EXPERIENCE N.12 // ECHOES
We attended some whisky shows this year and spent some good times talking to passionate whisky enthusiasts about whisky generally, and blends / blending in particular.
It’s safe to say that we knew we were entering a category that had some ‘emotional baggage’ that we’d have to confront and work through - so it was good to start encountering it first hand rather than talk about it behind closed doors.
It is difficult for us to convince those that are sceptical of the ability for blending to yield high quality whiskies because there is so much evidence to support the counter arguments. Blending as an art has been abused by many of those who practice it, or should we say their accountants. A few factors seem to come up time and time again:
1. The lack of transparency: 'I don’t know what’s in it so I don’t trust that it is of high quality.'
2. Blends might have been good once upon a time but now any decent whisky will be sold as single malt.
3. Grain whisky is a cheap bulking agent therefore blends are not worthy of consideration.
4. Blending is about mass market, bulk production and therefore about consistency at the expense of the best possible flavour.
There are more that come up - but generally all in the same realm of discussions. And we understand why these opinions proliferate the psyche of whisky drinkers. It's not like people are at home imagining this stuff up so they've got something to say to the next blending brand they encounter by way of rebuke!
Now, we believe that our approach to liquid sourcing and production contains the required ingredients to tackle each of these issues head on. But at the expense of turning this post into a therapy session for ourselves, we’ll move on to discussing Experience N.12. But the motivation behind this liquid was very much the content of the conversations that we found ourselves encountering at the whisky shows and festivals that we attended since our launch. As we said - sadly, much of the reasoning behind these thoughts is due to lived experience. There is, of course, an element of truth behind all of the strongly held opinions. We (quite reassuringly) realised that it is not our place to try and overcome these hurdles on behalf of the entire category - but simply make the best whiskies we can following our own beliefs and standards as regards to quality and process. We made a list of the things that we do which we think helps us overcome some of these challenges which includes (but not limited to)
1. Being as transparent as possible as regards the contents of our blends - read any of the ‘behind the blend’ sections and you’ll see what we mean by that.
2. Sourcing high end, flavour led expressions from partner distilleries and brokers. You could call it ‘indie bottler standard’ whiskies - but steering clear of the bulk blending stocks of ‘basic flavours’ that most blends are constructed from.
3. Ancient Grain stocks. We love grain whisky, and as soon as we let anyone taste the well matured grain whiskies we use in our blends they do too. Whilst the production of grain whisky is a large scale and continuous process, malt production at most distilleries is also on an industrial scale. The devision in processes is considered to yield a black and white, good vs bad, high quality or low quality product depending on if it was produced at a malt or grain distillery. This simply is not the case.
4. We don’t want to fall into the trap of saying that small batch = good but by not pursuing mass scale or consistency we’re able to make the best whisky we possibly can, every single time. We therefore don’t need to add colouring and we don’t chill filter our blends - leaving everything that came together on the blending table in the final product, at a strength that we think they work best at. We give our blends time to marry before bottling, and employ a myriad of small touches in the way we manage our liquids, reduce them to bottling strength etc that add up to a few percent of increase in flavour experience that we think is worth pursuing, and hopefully paying for. We could add more water to hit a lower price point, or become more efficient in our processes therefore reducing costs - but it would be at the expense of quality. For us, the most important thing is the experience and ultimately, flavour. That shapes our processes.
5. By this time we’ve usually realised that we’re either talking to a brick wall or spending way too much time talking to someone who will never believe us - because we’re blenders. And blenders are bad people. So what we normally do is agree that these conversations are what make whisky festivals so much fun and aim to find some common ground over a dram (‘and have you tasted the new drop from Ardnamurchan?’) And then seek to fill their glass with something yummy.
Experience 12 is the liquid that we want to be in that glass every time. A blend that can win over the sceptics and deliver a single malt style experience (or better - because that is totally possible). What we’ve found is that taste is the quickest and most powerful argument in our inventory. If we can get people to just taste the liquids - the ‘but its blended’ conversation becomes so much easier.
As for the name Echoes? It came from this idea that complexity in taste is about the sensation of a flavour developing on the palate. For us - we wanted a blend that had the rare union of complexity and coherency that you get in a fine single malt whisky. Flavours that develop from first sip to the finish of the experience and dance on the palate or radiate out from a centre point like water waves breaking the surface of a still pond. Beautiful radiating patterns of flavour.
There's this thing in whisky called 'the finish'. It's part of the tasting experience but it's also a little removed from the intensity of tasting. It's like a reflection of what you've just experienced, but it's still part of the experience.
Sometimes, it's the best part. The perception of flavor just before it becomes a memory. A fading reflection of the experience you just had. It's hard to describe, sort of like an echo.
What if we made a whisky focused on this strange, tasting / not-tasting moment?