All of the top Scotch whisky brands, at both entry level and prestige pricing, are blends. And blends account for at least 90% of sales in the entire Scotch whisky industry. You’ve already been told this a thousand times by Scotch ambassadors and reps, typically during tastings at which blended Scotches are nowhere in sight – because blends aren’t “unique” like single malts, and blends are old fashion, a drink for “squares,” for stodgy old bankers, neo-conservative ideologues, aspiring corner office mangers or other well-dressed capitalists. And blends are “light” and “smooth” and “round” and thus, surely, less manly and freethinking than the craggy potencies of our dear monadic single malts.
The exceptions to this rule among independent bottlers would include Meadowside Blending, whose ambassadors whet your whistle with a splash of their appealing Royal Thistle blend before hunkering down to more serious fare with their excellent but pricey The Maltman line, and the subject of this review: The Exclusive Blend 21 Year Old from The Creative Whisky Co., best known in this country for its consistently exceptional The Exclusive Malts line of single cask, cask strength single malt Scotch whiskies. In this case, The Exclusive Blend is not trotted out as an appetizer to prepare the palate for the “real” (i.e., the single malt) entrées; rather, at both Exclusive Malts tastings I’ve attended, The Exclusive Blend was offered as an equal to the other bottles in the line – which is, I contend, as it should be.
This blended Scotch whisky consists of 80% malt whiskies and 20% grain, all of them distilled in 1991 and matured in oak ex-sherry casks for 21 years. It has been bottled with an ABV of 46%, is un-chill-filtered and untainted by the mendacious E150a caramel coloring. I have searched extensively to discover the constituent whiskies making up this blend, but I can find nothing on the subject. Still, why not hazard a guess? I suspect this is made up primarily, if not exclusively, of Speyside malts. My first guess would be Tormore, with perhaps some Braeval or Glen Moray, maybe a spoonful of Mortlach and just a dropper of Auchroisk for spice. Maybe some Longmorn or Glenlivet for dressing? If there is a non-Speyside whisky involved, I’ll conjecture that it may be Clynelish – a northern Highland whisky just across the Moray Firth from Speyside. I could be completely wrong about all of this, of course, and I probably am…
First impression: I’m getting whiffs of the classic Speyside battle between solvent and pear drop aromas, but the pear drops are winning. There’s a sweet but dry maltiness that I like. Dried apple, dried pear, banana chips, all floating in a glass of cream soda. There is also a breeze of oaky, nutty rancio coming from this elixir’s long stay in an ex-sherry cask – which I suspect, based on the golden amber hue, was neither a first fill nor a nearly exhausted refill butte, but rather something that still had much, but not too much, to offer the whisky inside it. In any case, the longer you keep your nose over the glass, the more prominent the influence of the wine appears to be. Not that this is by any means a so-called sherry bomb – it isn’t. The sherry is one constituent aroma, not a bully pushing other fragrances back. There is also just a hint of sulfur here – I’m not Jim Murray, so that doesn’t even begin to blemish this whisky for me – and also a very, very slight, ghostly presence of smoke that makes me suspect there could be, just maybe, perhaps, more than a dribble of Craigellachie (yup, that’s another Speyside malt) blended into the mix here. (23/25)
There’s a malty sugary center to this, as in many Speysides, but it is modified in one direction here by a cool candy apple caramel creaminess and in another direction by a mild but fulsome spice – a mix of nutmeg, black pepper, hot pepper and oaky tannins that slowly but surely grows in prominence. This is all very nicely balanced with dried apricots, Brazil nuts and tamarind, giving every part of the tongue a flavor partner to dance with. I wish this potion were a bit thicker and creamier, but perhaps that’s because some of the flavors here remind me of thicker, creamier malts – Glencadam, for example (an eastern Highland malt that shares some characteristics with Speyside). (22/25)
There are two ways to look at this. If you swallow this blend soon after pouring it past your lips, the mild but fulsome spice broadens and intensifies after you’ve swallowed, so you get to taste the malty nutty caramel cream before the spice overwhelms it. If you allow the whisky to linger on the tongue for very long, however – as long, say, as a whisky blogger who is tasting for review and thus savoring the savory juice a bit longer than your average anorak might – the spice and heat soon become more prominent than the other flavors and an important element of the finish is cut short. But I don’t want to overemphasize this. The spice and heat here are more than tolerable – they are elemental and are long and lingering enough to allow some discrimination among the flavors of the spice itself. And, in the end, the overall effect is very warming, which to me is essential. (21/25)
This tastes more like single malt than any other blend I’ve ever tasted, including vatted malts. Every element is so well integrated with every other – perhaps because they all come from the same region of Scotland? a region called Speyside? if that is even a little true? – that you spend your time with it savoring the whole rather than tripping over the parts. And though the finish gave me a little trouble due to the way I drink whisky – very slowly, savoring every sip – I think the seamless integration of the several elements that went into making this blend is evidence of real mastery of the blender’s art. If, like me, your diurnal dram is nearly always – as in 99.5% of the time – a single malt Scotch whisky, this 21 year old Exclusive Blend may blow your mind; short of that, it will definitely change your mind about a huge portion of the Scotch whisky universe you thought might never appeal to you. This is truly a blend for the single malt connoisseur. (24/25)
Total points for this whisky: 90
If you’re already a fan of this blend or of other whiskies in The Exclusive Malts line, feast your eyes on this photo to the left, a little glimpse into the very near future… Many thanks to Sam Filmus at ImpEx Beverages.