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Bodacious Blends

Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
The Blues Brothers, Jan/Feb 2008

Single malts are the only Scotch whiskies worthy of a connoisseur Scotch, and blends are meant for pikers and mixed drinks. Right?

Wrong! Just when it seemed as if blended Scotches were a fading memory on the top shelf of the American bar, Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker have each released hyperpremium quaffs that parade the art of blending while referencing to its past glories.

Johnnie Walker takes a stroll down Memory Lane with its Blue Label King George V edition, creating a whisky to celebrate its first royal warrant granted by an English monarch in 1934. Accordingly, its blenders used only techniques practiced during that reign and delved into what the company calls its "diamond mine" to blend only spirits available at the time. Some of those 17 whiskies are not made any longer and have thus become precious, such as the whisky of Islay's Port Ellen distillery, shuttered in 1983. The result is a whisky made for sipping all night. Similar to the original Johnnie Walker Blue, but not as peaty, it comes out on the nose with honey, flowers and a bit of cheese. Complex and full on the palate, it adds a spicy bite to a base of candy, licorice and sandalwood, and then finishes with savory bread dough and peat. (86.8 proof, $600)

Chivas Regal 25-Year-Old recalls a superaged blend (25 years minimum—not averaged) first sold in New York City in 1909. Soon discontinued, it became a collector's item. Even while it's been revived it should remain a highly prized trophy in any collection. In this incarnation, the 25-year-old is a complex twist of whiskies that starts with a candied, perfumed nose that turns to bread dough, graham cracker and orange with the slightest snap of sharp cheese. Tons of mellow depth come out on the palate with licorice, cinnamon cracker, Christmas pudding and residual peat. Again, this is a sipping whisky as it finishes forever with the appearance of peat and candy apple. (80 proof, $300)

Predictably, these whiskies are in limited release, but don't let that or the high tariffs keep you from discovering the joys of blended Scotch. Both companies (with Walker Gold and Chivas 18) as well as Dewar's and Famous Grouse have other formidable blends with which to explore the high end of this downplayed world of whisky.

Visit www.johnniewalker.com and www.chivasregal.com.

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