Well look what we have here. That’s right, The Single Malt Alliance is about to review a blend for the very first time. But before we get into it I think it’s important that I first clarify my personal (and our collective) position on single malts vs. blends. It comes as no surprise that I’ve always been intrigued by single malt whisky. The primary reason has zero to do with the image it projects and 100% about this raw craft that has been perfected by man over centuries. I am fascinated by the many micro factors that affect a whisky’s flavor; the type and origin of grain, the cask selection, the distillery’s geology and all of the manual labor that glues it together. Really nerdy stuff I know. So it goes without saying that the idea of mixing a variety of 20-40 different whiskies to make a finished product has had little appeal to me.
But the truth is, blending whisky is an art form in its own right. It takes an incredible amount of creativity and skill to build a consistent blend in an industry where output and supply and constantly changing. I challenge you to talk with any blender and not walk away impressed. If we are true appreciators of whisky, t’s about time that we, the Single Malt Alliance, openly pay our respect to the blend.
What we have here is quite a rare one. Usquaebach is a small, premium brand of blended Scotch whisky established back in the 1700’s and trademarked in 1877. The name “Usquaebach” stems from the Gaelic word “uisge beatha”, which translates to “water of life”. “Uisge” has since evolved into the word “whisky” and the rest is history.
Usquaebach is made from a proprietary blend of Highland single malts. Compare that to say Johnnie Walker, which is really more of a “west coast” forward blend, this whisky contains no peated whisky and therefore is free of any smoky characteristics. This whisky is produced to showcase the sweet, elegant refinement of the Scottish Highlands.
The 15 Year Old we are reviewing today is a blended malt whisky. While the majority of blended whisky is made from a combination of both malt and grain whisky, this one is made purely from malt whisky. Personally, I prefer malt whisky to grain whisky so I excited to finally have a bottle here in my possession.
While the origin of the whisky used in this blend has been kept a secret (trust me, I already emailed them), we do know it’s a combination of both American oak and European oak ex-Sherry casks and even contains some whiskies that are closer to 20 years old than 15. It’s bottled at a standard 43% ABV and priced at $80-$100 USD.
So without further ado, let’s get to the whisky. On the nose, WOW, a full aroma of dark fruit, heavy baking spices, and musky oak. There’s a hint of warm vanilla and raw cane sugar but overall, deep and seductive. Absolutely stunning! Usquaebach may not reveal the origin of the whisky but I would venture to bet is that this blend is produced using a high proportion of casks from a little distillery known as The Macallan. In fact I am 99.9% sure of this based on the aroma alone. [anyone care to confirm?]
On the palate, much more earthy than I expected. It’s surprisingly assertive. Rigid oak, fresh pine, raisins, stewed cherries and fresh pine. Working through it a bit more, a lot of chocolate, dark chocolate and cracked sea salt. Toffee, burnt caramel, raw almonds. A thin veil of honey, some clove, and allspice. It may seem as if I’m just naming everything at this point but it really is all here. The texture is a bit flat, which is disappointing, but the symphony of flavor seems to more than make up for it. The finish is medium-long and tails off with a bitter sweetness turned to a dry nuttiness.
In conclusion, one of the more flavorful whiskies I have had in a long time. Blended whisky is typically about balance and everyone’s favorite descriptor “smooth”. This is both of those things, yes, but it’s more of a flavor bomb than anything. I have a feeling that many of you reading this will absolutely love this whisky. A beautiful snapshot of the Scottish Highlands in its entirety.
Independent of my own progress through this bottle I have at home, I also had a chance to taste the full Usquaebach lineup at a recent whisky festival in Chicago. The 15 Year Old arguably my favorite of the lineup and if you like single malts, this is where I would start. Keep an eye out, however, for the new Old Rare Cask Strength Edition. We will be tracking that one with great interest. Slàinte!