The perfect summer vacation is an escape from life’s stresses, full of new experiences, and a break from our daily routine. This summer, take the same approach with whisky: Get out of the rut of your usual, rejuvenate your palate, and bask in the glory of blended scotch. For those in the know, blended scotch has always been an indisputable classic, and for those experiencing it for the first time, current trends in crafting blends make them feel fresh, breezy, and perfect for the season. Best of all, blends have remarkable versatility—they rule the day in summer, where they shimmer in a long drink, blend beautifully into a cocktail, chill comfortably on the rocks, then languish neat after sunset.
Single malt elitists take note: The existence and popularity of blends is the very reason there are more than 120 whisky distilleries flourishing in Scotland today. Blended scotch is an assembly of multiple malt and grain whiskies from distilleries across Scotland. Scotch whisky blenders have long relied on single malt whisky producers to provide the flavor variety and volume needed to construct world-class blends under names like Dewar’s, Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, and Ballantine’s. By also including lighter grain whiskies in the blend, the final whiskies achieve elegance, balance, and superb drinkability. “You have to explore and appreciate the diversity that’s in Scotch whisky: Don’t write off blends,” says Stephanie Macleod, master blender of Dewar’s. “You can’t say ‘I only drink malts.’ It takes such a lot of time to make up a good blend.” It’s about balancing quantity and quality, intricacy and innovation, subtlety and smoothness.
Most blends seem impossibly complex to replicate: Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 year old, for example, contains at least 30 different whiskies. At the other end of the spectrum, Compass Box The Double Single 2017 Release is a skillful minimalist blend: one malt whisky, one grain whisky, and nothing more. Whichever route the blender takes, all the whiskies in a blend must be matured in Scotland for a minimum of 3 years, and if the label carries an age statement, as many blends do, it represents the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle.
Blend’s Summer of Love
The addition of lighter-bodied, mass-produced grain whisky distinguishes blended scotch by offering effortless satisfaction and great value. Whether you’re melting in the heat of the midday sun by the pool or strolling through the hot, thick air of a summer night to a soundtrack of crickets, blends make a smart choice for imbibers who choose to enjoy good whisky without compromising with the weather.
While names like Dewar’s, Grant’s, and Johnnie Walker would be well-known to your grandfather, blends have shrugged off any suggestion of being stuffy or unexciting. Leading blenders are creating imaginative new expressions, drawing on groundbreaking ideas in single malt whisky and their own cunning concepts. Take Johnnie Walker, for example, where the Blenders’ Batch project has dropped cool new blends showcasing the talent and ideas of the next generation of young blenders including Emma Walker, Aimée Gibson, and George Harper. Johnnie Walker Triple Grain American Oak 10 year old and Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Wine Cask are tasty on their own and for cocktail serves at home. Jim Beveridge, master blender of Johnnie Walker, worked with his blending team on these experiments. “There has been a lot of innovation going on over the last couple of years,” he says. These whiskies are fresh, high-quality permutations on the Johnnie Walker range, with new flavors at an affordable price.
The skill of the blender is the ability to combine fruity Speyside whiskies, hearty Highland whiskies, sweet creamy grain whiskies, and perhaps a dash of smoky Islay whisky into a whole. Picture a blended whisky as a swirling galaxy made up of a heavenly multitude of flavors: Within this system, the addition of one flavor can knock another out of its orbit. Too much smoky whisky, for example, can become like a black hole wreaking havoc on the balance of the galaxy, so smoke is usually the final flavor added by the blender.
With its balanced smoke, Johnnie Walker Black Label is an icon of traditional blended scotch. “The smoke works really well in this blend,” affirms Beveridge. “It’s a combination of the malts, the grain, and the wood that gives that balance. In Johnnie Walker Red Label, the smoke is much more overt, and it’s more about younger whiskies where the distillery character is more evident, as there are less extractives [from the cask].”
Summer is made for adventure, and the affordability of classic blended scotches makes them ideal for more than just sipping neat from a snifter. Nearly every purchaser of Johnnie Walker White Walker, the blended scotch in the recent Game of Thrones series, popped a bottle in the freezer to reveal the hidden message on the label. But the real surprise comes with a taste of the well-chilled whisky, which may change the way you consume, perceive, and enjoy this whisky for the better.
Then there’s dilution. “You know if you add water to whisky, it releases flavor?” asks Beveridge rhetorically. There are flavor compounds that love alcohol but don’t love water. When you add water to your blend, these flavors escape to the surface where you can pick them up on the nose, which consequently changes the flavors remaining in the glass. Then he confirms, “That’s why you get these amazing flavors when you add water.” Adding water releases flavors, but there are various ways of doing it, like adding ice. “I like the idea of those big ice balls because they melt slowly, and they release more flavors as they melt,” Beveridge says. With Johnnie Walker Blue Label he advocates the “perfect serve,” where you add water on the palate by sipping it before the scotch. Given all the freedom afforded these whiskies, it’s no surprise they even make a fine blender drink.
