Thanks to ScotchGuy_TO for sharing the 6th Release.
It makes sense for an independent bottler to make blends. You’re not going to just buy amazing casks. The people who buy from distilleries and sell to IBs probably package the very good casks with bad casks.
Now you can have a cheaper line out there. But will it work? Let’s look at another more ubiquitous hobby, reading, as a parallel example.
Almost everyone reads something. Some people like fiction and reading long form fiction. We don’t know the percentage. Some of those people like Sci-Fi. Again, we don’t really know the percentage. That said, we know that these two groups are not 100%. I know, I’m a nerd and asking if people like reading fiction, and then if they like reading about sci-fi after that and the odd looks I get tells me that.
We know this is a niche group. How small or big isn’t the point here: The point is if you write a long-form book with a Sci-Fi feel that then has another layer on top of that (let’s say you add in specific cultural additions to your small town) you may end up with less readers. Note I said may: You may not alienate them, but it is a risk.
The same thing does happen with whisky: The main releases are going to a small group of people (whisky drinkers). Then the specialty whiskies you bring out goes to fans of the specific region or distillery. Then the finish you add cuts more out. Then you have to determine how to make money, and either sell it for more (thus people can’t buy it) and at cask strength or at a lower abv. and then people don’t buy because they like cask strength (that’s valid).
But if you can make an interesting, good Blended Malt (or even an age statement Blend) then you potentially could have something better than the sum of its parts. You can even water it down to make more money and probably still have something nicer than some accounting strength single casks out there.
Granted that ignores that there seems to be enough whisky fans now that selling them as single casks en masse is working. Thus we see it less now.
Back when I started reviewing I was told of Blue Hanger, a release from Berry Bros. & Rudd named after William Hanger who always wore blue (no, seriously).
Over the years each release has had different amounts of different malts, casks, etc. In the 6th release we see more sherry casks, while in the 9th release we have fewer and more peated malt.
But were they good? Or are these just a giant combination of whiskies I would have tried and told you to ignore? Let’s see, shall we?
Blue Hanger 6th Release Berry Bros. & Rudd
Price: € 90
Colour: 5YR 4/8
Nose: Red fruit, cloves, cola, cinnamon
Nice hit of that sherry giving you red fruit, spice, more spice, and some cola. Nothing really popping up other than the sherry, however not a bad nose given the abv. and the blend.
Bit too much sherry, really. I think I get why they may have cut back given the nose.
Taste: Cinnamon, ginger, almond biscotti, caramel
Ok, so there’s some sherry notes (the spice) however the rest tastes like a whisky. Interesting dry cookie flavour and sweet. Easy to drink as long as you can take the heat (what heat it’s ginger and cinnamon, damn my Caucasian is showing).
That said that biscotti note is quite flavourful. It’s a good surprise and is quite unique.
Finish: Guava, oats, cinnamon, melon, grape
Tropical fruit, cereal, spice, and more levels of acidity/light notes? This is a very nice finish. It draws you back to the whisky. It’s so nice as a sipper and I would have a hard time finding people who won’t like the finish.
Conclusion: That’s a nicely done blend. I get the feeling the whiskies that went into it would have been just okay. Yet this feels just a bit higher quality. The finish was my favourite part with all of the fruit, and it’s almost like that was the reason for the whisky.
It’s not without fault: The nose is all sherry. The taste is having the spice without the cake at times. All of that isn’t a deal breaker: Given the price I’d have said this was an easy daily drinker that has a few steps up. If you have a chance, try this.
Blue Hanger 9th Release Berry Bros. & Rudd
Price: € 90
Colour: 5Y 9/6
Nose: Wheat, fennel, pear, mineral
Cereal and pear. Some fruit, some mineral. The standard “pear” flavour of whisky and the spirited cereal isn’t doing it favours. Feels like it needs a booster on the peat or a booster on the non-peat, as it loses the plot a bit or doesn’t really develop too well.
Taste: Honey, mineral, butter, brown sugar
Good floral sweet, more of that mineral, some butter. Okay, all of these are going to go well with some fruit.
No fruit? Okay, however, about some spice? No? Alright, however about meatiness? No… alright, can we finish this? Not before bottling? Too bad.
Finish: Pear, cloves, anise, earth, salt
Here’s the fruit, along with what I feel like should have been in the taste. It’s like eating the cake before it’s mixed here. A bit over here and over there would go well but they are more separate than the Montegues and Capulettes.
Conclusion: Less great here. While I feel the 6th edition had some target, the finish, this feels like someone’s first attempt at blending. And as someone who’s attempted (and failed) his own blends I don’t throw any shade. It’s tough.
The nose feels unbalanced, the taste is mostly sweets (though well balanced) that don’t get too complex, and the finish is very simple spice and earth. I think they need to go back to the sherry.
Granted it’s tough to fault anything here. As a whisky nerd you attempt to explain why cask strength ends up being a better bang for your buck, or why watering down is annoying when the flavours don’t quite jive, or when something feels like it needs more time or a finish. And you get told you’re just bitter. So I guess keep doing what you’re doing, Berry’s, as there’ll always be someone who will buy what you do without having to perfect it.
I’ll be over here in my smaller niche, finding the gems and writing reviews.
Scotch review #1409-10, Blend review #123-4, Whisky Network review #2089-90
101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die review #77