The Riverflow is a new mysterious single malt from Morrison & Mackay who gave us the reasonable if slightly overpriced Big Strand from Islay. This time around they’ve delved into Speyside and utilised the casks from three different vintages from a single distillery from the region. I’ve heard on the grapevine is that this is actually Auchroisk in reality but maybe we’ll have a better idea when it comes to the actual tasting.
There is a certain romantic appeal in taking a bunch of casks from a single distillery and creating a composite. Taking a step back and then seeing what the final reaction is. The interplay from different vintages through vatting can erase weaknesses and bring about harmony. Or in the case of Jura, it can create a whisky equivalent of Beezlebub. An element of risk does exist and whilst some highlight the skill of a master blender at times, you debate whether anyone can do this with a small grain of skill. The only proof is to try it for yourself when visiting a distillery that offers a blending class option.
A fine exponent of this dynamic is Cadenhead with their Small Batch range that often combines a handful of sister casks to create a more detailed and layered experience. Mark touched upon the benefits of combining casks to create layers of flavour in his GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 7 review. Morrison & Mackay have enjoyed success via their Càrn Mòr Strictly Limited range, an entry-level offering that deals with the more bargain end of the spectrum. We’ve enjoyed our forays into the youthful, the robust and the underdeveloped at times; all for a reasonable cost.
The whole concept of vatting, mixing or whatever terminology you subscribe to, started with the spirit merchants of the 1800’s who were the central resource for all consumable goods. This was an era devoid of the supermarket although several of today’s giant chains began life as a small spirit merchant or greengrocer. These outlets sold everything you would require for your home including teas, wine and spirits. The merchants had access to various casks including those from local distilleries. Initially, casks were seen as a vessel for transportation. Not much thought was given to their role in evolving the contents. That is until in dusty cellars and with the passage of time, the senses of the merchants began to notice changes. Improvements even. Armed with this insight they began to experiment and combine whiskies to create new more palatable and therefore sellable whiskies. These were the early shoots of the blends and whisky barons. Honing their skills and experimenting with their inventory.
As there were no rules to follow during this period or to subscribe to, much like Irish whiskey today, things could get out of hand. Merchants were free to combine various types of spirits or even herbs in search of a more palatable drink. The monks before them had also experimented with these raw ingredients. In the end, the arrival of the Spirits Act of 1860 brought about the legal acceptance and defined rules around such practices. Blending was now allowed by law under bond, which triggered a boom in popularity and the growth of the famous brands and blenders who had previously only practised their trade to local clientele. Now they could produce on a bigger scale and reach new markets.
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