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Thursday, 14 July 2011

Blend Me Your Ears


Hot on the heels of our last post, I may have had a slight change of heart about a desire to distil in my shed at home. Those of you who keep an eye on UK news reports will have seen a story developing over the last few days about the illicit manufacturing of alcohol in the UK, prompted by an explosion at what appears to be a bootlegging factory in Boston, Lincs.

The BBC is reporting a HMRC spokesman as saying

“Yesterday's tragic events in Boston have underlined the risks that go with the illegal distillation of alcohol.

"In just over the last 12 months HMRC, working with other law enforcement agencies, has closed down three illegal stills and six men have been prosecuted for producing counterfeit vodka, resulting in prison sentences totalling over 56 years.

"Illegal alcohol undermines all honest alcohol traders whilst putting at risk the lives of those who consume and produce it."

(source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-14151509)

That’s the Distillery Shed out of the equation then. I’m already scared that the gas cylinder under the BBQ is a ticking time-bomb... best leave the distillation to the experts, me thinks!

A much better option seems to be blending; a privileged granted to us and others by the chaps at Master Of Malt recently. Servicing ten blogs with a blending kit and letting us get on with it, the final result was chosen by the general public.

Having sat down and tasted all the blends, one thing is certain: they are all different. Some more so than others, but certainly each holds their own unique flavour profile. The winner has been announced here and you can purchase a bottle (or indeed a kit of all ten) to see if you agree with the result.

One thing that threads these blends together is the unanimous and resounding agreement that this process was a lot harder than we all initially thought. Many of us have been party to blending classes hosted by professionals or have even had a go at throwing together some bin-ends at home to see what we can produce... but having limited whiskies and being mindful of a price-point, this task was indeed challenging. Along with the distillation, I think I’ll leave the blending to the experts, at least for the time being!

A master at this craft is Compass Box’s John Glaser. Having started his boutique whisky company over ten years ago, the output from Compass Box seems to go from strength-to-strength. Recent additions to the range have focused on top end, premium releases under the banner of the Compass Box Signature Range with limited releases coming annually.

It is only now that Glaser and Compass Box have expanded their range with the launch of a new category, Great King Street focusing solely on blended whisky.

The first release under the Great King Street banner is their Artist’s Blend; available exclusively in 50cl bottles and, as always with Compass Box, with packaging that is sublime for something at this price point (sub-£24). Let’s see how this tries out:

Compass Box – Great King Street ; Artist’s Blend – 50cl - 43%

Nose: A surprisingly bright nose with hints of banana milkshake, vanilla, honeysuckle and cream soda. Some milk chocolate coco powder.

Palate: Initial hit of the foam banana penny sweets, then toasted marshmellow, some rich and creamy butter notes. A little bit of meringue with whipped cream.

Finish: Just a hint of spice which adds a good complexity but a delicate yet unctuous finish with more of the cream and banana but also some toasted crumpets and just a hint of cinnamon.

Overall: This is a great entry level blend but most pleasing of all is the versatility of it. At this price, the consumer shouldn’t be put off experimenting with this blend in different drinks, as well as trying it neat. My recommendation would be to try this as a Mizuwari with a little spring of mint thrown in. This should see you through the summer months in style!

As seen in Boston recently, it may be dangerous and difficult to distil alcohol, but taking other people's artistry to create something unique and tasty is a whole different skill set altogether. So here’s to the Still Man, risking life and limb to boil away alcohol from water. And here’s to the blender, for mixing these wonderful substances together so we can enjoy neat, or pick up their mantle and experiment with cocktails at home.

Speaking of excellent blends/mashups... the one below will take some beating....

Slainte!