A duo of blends for you today.
Now, I like blends and have mentioned previously that I’ve been exploring blended whisky a fair bit, which I’m thoroughly enjoying I must say. I find there’s a lack of pretentiousness with the cheaper blends, although they do commit the usual crimes, we see such as describing themselves as “master-crafted” or using phrases like “finest selected casks” when usually they’re not or they don’t. They’re supposedly inferior to many people, but that’s one of the reasons why I like them. Blends, to those who are of a snobby and opinionated nature (not you, dear reader) consider them to be the antithesis of what is a “good” whisky compared to single malts. Single malt means bespoke; it means quality doesn’t it? That’s why people buy it. Well those who know, know that this isn’t the case. Single malt is not a byword for quality, it’s a buy-word for the marketing people to make it sell, along with the likes of “hand-selected” and “bespoke”.
With a bargain bucket blend, you can certainly set your expectations low. You can pick up a bottle for less than a round of drinks, so if it’s naff you can mix it with ice and soda and make a Highball, or get some bitters and practice making an Old Fashioned instead. And I’ve been happily surprised when something unexpectedly exceeds the low expectations I’ve set when I’ve bought one.
For me, blends provide a cheap thrill, because they are relatively cheap, and they sate my desires during the week when I just want a quick after-dinner dram. I don’t necessarily want to nose and taste every bloody glass of whisky I pour – I just want to have a drink, with maybe the odd sniff, and just unwind. If I pour something more expensive, I have in my collection I invariably find myself reaching for my tasting notebook, seeking a whiff of something I hadn’t picked up before. If it’s more expensive, I feel I need to honour its presence and dedicate my entire olfactory senses to it.
And it’s become a little game for me, trying to find that sub-£30 bottle that ticks all the right boxes. To date, I haven’t found one I like so much that I would buy frequently, but it’s fun trying to find one. I’ll admit that you do get what you pay for on the whole. I don’t deny that. But I’m having fun trying to find this miracle blend. The two bottles today are both in the 20-30-pound price bracket so perhaps I’ll be lucky and find my dream sub-thirty quid dram.
Before we get to the main feature today, a note on what some of you will be thinking, and that’s “If you want a decent blend for a good price, try Johnnie Walker Black Label”. To which I say, no thanks. I think it’s a good large volume blend that you can pick up and it’s preferable to many others around, but there are others for similar prices that, in my opinion, are more pleasant. Plus, Diageo gets enough of my cash as it is.
Loch Lomond Signature heralds from the Loch Lomond distillery (obviously). I feel like I should have tried more Loch Lomond whisky as they produce an intriguing variety of distillates, both peated and unpeated from a variety of stills – pot, continuous and traditional – but there’s no clue as to what distillate type has gone into this particular bottling. Cask types used in ageing are mentioned, with the Signature apparently containing the contents from a combination of Olorosso sherry and American oak casks that have been re-charred, which is tipped into a solera before bottling without any age statement. Pretty standard stuff then along with the usual words you find including “deluxe”, “long and slow maturation” and “intensity and smoothness unique to Loch Lomond” in the blurb. It’s bottled at 40% and you can pick it up for around £25.
Now to move on to something you might not have heard of. Firean. According to the label, it’s bottled under bond by a company called Burlington Drinks. Again, never heard of them either, so let me illuminate you slightly. Burlington Drinks are a small independent company (apparently only six staff work for them in total) and are based just outside London. They release a selection of drinks including various whiskies, gins, vodkas, rums and tequilas. They don’t stock £5000 Macallan’s or Port Ellen’s, it’s more bargain bucket but fair play I say. “He who dares” and all that. It’s a congested market out there given the plethora of cheap blends around now but in my quest to discover good sub-£30 blends, I’m happy they’ve added to the spectrum of offerings.
This whisky apparently contains malt whisky from Speyside and the Highlands, mixed with grain whisky from the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland. A little bit from everywhere then, which makes me think that it’s a case of get what you can from wherever you can. I wonder if any Loch Lomond might be lurking in the bottle? Chances are there could be.
On the label, it states this is a lightly peated whisky, which is proudly produced in Scotland and that it’s a small batch release. No age is stated, but it did spend its time in ex-bourbon and re-made Hogshead barrels. It also has words and phrases like “exceptional”, “aged to perfection” and “finest specially selected casks”. More of that marketing spiel again.
For those that might know what it means, this bottle is from Blend Number 005 from Bottling Line 003. It’s bottled at a surprising 43% ABV and retails at around £25 there or thereabouts on Master of Malt (when it’s in stock).
Anyway, I’ve blabbed on enough now so let’s see if these bargain bucket blends have something reasonably decent inside the bottle.
Loch Lomond Signature – review
On the nose: A heavy hit of damp wood with some dried fruit and spice, not unlike a piece of Christmas cake. A whiff of wet leather and a tobacco – a sweet roll your own cigarette kind. There’s buttery toffee with some high notes of pear. Something vegetal, like damp leaves and a sweet aroma that reminds me when you open a new tin of Quality Street.
In the mouth: This is fairly smooth, with plump dried fruits and spicy tobacco, with a little fresh apple. There’s toffee and a vague suggestion of something nutty. A little orange peel towards the end. Nothing offensive, but lacking body, depth or character.
Firean – review
Colour: Golden haze. I suspect a touch of e150, but only a dash.
On the nose: Despite what it says on the bottle, I detect almost no smoke or peat at first, just an initial big hit of cheap acetone. After some time and further digging about, there’s some buttery toffee and toasted nuts, some marzipan and a little fresh apple. Time allows vanilla to come through and the whole thing sweeten up slightly. A little wood ash does come through later too.
In the mouth: more evidence of young grain whisky providing some burn. It’s a little rough due to the young grain influence but I’ve had much worse. It’s smokier than the nose. A cigar like smoke mixes well with peach, vanilla and dark brown sugar. A little clove too and fresh cut cucumber.
Neither of these is mind-blowing but then again for £25 they are acceptable, if not very desirable. Each has their flaws but for the prices, I don’t begrudge them.
The Firean is a little rough and slightly less well balanced but with more interesting flavours coming through it matches the experience provided by the rather boring Signature. And now it’s open and some air has got to it it’s a little more balanced and a little less harsh too. I had no expectation of this, because what expectations can you have for twenty-five quid and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Would I buy it again? Probably not. There are other blends that are maybe a touch more rounded and hence better in this price range (Lord Elcho for one) and there are plenty of £25 blends I haven’t tried, so I’d rather try those instead.
The Signature is ok overall, pretty average, but lacking a little something. When I compare it to other similarly priced drams it doesn’t stand out. Credit where it’s due, it is quite well balanced though, so it’s easy-sipping – it would be something I’d go to on a Thursday night after a long day at work. As with the Firean, I doubt I’d buy another given the bottles I haven’t tried, but with it being smoother and slightly cheaper than the aforementioned JW Black Label, I’d definitely buy it over that.
Lead image provided by Loch Lomond, and Firean from Master of Malt. There are commission links witihn this article.