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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Review: Passport & Antiquary Blended Scotch Whiskies

Review by John Barecki

There are a couple of reasons I occasionally return to blended Scotch whisky on my travels through the world of spirits. I quite enjoy the overall flavor of Scotch whiskies but I don't always like the price tag that accompanies them. Some of the lower-priced blends can be very enjoyable and, best of all, you don't mind sharing them with friends as much as you do the prized single malts in your collection. Blends have good versatility and can be used in a variety of cocktails like the simple but effective highball, which is a measure of whisky mixed with a bit of water or club soda. A drink like this is a fun mix that allows you to imbibe the spirit like beer (and keeps you hydrated).

The other reason I go to blends periodically is my interest in master blenders and what they do. The blends and the non-single barrel single malts require a professional nose, tongue and eye for detail. The ability to recreate all of the smells and tastes of the whiskies that we have come to love takes years of experience and personal training. Here is a small run down of what these people do.

A single malt whisky is described as a whisky made from malt produced at only one distillery. Single malts are a bit like blends but they work in a different way. Professionals describe it with a term called marring, which means they take various single malt whiskies from the same distillery and mix them all together, allowing them to mingle with one another and creating a consistent product. In a way, it's similar to the Grand Cru style of wine and beer blending where producers mix young and old product together.

With single malts, the age statement on bottles usually refers to the youngest and most times the highest volume of whisky in the blend. Then there are additional percentages of older malts added in to create the end product. The blended Scotch whiskies are similar, but a lot more of the whiskies are comprised of single malts from multiple distilleries with varying age (with up to 30 different ones, claimed by some companies) along with the addition of grain whiskies, which are usually made using corn, wheat or rye.

There are also blended malt whiskies that are blends of single malts from different distilleries without the adjunct of grain whisky in the bill. With all of these whiskies the ability to decipher the flavor, smell, body, barrel type and so on can be both mind and palate numbing. I have great respect for the puzzle masters who can unravel and recreate whisky that can be delightful and sometimes sublime. For this review I chose two blends that are new to me.

Passport Blended Scotch Whisky ($17.99/750ml) is a surprisingly drinkable and affordable blend composed of multiple Highland and Speyside single malts, including The Glenlivet. The nose is fresh and fruity with slight flowery notes. There is apple and pear, a bit of cereal tone with some oxidative slightly sulfury/fruity qualities coming from the sherry aging on some of the single malts used. The palate is creamy, very fresh and vibrant, like fruit leather with a slight butterscotch tone. Passport finishes well and long with the apple/pear returning along with a touch of honey and wood spice.

The Anitiquary Blended Scotch Whisky ($21.96/750ml) comes from the Tomatin distillery, so with that we can expect more of their single malt to be used. There is a good amount of cereal and honeyed malt notes on the nose with a bit of wood spice and dried fruit. A very easy drinking blend, there is a hint of smoke that comes through which balances some fruit notes in the middle. The finish is long and drying a smattering of malt, honey, vanilla, fruit and spice.

Both of these are great table whiskies to have around. They are enjoyable to the senses and show us a different perspective in terms of contemplating this wonderful spirit. They are available at Siciliano's Market along with some other very good blends. We suggest you come take a look.

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