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As long term readers of this blog will likely know, there is nothing I enjoy more than really getting my teeth into the history of a distillery or whisky brand. However that isn’t always an easy thing to do in this era of undisclosed distilleries and supermarket brands that provide sparse details of a spirit’s origins.
As a result of these trends I’ve become something of an expert in the tenuous link and have developed a newfound appreciation for the marketing waffle that often accompanies such bottles. If nothing else, it gives me something to write about.
For this my latest review I have once again managed to saddle myself with such a dram. Distiller’s Choice is a 5 year old blended malt available at Morrison’s Supermarkets in the UK. According to the label it is “crafted from a blend of 20 specially selected single malts” from the Highland and Speyside regions which are then married together in ex-Oloroso sherry casks for three months before bottling.
With a lack of any further information to investigate, my mind turned to the subject of blending in general and I realised that I hadn’t really covered the development of this important facet of the industry before.
Blended whisky makes up about 80% of worldwide Scotch sales but it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the idea was first properly explored, several hundred years after the earliest examples of Scottish distillation.
With the Excise Act of 1823 making it easier and more affordable for distillers to gain a license, the quantity of spirit being produced grew massively. Soon distillers were selling to local grocers by the cask load and those same grocers began blending their stocks together in order to create a unique product they could call their own.
Often credited as the Father of the modern whisky industry, it is nevertheless unlikely that Andrew Usher was the first to blend. He was however, among the first to see the real potential in it. Building on the relationship his Father had established with George Smith of The Glenlivet distillery, Usher began exporting his creations outwith Scotland and his Old Vatted Glenlivet became the first recognisable whisky brand as we understand the term today.
Though it began life as a blended malt, Usher’s Old Vatted Glenlivet had become a blended Scotch by the 1880s, a product born of the Patent still invented by Aeneas Coffey in 1831. His new design led to the cheaper production of whisky from other grains which, though lacking the character of malt, toned down its intensity and eccentricities when the two were blended together, creating a new refined spirit more suited to the Victorian palate. The category exploded and over time, those at the forefront of the movement built empires that would see their names immortalised… Johnnie Walker, William Teacher and Arthur Bell to name but a few.
Despite still accounting for the vast majority of sales, the humble blend is often derided as inferior to single malt. Whilst this may be true in some cases (a £15 blend can’t seriously be expected to compete with a £40 malt) it is a little unfair to generalise in such a way, even more so when the product in question is a blended malt with no trace of supposedly inferior grain whisky in its recipe.
It is just such a product that Morrisons offer with their Distiller’s Choice. 100% malt whisky sourced from 20 distilleries across the Highlands of Scotland, bottled at 40% abv and retailing at the incredibly budget-friendly price of just £15.
Smell: Cereal and barley extract. Vanilla, apple and pear. Light touch of Sherry. Chocolate raisins. Orange zest. Cinnamon and ginger. Surprisingly ‘full’ aroma for such an affordable dram.
Taste: Apple and woody spice. Caramel. Dark chocolate. Pleasing weight on the palate. Some treacle notes with raisins. With water and time in the glass, some Scottish tablet comes through.
Thoughts: The quality isn’t bad for what is essentially bottom-shelf whisky. It’s a little one dimensional, perhaps, but what it does, it does well enough.
It’s essentially combination of young, rather plain malts given a bit of an overcoat by a few months in a relatively active sherry cask. Nothing wrong with that, but there isn’t a huge amount of spirit character on show. Instead, we get a surprisingly wood-forward dram for just five years old. Despite this lack of complexity however, the fullness of flavour and satisfying weight make it a decent enough little purchase when you’re on a tight budget.
*Distiller’s Choice has disappeared from Morrisons website and is currently out of stock on their Amazon store which suggests to me that it has been discontinued. There were still a few bottles on the shelf at my local store however so if you want it, I’d move quickly whilst stocks last.
For product information, visit here.