A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in judging the Battle Of The Blends, with two carefully anonymous blends put together under some intriguing rules. It’s always a pleasure to see a Drinks By The Dram box dropping through my letterbox, but the content was even more intriguing than usual!
As the proud owner of a Home Blending Kit, the idea of non-master-blender types putting together a whisky is properly inspiring – although obviously both Dave Broom and Neil Ridley know a whole lot more about the stuff than me!
Nonetheless I was eager to see how the two whiskies stood up – both on their own, and against each other.
This is the darker of the two blends, with a sweet nose full of Christmas pudding – raisins and perhaps a slight almond edge, with a definite port backdrop.
Watered, the sweetness fades and more of a nutty tone emerges, continuing the Christmas marzipan theme. Lurking under that is something I can’t quite put my finger on, reminding me of old, leather-bound books.
In the mouth there’s a dark fruit richness and a little white pepper in the background. It has a nice alcohol warmth in the finish but is lacking a little in complexity – a highly drinkable dram, perhaps a little simple.
Water takes away the fruit but doesn’t leave a whole lot else, exposing the lack of depth. There’s a slight suggestion of wood towards the end but this is really a whisky to enjoy neat.
The lighter dram of the battle, this has a more intriguing nose – sweet light notes that put me in mind of Sauternes, with a decent alcohol kick at the back. As it sits in the glass, a gentle smoke becomes apparent, along with worn old oak.
Watered, the damp wood comes through more strongly, transporting me to a bonded warehouse full of maturing malts.
In the mouth it’s initially light with a touch of caramel and a nicely warming alcohol backbone. There’s more grain character than the other blend, and a hint of unripe green apples. The finish has a nice oaky tannic edge.
With water the alcohol is tamed and the tannins in the finish come through more strongly and more drying. There’s a nice lingering spice on the tip of the tongue, with further hints of smoke. Delicious.
It’s a close run thing – I’d be happy with a bottle of either in my cabinet – but if I was forced to choose, Blend B wins, especially with water. Although I think Blend A is more approachable (and, dare I say it, more commercial?), I enjoyed the depth of Blend B more.
Now the results are in, it turns out I’m in the minority, with only 40% of my fellow judges choosing the right winner.