peril,” he says. “Whisky enthusiasts like to go on about single malt whiskies but they forget most of those single malts wouldn’t be available if it wasn’t for the market for blended whisky because single malt is made primarily to go into blends.
“They are whisky’s foot soldiers. They open the door for whisky in new markets and are the stepping stones for people to cross over to whisky.”
Morgan’s comments hold the key as to why blends are increasingly moving into the spotlight, and they contain a delightful irony, for while single malts have traditionally ridden on the coat tails of the blended whisky market, at the moment the roles are being reversed. Blended whiskies are being given a new lease of life by whisky producers because of the runaway success of single malt whisky, and in the more traditional ‘mature’ markets they are being favourably reassessed by whisky drinkers. There are two key reasons for these, both linked to a shortage of single malt whisky.