Whisky Advocate

Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: Blended/Blended Malt Whisky of the Year

January 27th, 2013

Blue Hanger 6th Release, 45.6%, £68

Blue_Hanger_6th_700ml_HRLast year the contenders for this category happened to be connected by a taste theme of citrus and pepper, and by coincidence there is a taste theme running through the contenders this year, too. This time, though, it’s an altogether bigger, earthier, and more challenging taste, with peat and oil to the fore. Arguably the best two blended whiskies of the year were Johnnie Walker Blue Label Casks Edition, bottled at cask strength, and Compass Box Great King Street New York Blend, both with peat smoke to the fore. A cask strength version of blended malt The Big Peat made the peat even bigger…and that’s going some.

Peat is present in our winner, too, but here it’s wonderfully entwined with some rich, fruity Speyside malts. Blue Hanger contains just malt whisky and is made by Doug McIvor for Berry Bros. & Rudd in London using the finest Scotch malts at his disposal. Over the years Blue Hanger has built a reputation for fine quality, and each creation can be viewed as something of a master class in whisky making. But this release takes an unexpected turn for the better, surpassing even our highest expectations by offering an extra peaty, rustic dimension to a perfect mix of orange and berry fruits, cocoa, vanilla, and spice. With John Glaser still setting the pace for blended malts with the most recent versions of Flaming Heart and Spice Tree, and this release raising the bar still further, this category is on fire. Stunning. — Dominic Roskrow

The Speyside Single Malt of the Year will be announced tomorrow.


26 Responses to “Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: Blended/Blended Malt Whisky of the Year”

  1. Danny Maguire says:

    At last one I can comment on, I’ve tried it. Doug brought it to the festival in Dufftown last year, it’s a cracking dram.

  2. Louis says:

    Nice to see something affordable and relatively attainable, even if someone has to bring it back to the US.

    • Tadas A says:

      Expensive for a no age statement (NAS) blend. I can get Springbank 18 years old cheaper than that.

      • Danny Maguire says:

        You’re talking about a limited edition with this one, not a mass market blend.

        • Tadas A says:

          It is a yearly release, so it is not a rare blend.

          • Danny Maguire says:

            There will still be more bottles of 18 yr old Springbank than Blue Hanger every year, even though the Springer is one of my favourites. Blue Hanger is limited by the casks they use, Springbank by the amount they decide to put out.

          • Tadas A says:

            Batch size not necessarily dictates price or quality. I can buy Evan Williams Single Barrel 9yo for $30. So that particular batch is only the size of a single barrel.

          • Danny Maguire says:

            What size was the barrel?

          • Tadas A says:

            55gal with probably 20-35% evaporation.

  3. politicalidiot says:

    I loved the 4th release and I have but have yet opened the 6th release. Yes it is NAS, but you can taste the old whiskies in there. Can’t really compare to a single malt because it isn’t the same. A better comparison is to JW Blue, and there is no comparison. The Blue Hanger is a far better quality and value blend.

  4. Peter T. says:

    Funny. I was just recently in England and when I went to visit London for a day I wanted to go to two places in particular, the British museum and Berry Brothers & Rudd. Indeed both have some great works of art and if the British museum ever opens a whisky wing in there I would expect this bottle to be in it. The fellow at BB&R gave me a sample and to say the least I enjoyed it. Even after I drank it I enjoyed sniffing the wonderful lingering aromas from my empty glass. So, I purchased a bottle to open up on my 40th birthday, Jan. 19th. Unfortunately, a bit of a cold stopped me from popping the cork that day but today you have given me ample reason (not that I needed much) to celebrate. Cheers!

  5. Tadas A says:

    It comes from the folks who attended BB&R-tasting with Douglas McIvor in Dufftown a month ago. He revealed the contents of this malt blend to be:

    Glenrothes 1998 Sherry butt,
    Bunnahabhain 1990 Sherry butt,
    Bowmore 1987 Hogshead,
    Bowmore 2003 Hogshead.

