Wednesday, 16 January 2013

A marriage made in heaven: “Liquid gold” vatted malts

Preference for single malts in the whisky drinking world is undeniable even though most of the whisky sold worldwide are blends like the iconic Johnnie Walker Black Label. This post will explain a little about the difference between single malts, “vatted malts” and blends while providing reviews about four very special “vatted” malts in my growing collection. I could only find a favourite after a blind tasting, and it was Johnnie Walker Green Label followed very closely by Sheep Dip "Old Hebridean" 1990 and Double Barrel. 

My collection includes four “vatted malts” which have come to be my favourite whiskies. These are:

After purchasing what I think are the last few bottles of Old Hebridean and Double Barrel Bowmore and Highland Park left in Australia (they’re sold out absolutely everywhere I’ve looked on Australian, British and American retailer websites and in store in Melbourne), I hurried home to take the above picture. Over time, my appreciation for vatted malts has grown considerably. These four “vatted malts” are all described in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2012 as “liquid gold” having all scored over 94/100. I need to take my time with this post and savour it! Now, so that I can stop encasing the phrase in double quotes, what is a “vatted malt”!?

A “vatted malt” is now commonly known as a “blended malt”. According to the Scotch Whisky Association, a “blended malt” is a “blend of Single Malt Scotch Whiskies, which have been distilled at more than one distillery.” This is different to a single malt, which originates from one distillery, and a blend, which which contains malt and grain whisky. 

Now let’s call the “vatted malt” a “blended malt”, to keep the Scotch Whisky Association happy. If you think about it, a blended malt basically allows single malts from different distilleries to “marry” together into one whisky. With that union comes a marriage of flavours from different distilleries and, with some blended malts, regions. To fully appreciate blended malts, though, I would gain an appreciate for single malts and their basic characteristics (like the peat of Islay whisky from Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Lagavulin etc, the smokiness of Talisker, the sweetness of Dalwhinnie or Dalmore, the fireside peat of Highland Park etc). In that way, tasting blended malts can be an experience in which you can tease out the elements of the blend and explore how the marriage has given the whisky invigoration and uniqueness. 

Blended or vatted malts (especially by independent producers) are seen in a less romantic light as single malts and luxury blends, and so these are not as popular. This just comes down to consumer perceptions of branding, and, for lack of a better word, irrational snobbery. As I wrote about Johnnie Walker Blue Label, blends can offer quite a spectacular whisky experience that can leave a whisky drinker wondering what all the fuss is about concerning single malts. Of course a whisky drinker’s palate develops over time, but the value of whisky is defined by subjective taste and objective value such as rarity, age, production difficulties etc. All this taken into account, it seems irrational to conclude single malts are better than blends simply because they come from the one distillery. Does it really matter? 

This blog has reviewed of each of these whiskies, so please have a read of these reviews by clicking on their names above.  

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