Like many whiskey drinkers, once I discovered single malt Scotch, I went through a phase of drinking almost only single malt Scotch.
I abandoned, for a time, blends like Johnnie Walker Black and Cutty Sark, both of which I'd always kept a bottle of on the shelf. Fortunately, my Scotch snobbery didn't last, and I usually keep a bottle of Cutty around for something to sip on while reading.
While single malt Scotches are generally more interesting and satisfying experiences than their blended counterparts, I've always felt that the level of snobbery against blends is unfounded, especially now that the art of blending has re-emerged in force over the past few years. I sought out some of these newer blends to see how they stack up.
My first selection is Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition. I couldn't find a bottle in Savannah, but the online craft liquor seller www.Caskers.com recently featured it in their daily selection. I was able to pick it up for a steal of $32.99, plus shipping.
This whiskey is a nod to the era in which Cutty Sark was founded, when bootleggers would have sneaked the scotch into the United States under the noses of customs officials. Cutty Sark closely guards the secret of the exact whiskies included in the blend, but the main thing this whiskey owes to its Prohibition-era forbearer is the strength, a significant 100 proof, giving the whiskey a little extra kick that might surprise fans of Cutty's regular bottling.
At first sniff, the nose is similar to Cutty, but just a glance at the liquid reveals that it's less oily and more colorful. While there's some trace of the traditional Cutty flavor, the overall mouth feel is thicker, with a pronounced honey overtone. Prohibition Edition also offers a richer palate, and lingers for a long, impressive char and toffee finish. I hope this edition finds its way into regular production and onto shelves at Savannah liquor stores.
My next blend is Great King Street, a Christmas gift from dad, which I've been savoring glasses of for the last few months. Purchased at Beverage Warehouse on Abercorn, it's a reasonably priced whiskey, especially considering that it was named Blended Whisky of the Year in 2012 by Whisky Advocate magazine.
Great King Street is now the flagship blend from Compass Box, a whiskey company with a ballooning reputation. Compass Box has set itself on the mission of revitalizing the blended whiskey market, and if Great King Street is any indication, they're well on their way.
The Scotch has an immediate nose of honey with just a touch of the medicinal, which should appeal to single malt purists. There are nice overtones of spice, as well as a pleasant smokiness, both of which last well into the finish.
I finish off my tour of blends with Monkey Shoulder. The whiskey's quirky name comes straight from Scotch-making history; some workers in old distilleries suffered from a repetitive stress injury, described as feeling like they had a monkey on their shoulder. The work that caused this injury has long since been banished from the process, but the name is an honor of the noble sacrifice of the workers who brought whiskey to the world generations ago.
No single flavor jumps out from Monkey Shoulder. The nose is grainy with a touch of spice, and from sip to finish, the flavor is balanced. Of the three blended Scotches I sample, this is probably the most accessible to non-Scotch drinkers. There's still a lot going on in each sip, but none of the flavors are quite as challenging as in the other two blends. That said, prepare yourself for probably the strongest alcohol burn of the three, even more than the higher-proofed Prohibition Edition.
A blended Scotch is definitely a different experience than a single malt, but that's no reason to dismiss them. You can get a great Scotch at a much lower price point, and with this new generation of carefully crafted blends, I can only hope the stigma against some of my old favorites will fade away, even while the flavor lingers on.
Zach Powers is a writer and novelist. When he's not busy imbibing, he helps run the literary arts nonprofit Seersucker Live. Get to know him at www.ZachPowers.com.