When the Internet isn’t being utilised for cat photos or porn, it is by and large an echo chamber. You hear what you want to hear, you see what you want to see. There’s some truth in that for whisky also – whilst the folks I regularly engage with are switched-on, clued-up and usually non-partisan about their brown liquids – when I step outside this ‘comfort’ zone, it’s a different story. The Interwebs are of course packed full of armchair experts with little to no knowledge, but plenty of in-built prejudices. And some of the most common fallacies that are raised time and time again revolve around blends and blended malts.
A few days back I spied a photo on social media – a bottle of well-aged Japanese blended whisky (closed of course). There were plenty of comments. None picked up on the truly extortionate sticker price. None highlighted the fact that the brand is well-known to be a composition of Scottish malt and Canadian grain – and about as Japanese as tequila. The focus was almost entirely on it being a blended product – and a near army of commenters were more than eager to let the poster know the error of his ways in not drinking single malt. You know things are going to spiral into nonsense when a post starts with “I’ve not tried this whisky but…..”
Blends are the oil that keeps the wheels of the whisky industry turning – responsible for more global sales than single malts several times over. But, their economic significance shouldn’t diminish their ability to represent both the masterful art of composition and balance as well as simply fact that some are just terrifically tasty. But, the greater the level of ignorance out there, the higher the chance of acquiring something exceptional that’s been overlooked.
The His Excellency brand was established back in 1961, and originally produced an array of blended products – many of which were delivered in 75cl bottles for export markets. The brand went through a long hiatus before being resuscitated by Bartels Rawlings International. Over the five years since the return of His Excellency, releases have been fairly sparse – first up a 1970 44 Ben Nevis, then an 18 year old Burnside (teaspooned Balvenie). An entry level 8 year old blended scotch (HE8) harked back to the brand’s 60s origins, whilst a foray into single grain with a 25 year old North British released in 2017 and a 36 year old Cameronbridge (which The Dramble will be reviewing later in the year) moved the bottler into unchartered territory. But, there’s one thing which has remained constant across all of the His Excellency releases since its re-emergence in 2014 - highly competitive pricing. You show me another near four decade old grain whisky selling for under £80.
Bartels also releases single malt expressions under its Highland Laird moniker and are the official UK distribution arm for German bottler Malts of Scotland. This year they’re celebrating their 10th anniversary. Bottled for that anniversary is a newly available 17 year old blended scotch – the constituents are not specified, though I’ve been told by Bartels that they’re from Edrington distilleries. So, if you cast you mind back to a little after the millennium and look across the Edrington portfolio at the time you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the likely content of this bottling might be. The blend was created in November of 2001 and then left to mature in single cask #11 for 17 years before being bottled at 45% ABV. Just 50 bottles have been released.
The price? £36. Not a typo. I repeat £36.
And as of writing there are still 41 bottles still available directly from the Bartel’s webshop.
Take a look around at other blended malts of a similar age – you’ll find that the current market conditions will pitch them at double the price of this His Excellency 17 year old. Or, just see what £36 will get you within the blended malt category – likely no age-statement, likely little to no provenance or cask information whatsoever.
Nose: Older than its years suggest. A backbone of wild honey and golden malts provides a canvas for dusty aromas – dunnage floors, musty cellars and an array of wood lacquers. Orange peels and liqueurs are joined by gingerbread men and cloves whilst leather and waxes sit with milk chocolate and nougat. The addition of a few drops of water reduces the fustiness – golden syrup, digestive biscuits and some developing yellow fruits.
Taste: The arrival offers some weight and texture – a slight sense of waxiness. It delivers a combination of honey, orange peels and marmalade overlaid on chocolate biscuits, tree resin and herbalness – chopped mint mingled with cloves and dried grasses. The wood is again pronounced – sheened tables, old leather-bound books sit with steeped black tea and brass polish whilst hazelnuts and liquorice support in the back palate. Reduction should be undertaken sparingly, but adds a lovely soft tinned fruit dimension with juicy apricots, peaches and cream and some gentle puffs of heathery peat smoke (no prizes for guessing the distillery responsible for this).
Finish: Sadly rather short with charred cask ends, fruit tea and gentle floral smoke. Dilution offers a benefit to the length of the finish with a welcome extension and more discernible fading yellow fruits.
Whenever I’m tasting a blend derived from Edrington’s malts, I’m always intrigued by quite how well the combination both integrates and balances. This is no exception. Without guessing at the components fully, each adds layers of aroma and flavour which enhance the overall composition rather than detracts. His Excellency 17 year old Blended Malt Scotch Whisky presents as more mature than its age-statement suggests and adapts to dilution remarkably well – a few drops unlocked a fruity brightness which provided an ideal foil for some of the dustier, fustier notes.
Sadly, it’s not all plain sailing, the finish is lacking in both length and depth and holds this whisky back from a larger score. But, nevertheless this is a very tasty drop and for the mere £36 asking price, it's extremely easy to recommend.
Review sample provided by Bartels Whisky.