    In total just 2223 bottles of the 6th release produced.

  6. OudErnest says:

    4th in a row I think that’s not sold in the U.S. Here’s hoping today’s winner is.

  7. Dominic Roskrow says:

    Tadas A’s comment about no age statement is very interesting because as you may know I cover new world whisky for Whisky Advocate and have my own online world whisky magazine, and I speak regularly to distillers across the planet who see little relevance in an age statement. The Australians in particular argue age means little if you don’t consider size of cask, type of oak used, local climate, temperature, extremes of temperature and humidity.They definitely have a case. I tasted the new Amrut this week and it’s the oldest the distillery has ever bottled – eight years old. Three quarters of the liquid went to the Angels but what has survived is gorgeous. There is little of it and it’s not cheap. but It also has a distinctive liquorice rancio taste that you find in some Scotches over 25 years old. Eight years pushing on 30 in Scottish currency. Eight years on the label would mean nothing. In Scotland the industry is split on the NAS issue but expect a lot more of them – having dismissed the Indian and Taiwanese arguments that they can make good whisky without in a third of the time the Scots,can, economic circumstances are forcing Scotch down the NSA route.
    In the case of a blend or a blended malt, a small amount of young whisky can revitalise all the crusty old malts in the mix. And the rules state that if you use a drop of five year old that whisky has to be labelled five years old. That age hardly reflects the nature of Johhnie Walker Blue, or indeed Blue Hanger, does it?

    • Tadas A says:

      It is a lot cheaper to make whiskey in 3 years than in 18 years. That is my reasoning that young whiskey are cheap to make compared to mature whiskey.

      There was a similar big discussions few months ago on this board about aging. Tuthilltown Spirits has a very good scientific summary:

      I agree with them that only time can make mature whiskey and there are no shortcuts to that. However it is debatable what is the minimal age when you can make great whiskey. 8 years? maybe 18 years?

    • Tadas A says:

      I noticed that new distillers try to dismiss age since they have no longer aged whiskeys. Sounds like a marketing strategy than anything else. All the young whiskeys I’ve tried had some harsh note to it or lacked sophistication. The big problem for new distillers is that they cannot out-compete established whiskey distillers in product quality nor product maturity.

      My observation is that very few keep crappy whiskey for 18 years to sell. Lower quality whiskey gets sold way before and the best with potential stays to age longer.

      Another thing is: why would you want to make something that only your children can sell? Not really a quick money making strategy. You would make that product just because you love your job and want to make something great and memorable and money is not really an important factor. I strongly believe that greatest stuff is created from love, not for the money.

    • Lawrence says:

      Well said Dom and who cares what the customers want…..

      • Danny Maguire says:

        The customer is always right, but if what the customer wants just can’t be done then someone needs to explain to them just what can be. in the case of the Amrut mentioned in all probability anything left after 12 years would be undrinkable. More temperate climates mean slower evaporation so you can have more aged whiskies, the problem for scotch is the lack of production in the lean years so they don’t have the stocks for age statements, until the production of the last few years reaches maturity.

        • Lawrence says:

          Really? “in the case of the Amrut mentioned” So Amrut or Kavalan CANNOT provide an age statement??? Simply not correct; they choose not to provide an age statement for commercial reasons. Everybody knows that they are unlikely to provide whiskies with a 12yo age statement because of their hot climates and the effect on maturation. Amrut may have found a way to slow maturation by building special warehouses so keep an eye on them; you might see a 12yo Amrut yet. I’m sure somebody from Amrut will chime in with fuller information at some point.

          • Danny Maguire says:

            If Amrut are building special, presumably temperature controlled, warehouses what’s that going to do to their costs? Expect the price to go up, steeply.

          • Lawrence says:

            I say wait for full info before jumping to conclusions.

    • thebitterfig says:

      There are no age statement whiskies, then there are age obfuscation whiskies. I think most serious whisky drinkers out there totally understand that age statements are bogus, but also frown upon age obfuscation. The new entry level Macallans are a prime example of “doing it wrong.” My go-to example of doing it right, NAS (sort of) but No Age Obfuscation, is another award winner – Balvenie Tun 1401. It isn’t a big, bold number THIRTY YEAR OLD or other nonsense. No one who actually drinks whisky for the beverage cares. However, the folks at Balvenie do tell us what’s in the bottle. They aren’t trying to hide and obscure. While what matters is the taste, I think that once over a certain price, distillers and bottlers ought to respect consumers out there enough to tell us what we’re buying.

      Tadas A had a list above of the contents. With half the casks older than 20 years, the price point is comparable enough. I don’t begrudge them putting 9 yo Bowmore in the mix, not in the least. I trust the blender’s skill. I don’t mind the fact that they don’t slap a “Nine Years Old” on the bottle. If it’s there in big, bold letters, that is going to give people the wrong impression. But a list? Oh how I love them. I haven’t checked, but I hope the contents are more than just an open secret told at tastings to special initiates, but something freely available on the website with minimal obfuscation (I know some distilleries prefer not to be named specifically in blends).

  8. Doug says:

    Blue Hanger started off as a good quality blend for the diplomatic service in 1934 and was produced sporadically until the late 1980’s when the historical stocks used to make it dwindled so was discontinued and we concentrated on delivering some high quality aged varietals of our main Cutty Sark blends. We sold the Cutty Sark blend to Edrington Group almost three years ago and have concentrated on building The Glenrothes single malt and our other premium spirits which includes our independent bottling range, Berrys Own Selection. Blue Hanger was rereleased as a blended malt as an off-shoot in about 2004. It came about because I was experimenting one evening with some aged samples of aged Speyside malts I had on my desk. I pretty much created a blended malt which I really liked and thought I had to bottle but needed a name and recalled that we had the Blue Hanger name sitting on the shelf. It was a small batch of about 700 odd bottles of 25 year old minimum aged Glenlivet and Glen Grant. We liked it and so did our customers and we were able to repeat the exercise using the same recipe of malts twice more although each edition varied in flavour and quantity. Then we ran out of these aged stocks and I looked at other malts and ages to deliver what we had become used to having as our pet misunderstood blended/vatted malt. The fourth release was designed to replicate the quality of its predecessors and was a labour of love that took quite a bit of jiggling to get right but it was very popular and the fact that it had no age statement seemed not to matter with our customers. I decided to remove the age statement as the youngest cask in the mix was a puny 15 year old Mortlach and the rest were twenty to thirty years plus – age seemed less important than the mission we had set which was to produce a prize winning whisky from our relatively small stocks.

    And so it goes from batch to batch, each lasts about a year and when this one, # 6 runs out I’ll be back with my samples working on a new version. The world of blends and blended malts fascinates me and it’s refreshing that because each Blue Hanger is unique we can reveal the component whiskies down to the distilleries, cask types and numbers. Just ask me if you want to know.

    Anyway, I’m boring myself now.

    Happy drams,

    • Tadas A says:

      Thank you so much for the history and information about this whisky. Can you tell names, percentages by volume of each single malt in this blended malt? How many casks of each whisky?

      • Doug McIvor says:

        The Bunna and Glenrothes were sherry butts and both Bowmore casks were refill hogsheads. Total bottles produced = 2223.

        Bunnahabhain 1990 cask # 38 246 litres pure alc
        Glenrothes 1998 15192 259 lpa
        Bowmore 1987 2793 98 lpa
        Bowmore 2003 20058 136 lpa

        Best regards,

  9. Dominic Roskrow says:

    I have no more to add to this beyond saying that the standard of debate here is very high and most consumers aren’t even close. But I argue totally for transparency. And thank you Doug for a great contribution and a reminder to us all as to who got the award. Anyone got an issue with my choice?
    And Lawrence, what’s eating you? I totally think the Whisky drinker matters most. And I champion new distillers with new thinking. Is there some form of conflict in that?

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