The XL Blend - Batch 1

The Blended Whisky Company has been at the forefront of premium, rare and old whisky blends since bagging first prize for World’s Best Blended Whisky at the World Whisky Awards in 2014. It’s upcoming, much anticipated release The XL Blend (Batch 1) is a 1000 bottle release of blended Scotch whiskies at least 40 years old - hence XL, for those of us unlucky enough to have learnt Latin at school (it’s 40 in Roman numerals for the rest of you).

The whisky is described as Speyside-led, containing ancient grain and sherry cask malt and is set to retail at around £550 per bottle. The sample being reviewed is from Batch 1 and is bottled at 46.2% ABV.

In their own words,

The Blended Whisky Company uses artful blending to prove that a blended whisky can be greater than the sum of its parts. Starting with whiskies from the lost distilleries and continuing with whiskies from the golden age of whisky.

Before we get to nosing and tasting, it should be said that for this reviewer (Andy), the prospect of making sense of a blend of 40+ year old whiskies is a little daunting. I have only ever tasted grain whisky of this age, so I don’t have a reference point for the malts although the sherried Speyside factor is a useful steer. I’d also be expecting mind-blowing for the price tag.

Nose: I have more of a reference point here than I’d hoped. I can almost hear the creaking knees and early retirement plans from the middle-aged grain whiskies and there are a host of complex, sweet fruit-based dessert notes clawing their way over the rim of the glass. It’s a little bit musty, a little bit spicy…very intriguing. I’ve been nosing this dram so much I’m in danger of hyperventilating.

Palate: Do you remember the first time you clutched a 20p piece in your sweaty paw and exchanged it for the luminous treasure behind the sweet shop counter or school tuck shop hatch? The feeling of consumer independence, the illicit thrill of buying food that wasn’t meant to be good for you, that sugar rush. One sip of this whisky will transport you back to that moment and every other moment you held the dessert spoon to the heavens with an affirmative ‘mmm’. There’s also a little bit of spice and smoke for your mature, nostalgic, sherry-dried mouth to chew on. Un-be-lieveably good.

Finish: The grain carries through, the mouth drying lingers with its spicy kick and the sweetness gives way to a bitter char note.

In summary, superb. It’s pricey for sure, you’ll probably have a fight on your hands to secure a bottle of this but I urge you to try this any which way you can.

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You can also read Friend of the Podcast OCD Whisky’s XL-ent review of this whisky here: https://ocdwhisky.com/2018/12/25/the-xl-blend-batch-1-that-blended-whisky-company/

And The Dramble’s review here: https://www.thedramble.com/tastings/blend/the-xl-blend-batch-1/

Review sample provided by Atom Brands

Lowland Grains: North British 20yo 1994 & Girvan Patent Still

ramblings of Andy

I hardly had the best start to grain whisky, choking back a measure of vicious Haig Club, confirming my rookie suspicions that grain is all filler for blends, like sawdust in the meat stew at a stern 1950s primary school. Any such thoughts were soon dispelled by the glorious Invergordon 43yo from That Boutique-y Whisky Company, enjoyed by myself and everyone else fortunate enough to be included in their 5th Birthday Tweet Tasting (described here in full by OCD Whisky aka Sorren Krebs). 

So, as I lifted the lid on my Drinks By The Dram Lowland Whisky Tasting Set, received as a kind Christmas gift from my little brother, I was drawn to the two grain whiskies in the set - North British 20yo 1994 Single Cask and Girvan Patent Still Proof Strength. Would I be any the wiser to the charms of grain after trying these out?

North British 20yo 1994 Single Cask (51.7% ABV)

North British has been producing grain whisky at its Edinburgh distillery right next to Heart's Tynecastle Park stadium since 1887, to meet a growing demand for blending grain. This Master of Malt release was bottled at cask strength in a limited batch of only 115 bottles and went into refill bourbon casks at the end of 1994. It's sweet and herbal on the nose, totally tropical and slightly spicy on the palate and a medium-length candy floss finish. Full bottles are discontinued (and I'm not totally sure I was convinced enough to buy in quantity) but can still be found in 3CL samples for about a fiver and is worth that punt certainly.

Girvan Patent Still Proof Strength (57.1% ABV)

Girvan is William Grant & Sons grain distillery, and it is used in the production of many high-selling and a few very fine blends. The distillery can produce up 15 million litres a year, mostly for blending, and single grain bottlings are released by Girvan themselves and several independent bottlers, generally aged for 20+ years. The nose is sweet and despite the claims of the bottler, quite spirited given the ABV. The palate is a superb pick n' mix of citrus, tropical fruit and rich sweetness with a long, peppery finish. 

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All in all, these are two very fine grain whiskies and the number of 'Good Grains' I've tried are fast outnumbering the 'Bad Grains'. I'd be happy to drink a dram of the North British, happier still with a bottle of the Girvan but I'd be tempted most of all to dig around for another £30 to pay for the next (please let there be a next...) batch of Boutique-y Invergordon.

As I said during the Tweet Tasting, to universal digital groans, this kind of whisky is really grain on me. You have to say it in a Scottish accent, you see...