Blending has a bad wrap. We’re (obviously) defenders of the art - but we will admit that the current status quo within the blended world leaves much to be desired, and so we can’t really criticise those who staunchly refuse to let blended whisky pass their lips. A shame, so it is. Unlike many of the blends we create, this one came from a brief. We wanted a liquid we could put in front of people who don’t ‘get’ blending and really be able to have a conversation about why, if done correctly, the category might not be as bad as they fear.
We wanted to create a blend in the guise of a one of the finest single malt whisky experiences we could imagine. A dram that would be truly indistinguishable from a really fine single malt. We thought about it a lot. We listed a combination of sensations and experiences that we felt the best single malt experiences had. And sometimes, it felt like we were those scientists trying to grow meat in a lab, or synthesise diamonds rather than mining them. But in actual fact blending whisky is nothing like either of those things. It is simply arranging flavours in such a way that the whole creates a narritive that is different to the parts from which it is formed. People always ask us about the ingredients, and most of the time we tell them. But every time we do we are as quick to stress that they are of little consequence - and knowing the components is a sure way to cloud your judgement of the overall experience with bias, other people’s opinions and unnecessary information.
On paper this is a simple blend. Built around a cask of Tullabardine Distillery which had previously held a Burgundy wine. The ripe fruit notes were, if we’re honest a little too much for the spirit and so our task was finding things that would draw out some of the distillery character whilst taming the rampant wine notes that had overgrown the Highland spirit. We started with two grain whiskies of fine maturity. A very old Girvan and a medium aged Loch Lomond. They blended beautifully and had the impact of rejuvenating the Tullabardine in such a way that brought out subtle spice, vanilla and a raft of other flavours that had been eclipsed by cask influence. It was then rather simple to see the gaps in the flavour profile. There was space for some top notes, and it needed a baseline on which to harmonise.
A lightly plated (redacted distillery name) Speyside whisky proved a triumphant partner for the blend. We thought it was almost finished but just needed a touch of lightly seated whisky to enhance the complexity on the finish. At first we were experimenting with just drops to fill in the gap, but as we experimented with ever increasing quantities a sort of metamorphosis took place. It was getting better and better - and in the process transforming into a completely different whisky altogether. Suddenly there was a new layer of complexity, that somehow resurrected some of the wood notes from the Tullabardine sample but in a completely new fashion. Everything was working together with a subtle complexity that we found totally irresistible.
What a thrill it was seeing this one come together.
We transferred the blend into two casks for marrying, and then blended them back together. One was a big old Sherry butt, the other a hogshead cask that had recently held a peated whisky. This final layer of flavour enveloping the blend with flavour notes that speak to the blend that went into the cask. This is where the name - echoes came from - as when you taste the finished product the same flavour notes appear and re-appear slightly differently later in the experience. If you listen hard enough.
The result bore little resemblance to the whisky that we’d set about trying to emulate. In fact, it was so much better. What did we learn? That blending is unpredictable. Exciting. And that as blenders it is not our job to try and emulate single malt experiences - but to simply make delicious whiskies, and if we concentrate on that single thing then the debate doesn’t really matter. The word will spread organically.