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March 30, 2011

Bring on the Blends

John Glaser has inspired me. The wonders of Asyla, Double Single et al have added their impeccably balanced encouragement to a slightly older inkling of mine that time spent investigating blended whisky is not in any way shape or form wasted.

My inaugural encounters with the whisky flavour spectrum were afforded by blends: a sip every so often of whatever my Mother may have been drinking – heavily watered-down, of course. Unfortunately, it was not until my first visit to the Aberfeldy Distillery and Dewar’s World of Whisky that I appreciated the role blends could play for the obsessed single malt drinker courtesy of a Connoisseur Tour ticket and measures of Dewar’s White Label, 12yo, 18yo and Signature. The 18yo in particular blew my proverbial socks off.Hankey Bannister 40yo

Then, a couple of months ago, a jiffy bag arrived with three samples of the Hankey Bannister blended range and Lukasz Dynowiak’s best wishes inside it. The Compass Box talk has prompted me to unearth my tasting notes for this trio, and to compare them with that 18yo Dewar’s Founder’s Reserve I love so much.

Hankey Bannister has been around a long time – Messrs B. Hankey and H. Bannister founding the company in 1757. The core range is the Original, 12yo, 21yo and a 40yo comprised of whiskies from throughout Scotland, but particularly Balblair and Balmenach. Grain spirit is that produced at North British and Port Dundas.

Hankey Bannister Original 40% abv. £16

Very firm and lively on the nose with lots of cereals. Ice cream sandwiches with lashings of thick caramel toffee follow while apple bubble gum flavours lend an idea of a spirity and elastic whisky. Metallic notes and marmalade with a little water maintain vibrancy.

The palate is intense and medium-dry with banana-like fruitiness and spice. Water brings out some oak, cereal sweetness and heather. Fruit and Nut chocolate appears on the finish with orange juice. It is very quick, however, and water only accelerates its exit.

Hankey Bannister 12yo 40% abv. £25

This expression is cleaner than the Original with extra richness. Green apple and sweet pear emerge together with a grassy note and some oak. It is somewhat flat, however, and water unfortunately pulls out earthy vegetal notes. Light honey and vanilla are there, too, but this, to me, is not yet what whisky is about.

The palate is dominated by caramel for both its flavour and texture with a hint of oak and maltiness. Water reveals a smidgen more fruitiness. The finish is drying and quite spicy with that heather note seen in the Original. Citrus peel is accentuated after a splash of water.

Hankey Bannister 40yo 43.3% abv. £357

Legend has it that master blender, Stuart Harvey, discovered casks stuffed with various old whiskies in a corner of the warehouse and checking back through the records revealed that some were from long-silent distilleries such as Glen Flagler and Killyloch. The whiskies were bottled to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Hankey Bannister’s establishment, and the numerous illustrious folk, such as Winston Churchill, King George V and Evelyn Waugh, who have claimed a partiality to it. This has just won the title of ‘World’s Best Blended Whisky’ at the 2011 World Whisky Awards.

Nose – Waves of crepuscular darkness with rich, though dust-covered, dried fruits of prune and date. Vanilla, oily orange and crystallised peel. Dark chocolate and rich honeycomb. Velvety maltiness. Tropical fruits emerge with ripe banana, mango and passion fruit. Butterscotch and cinnamon are in there, too, and just latterly sweet leather and a hint of fragrant smoke.

      Water helps to combine the sweet malt and oak. Rich strawberry jam appears. Full, deep and clean amontillado sherry notes are just divine. Flavours of spiced pecans, dried rosemary and lemon are in there, too, alongside the gorgeous oak notes.

Palate - Deep, oaky and dusty with plenty of spice and rich fruit. Chocolate.

      Water accentuates the stewed fried fruits adding a clean and sweet floral quality.

Finish - A lovely, involving leafy/mulchy dark battle wages beneath lighter oak and barley sugar flavours. Dark treacle toffee. Tea tree and lime. Rich and very smooth.

      Water evokes the empty casks this ancient whisky once lay in with vanilla and moist biscuitiness. Orchard fruits and bark chippings emerge and whilst it is still fecund, it loses a little power.

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Dewar's 18yoIt is very difficult to directly compare these whiskies for, as Dave Broom says, ‘blends are about the right flavours at the right time.’ I couldn’t see the point of the 12yo alongside the Original and 40yo but I should imagine that, on a summer afternoon, a few measures of it with water and ice would make for a rather pleasant experience. Unfortunately for me, my whisky moments are made more for the likes of the 40yo which is somewhat problematic for me since there is no way I can afford a bottle.

Enter, then, the Dewar’s 18yo. At Aberfeldy I was struck by its heather honey, apple and vanilla notes but I have since discovered a very gentle fragrant smokiness. Orange and some dried fruits are also quite charming with the palate and finish a blend of spice, sweetness and dark chocolate. At £61 it is rather expensive for a blend, but then I nabbed mine from World Duty Free in Edinburgh so it cost me less than £40. Lovely!

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