A Few More Words About Blending

Something that Chuck Cowdery told me the other day should have been addressed in our more recent posts about Bourbon and that's the idea of consistency.  Big brands have to be consistent from batch to batch, otherwise they're not dependable and there's nothing consumers hate more than inconsistent flavor and quality. If every can of Coke or Pepsi tasted a bit different than the last one you had, neither brand would be nearly as successful as they are today.  Jack Daniels, Bulleit, Jim Beam, and every other big money brand needs to taste the same every time.  People hang their hat on the flavor of these whiskies and just how is it they achieve this flavor on a regular basis?  By marrying gigantic amounts of whiskey together.

There's a reason that the Templeton and Bulleit ryes taste different from one another, despite the fact they're basically made from the same whiskey.  Templeton is using smaller batches, while Diageo is dumping huge amounts of LDI booze into each release.  The smaller the amount of barrels being used, the more likely that a single barrel or flavor will dominate part of the overall flavor.  The more barrels used in the recipe, the less likely that any single whiskey will throw off the marriage. When you buy a bottle of Van Winkle Lot B versus the Weller 12 year, this is essentially the difference.  The Van Winkle batch is a vatting of specific 12 year old wheated Buffalo Trace barrels from specific warehouse locations they prefer.  The Weller 12 is a much larger soup.  That's why, even though they're essentially the same juice, the flavors are not quite the same.  It's that special attention to detail that warrants the extra money for the Van Winkle bottle. 

The same process happens in Scotland.  Laphroaig distillery for example has no real master blender because they're not making different types of whiskies.  The Laphroaig 10 year is literally just a marriage of the three-hundred casks closest to the door.  Contrast that with Ardbeg, whose Uigeadail and Corryvreckan whiskies are carefully crafted recipes of young and old stock from former blender Rachel Barrie.  One method isn't necessarily better than the other, but the latter is definitely more time consuming.  If a whisk(e)y comes as the result of extra attention and detail, specific measurements and equations, then it takes longer to make and time, as we all know, is money.  If a whisk(e)y just requires the dumping of x number of casks into a stainless steel tank, then it can be made much faster and more efficiently. 

The idea of crafting a specific flavor is something we're definitely paying for with certain whiskies and it demands an amount of respect.  Not all whiskies are created equally and we need to pay more attention to making these facts known to the consumer.  Sometimes they feel they're getting ripped off, when in fact they're paying for precision.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll