Blends

Blue Hanger 9th Release

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Blue Hanger 9th ReleaseAs a general rule we Whisky Waffle boys tend to be single malt snobs rather than blend bogans. As easy drinking as a blended Chivas 21yo is, we’d just as soon get to grips with a lively Balvenie 12yo single malt. However, one drop that we were lucky enough to try recently suggests that we just may not be drinking the right blends.

Berry Bros and Rudd, better known for their vintaged Glenrothes range, put out a yearly blended malt release called the Blue Hanger. The bottling is named after Lord William Hanger, who was famous for his habitual striking blue attire (just like the blue Power Ranger. Here’s to you Billy!). The original release was a blend of specially selected casks from the Glenlivet and Glengrant distilleries. Eventually stocks ran out (hence the emergence of the Founders Reserve…) and now in this, the 9th edition, Berry Bros and Rudd have combined (like Megazord) 17yo Clynelish and 18yo Glen Elgin with both 23yo and peated 7yo Bunnahabhain.

With such a pedigree it is no wonder the Blue Hanger claims to be the ‘collectors blended malt’. But is it worth adding to your own collection? Short answer: yes!

But of course, this is Whisky Waffle, and so we will also supply you with a long answer too. The nose is light and fruity, and we were able to find strawberry jam, dried apples, quince paste, cured meats and Chardonnay wine. It’s essentially happy hour in a bottle.

The taste is light but flavoursome. Under-ripe cherries, sherry and cola (NB: just a tasting note. No actual cola was brought anywhere near this baby. We’re not monsters you know) combine to sweetly dance across the tongue, followed by a gentle waft of cigar smoke. The finish is long, with the peat smoke slightly more prominent, and hints of pepper, burnt wood and gooey toffee apple.

If you served this to us blind (as in blindfolded, not blind drunk), we would be unlikely to pick it as a blend. The high quality aged single malt elements that make up the Blue Hanger work together with delicacy and harmony to make a very enjoyable dram; the smoky, salty Bunnahabhain giving depth to the high notes of the Clynelish and Glen Elgin. If you tend to think that blends are beneath you, then like us, you’ve probably just been drinking the wrong ones.

★★★★

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‘Big Peat’ or ‘The Perks of Random Conversation at the Bar’

Reviewed by: Ted

Big Peat

This story begins, as so many great stories do: m’colleague and I were at the bar. Admittedly not an unusual state of affairs. On this particular night we were chatting to our barman mate, and a friend of his that he’d just introduced us to. For the purposes of this story, let’s call him Doug. Doug was feeling in a rather celebratory mood as he’d just scored himself a job working as a pharmacist in sunny (and I mean that in the most ball-of-thermonuclear-fire sense of the word) Alice Springs, which is pretty much smack bang in the centre of Australia. Quite a change from little old Burnie on the NW Coast of Tasmania, which can occasionally be sunny if it really makes the effort.

After the usual necessary social preamble was out of the way, the conversation happily turned to that most mysterious, complicated and variable of subjects… women! No, wait, I meant whisky! Doug, as it turned out, was quite the connoisseur (and not just of whisky. On a side note he very charitably bought us a glass of Cognac from the highest extremity of the top shelf, an interesting experience to say the least). We all shared a common passion for peated whiskies, particularly those from what is arguably the spiritual home of the smoky dram: Islay.

These days people mostly talk about Islay in terms of its single malts, but historically the island’s distilleries injected popular blends with some much needed character (and they still do!). However, there is a theory that history works in cycles, and what was once old becomes new again (which probably explains the questionable return of scrunchies and chokers). Interestingly enough, what was getting Doug excited that evening wasn’t the single malts from one of the hallowed Islay distilleries, but a blend. An all-Islay blend. “It’s fantastic! You should track it down”. Fateful words readers, because a few cheeky drams relaxing the mind and the heady world of internet shopping instantly at ones fingertips is a dangerous combination. Let’s just say that I didn’t take much convincing, and moments later I was the proud owner of a bottle of this curious beastie.

Cut to a few weeks later and m’colleague and I were staring with anticipation at a large post box that we had dubbed ‘The Bunker’. With no little ceremony (mostly involving the humming of the tune from the start of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’) we cracked open the box, and were greeted by one of the coolest bits of tube artwork this side of Eilean Mhic Coinnich. Meet the Big Peat, an all-Islay blend purporting to contain ‘a shovelful’ of single malts from the distilleries of Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore, and Port Ellen. The aforementioned artwork is a brilliant graphic-style picture of a hirsute gentleman standing in front of what I can only assume is the Rhinns of Islay lighthouse on a beautiful island day (which is to say that the sky is the colour of tea, and our man has his face squinched up against the wind, which is trying its best to blow his hair away).

Chuckling with glee we popped the top and unsheathed our prize from its scabbard. Gasps of surprise met the sight before us (don’t worry, we hadn’t been ripped off and sent a bottle of JW Red instead). You see, normally we would picture the drams of Islay as being dark and brooding in hue, but the Big Peat was filled with bright spirit the colour of pale golden straw. Some people just like to mess with your mind. Of course, there was only one sensible recourse to meet the conundrum before us, and it wasn’t hiding under the table. Bust out the glasses and crack that sucker open good sir!

A generous splash of whisky later and we were ready to begin uncovering the secrets of the Big Peat. There was no denying that it lived up to its name. The smoke was there as soon as we poured it into the glasses, infused with plenty of dark chocolate, malt, rich earth and those medicinal notes that Ileach whisky is famous for. We were in no doubt about the heritage of the spirit sitting before us, whatever the colour. A closer snort revealed thick sweet notes and perhaps a bit of overripe fruit, like a squashy banana. We eyed each other off; curious, but not too bad a start.

Slurp! Hot, woody, ashy smoke poured into our mouths and then… not much else. Sure, there was a light, sweet after-taste, but it was gone in a flash, and all that was left was spicy, medicinal smoke coiling around the tongue. It was like being on the edge of a bush fire; plenty of smoke getting all up in your face, but no blazing heat to go with it. Hmmm…

We could see what Douglas Laing & Co, the makers, were trying to get at; surely crafting a vatted blend out of the great single malts of Islay should be as awesome a combo as haggis with tatties and neeps! Yet somehow they’d got a wee bit over excited with the whole BIG PEAT malarkey and forgotten that it isn’t just the smoke that makes an Islay dram exceptional, it’s the bricks and mortar and the shape of the fireplace too. The way that sweetness melts into savoury, medicinal tang challenges the tastebuds, dark flavours are shot through with light, seaside elements help wash everything across the palate, and then finally the smoke that sits over them all. It’s a complex ecosystem that requires careful balance to work well.

Sitting back we mused upon the Big Peat. By no means did we think that it was a bad dram, far from it, just that somehow it deserved to be better. Perhaps the mix wasn’t quite right, maybe a dash of Bruichladdich or Bunnahabhain could have rounded out the flavours working underneath the smoke. Who knows? What we did know though, was that the Big Peat had challenged us, and that a random discussion in a bar can lead to interesting and unexpected places. So go on, strike up that conversation, you might just find something new.

★★★

 

Johnnie Walker: the verdict

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Hi Wafflers! Johnnie Walker Week is officially over and we have emerged unscathed and wiser from the other side. Throughout the week we’ve gained an appreciation for blended Scotch whisky – and even more of an appreciation for single malts.

All joking aside (and there were a few of them this week) Johnnie Walker has produced a formidable range of whiskies and we can understand why they are the most popular in the world, even if we respectfully disagree.

Happy Wafflers johnny walker week whisky waffle

So what have we learned throughout Johnnie Walker Week? Let’s pick through the shrapnel:

  • The Red Label is consumed throughout the world as a mixer. And after trying it neat – we understand why;
  • The Black Label likes to think of itself as a step up – and it is – but not nearly enough to consume neat;
  • The Double Black fixes the problems of the previous two with solid flavours and a generous dose of smoke, and in our opinion is the best value in the range;
  • The Gold Label Reserve balances its flavours well, although sadly there are not many of them to balance;
  • The Platinum Label 18 Year Old is beautifully smooth but lacking in soul;
  • The Blue Label is excellent – but very expensive. And when you could buy a Balvenie 21 Year Old for the same price – why would you go for the blend?

