A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the fifth annual An Evening with the Blenders. Each year, the event takes place at The Scotch Whisky Experience on the back of the International Spirits Challenge (ISC). Mid-way through the week, the blenders take an evening out of their busy schedule and share some of their greatest drams with the city’s whisky fans.
We were welcomed by new chairman of the ISC – the shy and retiring Richard Paterson. Then, in a change from the ‘whisky festival’ format of previous years, we were split into four groups and moved around the attraction, with Scotch whisky going head-to-head with an international cousin in each room. Although I heard a few grumbles from those that would like to snaffle the blenders for an hour or so to discuss sulphur candles and the like, I liked the new format – it gave the blenders the chance to introduce their drams, with the “audience” still having the opportunity to put some questions to them
There were some great drams on show, but I wanted to highlight my top three:
The Balvenie Single Barrel 15 Year Old
First of all, what a treat to be in the same room as David Stewart – in my opinion, the man who set many of the trends followed by other distilleries today. He’d brought a 15 year old Balvenie which is drawn from a single cask and what a dram it was – rich and spied characters, complemented with a smooth sweetness.
The latest release from Glenmorangie was introduced by another whisky legend – Dr Bill Lumsden. Taking his inspiration from the sweetshops of his youth, the name of the whisky comes from the Gaelic for ‘Sweet Things’. And maybe it’s because he planted the idea in my mind but the overriding flavour for me was of dolly mixtures!
Bladnoch 15 Year Old
With 40 years experience in the industry, Ian Macmillan is the man tasked with reviving the currently dormant Bladnoch distillery. And as a taste of things to come, he brought a whisky straight from the cask – 15 years old, with an oloroso sherry finish. Ian said that the light yet robust whisky was what he was looking for the new distillery to produce, so hopefully we’ll be seeing the fruits of his labour soon.
And I’d also just like to mention Diageo’s Smokey Goat. Although it wasn’t one of my top drams of the night, it was a great opportunity to see what the company’s “artisan” branch is churning out. A mix of smoky Islay whisky and blended grain whisky, it had the interesting contrast of subtle smoke mixed with that smooth taste of grain whisky. It’s currently only available in Germany and Austria but is going down well with our Germanic cousins, and I look forward to seeing what else comes of the experiment.
All in all, a great night, featuring cracking drams and stimulating company – roll on 2017!