Sweet Summer Sun
Whether jetting off to a Caribbean beach resort or a European capital, don’t miss the opportunity to grab some great value blends at the airport. Travel Retail stores at the major domestic airports stock a large assortment of blended scotch from Ballantine’s, Buchanan’s, Chivas Regal, Royal Salute, The Famous Grouse, Grant’s, Old Parr, and more. If you are departing from an international destination outside the U.S., you’ll up your chances of locating some brilliant airside exclusives such as Chivas Regal 18 year old Ultimate Cask Collection First Fill Japanese Oak Finish, Royal Salute 21 year old Beach Polo Edition, or The Famous Grouse Toasted Cask.
Luxury blends aren’t the exclusive domain of jet-setters, however. In the summer of 2019, a wave of new age-statement blends hit American shores. Perhaps better known to modern whisky drinkers for his work on single malts BenRiach and GlenDronach, Billy Walker has blending in his blood. His lengthy career includes working with Ballantine’s, Inver House, and Burn Stewart. In 2017, Walker was part of a consortium that bought GlenAllachie Distillery from Pernod Ricard, but he still had blending on his mind: The sale included a significant amount of stock for blending, as well as two blended scotch whisky brands. Walker has recently relaunched MacNair’s as a range of peated blended malts, and he has huge ambitions for White Heather as a contemporary peated blend very soon.
“We are not coming out with a peat bomb, but it will have 3% to 5% peat in the mix,” says Walker. “Twenty-one year old peaty whisky is interesting because it’s not aggressive, it’s soft and delicate, and it can actually add flavor.” He has been equally selective about the grain whiskies for White Heather, going back to old favorites such as Dumbarton, Strathclyde, and Girvan. The final blend spends a period of 18 months to 2 years in oloroso sherry casks.
Let the Sun Shine
Dewar’s whiskies are well recognized for their heather honey, vanilla, citrus, and floral notes, which are often layered with an intriguing hint of smoke. “While we do keep to the house style, we want to add and enhance the house style,” observes Macleod. In existence for 120 years, Dewar’s White Label, with its backbone of sweetness, grain whisky, and a trace of peat smoke, works well on the rocks or in a cocktail, where scotch fans will recognize they’re drinking whisky, but those who may think they don’t enjoy scotch will be pleasantly surprised. Macleod proposes the Mamie Taylor as the perfect example of a blended whisky cocktail to please all. “I don’t want to drink a whisky cocktail that doesn’t taste of whisky,” admits Macleod. “But this has ginger beer, lime juice, Dewar’s White Label, and lots of ice, and it really is a beautiful drink for the summer.”
Macleod is responsible for the creation of Dewar’s blends like White Label Scratched Cask, 15 year old The Monarch, 25 year old, and 30 year old Ne Plus Ultra, among others. With the new Dewar’s Double Double series, she is raising the bar for the brand yet again.
Consisting of three new whiskies, the Double Double series name refers to Dewar’s new four-stage process that builds on its trademark double-aging process. First, Macleod selects malt and grain whiskies of sufficient maturity and quality, and then blends them separately in different batches. Each of these batches is placed back into well-used casks for a month, where the whiskies marry without picking up more oak influence. Next, the blended malt and blended grain whiskies are combined to rest in casks for another month. Finally, the aged blends enter various sherry casks for 6 months: oloroso for the 21 year old, palo cortado for the 27 year old, and Pedro Ximénez for the 32 year old.
It sounds complicated because it is. “I was racking my brains to think how I could make this the smoothest yet, so I thought back to how A.J. Cameron did it,” recalls Macleod. Dewar’s first master blender, Alexander Cameron, famously devised a double-aging process to create Dewar’s White Label in the late 19th century.
Whether looking for the pinnacle of the blender’s art savored as a luxury masterpiece, a stylishly cool pour served over ice, or a refreshing thirst-quencher of a cocktail, blended scotch has you covered. So give your usual whisky a rest, and take a blend on vacation. You’ll be in great company as the long summer days roll on.
Unlock new flavors with these cool serves, affordable and easy on the ice.
These blends will rival any single malt for quality, complexity, and sheer elegance.
These Highball-ready blends are the ultimate in refreshment and affordability, perfect with ice and soda, or in a whisky cocktail.
For the beach house or the basement, these blended scotch whiskies offer impressive value for the money.