So there you have it. Whisky Waffle’s first ‘event week’ has concluded. Thanks for checking it out and we hope you appreciated our ramblings and perhaps you have also broadened your whisky drinking horizons. If anyone has their own opinions or rankings of the Johnnie Walker range, let us know in the comments!

Until next time, keep on waffling,

Nick and Ted

#johnniewalkerweek

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Posted by: Mooresy

Green label whisky waffle

Johnnie Walker Green Label is – or I should say was – a bit of an anomaly in the family. Unlike the others which are all blends including grain and non-malt whiskies, Green was a blended malt made up of only four whiskies, all single malts. This gave it the quality of arriving like a blend then developing on the palate more like a single malt. It’s nose complexity was also more akin to a single malt, and the better noses out there could probably pick the distilleries involved from the smell.

I happen to know what they were, but so as not to spoiler, you’ll have to ask me.

 

An elegy for Johnnie Green

Though caramel brown, your label was Green

With flavoured malt so crisp and clean

A complex coffee fruity smell

Vanilla and nuttiness went down well

The taste had cereals, chocolate and nuts

Not sharp or heavy but you sure had guts

A finish strong with walnuts and honey

Of Johnnie’s varieties you were worth the money

One day the factory shut you down

Scotch lovers everywhere gave a frown

No more would we have our favourite blend

A standout nip, a lifelong friend

Now we’re confined to Black and Red

That burns our nose and hurts our head

There’s lots of fine drams out there today

And where there’s a Walker there’s a will and a way

But for now we must simply say farewell

You were a classic, a legend and we think that you’re swell

 

Now a rare and hard to find malt, Green is consigned to the archive of Johnnie Walker’s bond store along with the Gold Label 18 (they’ve removed the age statement for the current variant) and the elusive Johnnie Walker White Label which I have never tasted. If you find a sealed bottle of Green, you may want to hold onto it for its value but I would strongly encourage you to pop the cork and taste a true exception to the rule. If you spot a half open bottle on a friend’s shelf or in a dark musty pub, encourage the friend to crack it at a party or buy it shot by shot from the wizened landlord.

If you are a single-malt snob who sees the word blended and runs a mile from the likes of Green and the very delicious Blue Hanger, thank you. More for the rest of us.

#johnniewalkerweek

Find out about the rest of our multi-coloured adventures:

Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker Double Black

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie Walker: which is best?

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old

Posted by: Ted

WW Platinum Label

Let us picture a woman: she wears chic white designer clothes, and her platinum blonde hair is perfectly styled. She is beautiful, with flawless ivory skin and delicate features, and yet her pale grey eyes are cold and her face is blank of emotion. She is like an icy white marble statue come to life. Her house is filled with expensive minimalist designer furnishings, all in white, and the effect is striking and elegant. Yet somehow it leaves you feeling empty; it’s too clean, too clinical, lacking in any warmth that allows you to develop an emotional connection.

If you distilled the idea of the white lady and her house, and bottled it, then you would capture the essence of the Johnnie Walker Platinum Label. The Platinum is marketed as one of the top tier bottlings in the standard Johnnie Walker range. It is delicately assembled from a selection of minimum 18 year old single malt and grain whiskies, and was inspired by the private blends created as gifts for the upper echelons of the Johnnie Walker hierarchy.

Platinum extra Ted

On the nose the Platinum is very light and delicate, with hints of dusty oak floorboards, cereals such as bran, oats and barley, chocolate, and coffee. There is no sweetness or fruitiness here, and as such the scent is rather dry and wooden as a result. The mouth is extremely smooth, with subtle flavours of polished oak and walnuts. A flicker of sweetness is allowed, perfectly balanced by a dash of bitterness. The end is dry and provides a grind of black pepper followed later by a sprinkling of ash.

There is a sense that the Johnnie Walker Platinum Label is a stylish drink created for those with sophisticated tastes, and yet in trying to achieve this they somehow miss the point. Yes, the flavours all work together superbly, but as a whole it’s too refined, polished to the point where there is no spark left to bring it to life. The white lady is beautiful to behold, but be warned, her heart is cold and she will not give you the love and warmth you crave.

★★

#johnniewalkerweek

Find out about the rest of our multi-coloured adventures:

Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker Double Black

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Johnnie Walker: which is best?