Bring on the Blends

Sample The General, from Compass Box, blind and you’ll be searching to identify the category of this spirit even while it has  a name that suggests it’s in charge of whatever army it hails from. It telegraphs the fruit and flowers of a Cognac, while still bringing off the spice of an Island malt and the wine and nuts of a vintage Port. Complex, with hard candy, Christmas pudding, bread dough and a hint of sharp cheese, it finishes exceptionally long with smacks of tangerines and a dusting of cinnamon. This soldier is blended Scotch, the product, the company says, of marrying “two ridiculously rare” blended parcels, one 33 years old and the other, the bottler strongly hints, is even older.

Often relegated to lower shelves, Scotch blends have been making their mark of late with exquisite expressions, sometimes in limited releases, that tease at how good this category can be. Introduced in March with 1,698 bottles ($300, 106.8 proof), The General is already gone. Don’t despair. Johnnie Walker moved in the opposite direction, making its Platinum Label ($110, 80 proof), previously only sold in the U.K., available in the United States as well. Every Scotch region bagpipes up in this 18-year-old of cascading complexity, with its flavors of fruit, graham cracker, sea spray and smoke. Yet it manages the smoothness of a blend.

Cutty Sark has stepped away from its familiar light-and-bright taste profile, exploring its sometimes naughty past with Prohibition Edition ($30, 100 proof), a blend that harks back to the fuller, more honey, caramel and spice flavors of the era before it started blending for the American market. It’s part of a trend that’s seen a number of malts step up with bolder flavors. The filling out of the Dewar’s stable with 12-year-old ($28), 18-year-old ($79.99) and Signature ($200, all 80 proof) has added richer toffee, butter, doughy and spicy notes to its honey and citrus profile.

Smokier is another direction, and Famous Grouse has its Black ($30, 80 proof) and Johnnie Walker its Double Black ($42, 80 proof), both of which layer on the peaty taste of Islay. While advanced age has long been explored with exquisite blends like Chivas Regal’s 21-year-old Royal Salute ($200, 80 proof) and William Grant 25-year-old ($300, 80 proof), the vogue for no-age-statements among single malts is also taking hold with blends, as Johnnie Walker replaced its Gold Label (an 18-year-old) with Gold Label Reserve ($87, 80 proof) without maturation designation. Chivas Regal, however, is holding firm with its own 18-year-old entry ($75, 80 proof).

However you blend it, the current direction pays dividends when mixed with cigars.

"Have enjoyed two bottles of the Cutty Prohibition Edition. It is certainly not the Cutty from many many years ago in my college days when Scots Whisky became my choice of beverage." —November 12, 2014 15:47 PM
"Would love to see your comments on the newer "boutique" bourbons that are hitting the marketplace. Seems like they are coming at us faster and faster. " —November 11, 2014 01:58 AM