Monday, April 12, 2010

Vatted Whiskies of the 19th and 21st Centuries

I have written before about Usher's Old Vatted Glenlivet - and proudly so, since Andrew Usher after whom it is named, happens to be my Great Grandfather. I explained then that the much used phrase 'single malt' is relatively meaningless nowadays since the days of vatted malts (a blend of malt whiskies) are long gone. Vatted malts were a great idea in the 19th century when independent (and recently legalised) distilleries across the Highlands produced wildly different products - some light and fiery, others heavy, peaty and a bit like cough mixture. Andrew Usher (amongst others) combined these different whiskies to produce a drink that was acceptable to the southern market. Nowadays malt whiskies differ, but all are more than palatable in their own right.

And so it was with some surprise that I found at 'Whisky Live' (part of Scotland Week in New York) last week nothing less than a new range of vatted malts. They are produced by the Compass Box Whisky Company of Edinburgh. I had a taste of their 'Spice Tree' which was excellent. I am also intrigued by Lady Luck (pity it costs £125!). This type of blending is very sophisticated and a great addition to the whisky story. Good luck to them!

As an addendum, the Scottish whisky blenders  - Andrew Usher, John Dewar, Arthur Bell, Johnnie Walker and others - really made their fortune as a result of the Great French Wine Blight. In the mid nineteenth century on verandahs throughout the world (and certainly in the USA) gentlemen were accustomed to drinking a brandy and soda before dinner. When the blight meant no french brandy a vast new market opened up for the whisky blenders from Scotland.

Aye, it's an ill wind...

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