Blended Scotch aims for hallowed single-malt ground

Tue Oct 23, 2012 3:07pm EDT
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - When it comes to Scotch whisky, premium single malts get star billing, but the world's top seller of blended varieties is aiming for a similar audience with some new, more upscale labels.

Johnnie Walker, best known for its best-selling Red Label and Black Label brands, has launched a pair of pricier blends -- Gold Label Reserve and Platinum Label -- in hopes of winning over growing numbers of affluent Scotch drinkers, many of whom are single-malt purists.

It also wants to attract new converts to Scotch with some ideas for mixed drinks that tone down some of the initial boldness of the spirit.

This all may be sacrilege to those who contend the only thing one should add to Scotch is, well, Scotch. But the aim is to show a worldwide market that has been expanding by at least 5 percent a year that there is more than one way to enjoy a wee dram.

Think of the relationship between single malt and blended Scotch as that between a concert violinist and a symphony, said Ewan Gunn, Diageo Plc's global Scotch whisky ambassador.

Besides Johnnie Walker, the British liquor giant also markets single malts, such as Lagavulin and Talisker.

"To make a good single malt, you make one good product, you distill it, you mature it, you bottle it and your job is done," Gunn said after presenting the new blends to bartenders and journalists in Calgary, Alberta, where oil money gushes into fine liquor and other luxury items.

"When you're making a good blended Scotch whisky, you have to do that 30, 40, 50 times with entirely different whiskies. Then you have to bring them together in perfect harmony and only then is your job done. So for me, it's a testament to true skill to be able to make a really good blended Scotch whisky."   Continued...