I was, like so many of you, a judge in Battle of the Blends 2015. It was long ago but Christmas got in the way. Christmas is almost over in whisky terms now, just the drinking remains so we can breath easy, pour a well judged blended whisky and relax.
For what it’s worth (as you can’t buy the damn things) here’s my notes. At least they’re filed.
Blend A (Neil Ridley), 42.1% A+
Nose - Quite dark, juicy and classical. Good dusty wood, sweet dark fruits (prune, blackberry?), lovely cask influence and what peat here is very light and structural. Really quite juicy and delicious. I would guess this is Dave's blend with the Kilkerran and Springbank in it but the sweetness makes me think this is Neil's sherry seasoned barrel.
Body - Sweet but a little sharp and toppy, excellent oils with herbal notes and a touch of spice. A touch of youth too, expressed behind some sandalwood and wood bitterness. Chuggable.
Finish - Medium, quite spicy at the side of the mouth, toffee too at the end.
What's not good about it - A little pedestrian in the delivery.
What's good about it - A delicious, oil and fruit heavy nose with loads of interest. Great balance throughout and dangerously drinkable. A fantastic blend.
Blend B (Dave Broom), 43.5% A+
Nose - Initially but more muscular, with cologne, musk and candle wax. A hint of smoked mackerel? Tobacco. A seriously toothsome nose but with a slightly offputting sour/whiteboard marker note in there. Get past that though and it's very grown up. If this is Neil's blend, then I think what I'm smelling is a big Highland Park influence but I would also call this as the rum cask. Lovely stuff though.
Body - Very gentle - soft wax, soft red fruit, toffee and tobacco.
Finish - Long and rolling, mouthfilling fruit, toffee and tobacco, and spicy peat. Perfectly poised.
What's not good about it - The nose takes a little getting into, quite soft on the delivery.
What's good about it - But a wonderful delivery in the round, great balance between toffee, fruit and cask/peat seasoning.
Very different noses here - much more sherry and fruit intensity with A, harder work with B but ultimately worth it. Delivery is quite compelling with A but perhaps a little more obvious and sweeter. B is definitely more grown up in the delivery with spicier finish.
Both are excellent to be honest - A takes it for the nose and initial delivery, B for the finish. But overall (as I have to pick a winner) I'm going with A.
And hats off to both contenders - blending seems like rocket science to me and these are both excellent.