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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff
Friday, 04 January 2013 18:58

Blended Whisky: My Lennon and McCartney Analogy

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As a confirmed blend-o-phile I often find myself explaining (or at least trying to explain) why I like blends and the differences in style between blended and single malt whiskies.  People like to use analogies when they are describing complex or difficult concepts and one that I have heard many times, and I know Mark Gillespie of WhiskyCast uses, is to compare great blended whisky to an orchestra and single malts to a jazz soloist.  Both produce complex and often brilliant music, but of course in entirely different ways.  But I have never really liked this analogy for the one, rather pedantic, reason. I love single malt and I hate jazz.  There I said it.  I can't stand jazz.  I find it to be extremely self-indulgent and I confess to calling jazz in the past “musical masturbation” (but without the rhythm).  When it comes to music I have always been a Beatle fan (to the extent my daughter is named, in part at least, after the song Eleanor Rigby) and I think there is a great analogy for blended whisky in the songwriters John Lennon and Paul McCartney and their music. 

I think of John Lennon as the malt whisky.  His song writing is usually more powerful and stern and his melancholy reflects the maturity of single malt.  Single malts provide the depth, complexity and richness of a great blend just as John Lennon provided those qualities to the Beatles music. Paul is of course the grain whisky. His songwriting tends to be more positive and upbeat. He brings an air of lightness and freshness to Beatles songs just as grain whisky brings to a great blend.

At its best, the music of The Beatles often (but not always) captured and harmonized both of those elements.  Their singing was often so closely harmonized it could create a new voice, just as a great blend captures and builds upon the best of the component whiskies to create a new product, not just a composite.   I think it is also interesting that while single malts (and to a much lesser degree grain whisky) are still incredibly popular, just as John was and Paul still is as solo artists, blended whisky is still by far the most popular in the world (still 95% of global whisky sales perhaps) and the Beatles still remain the pinnacle of their musical careers, certainly from a commercial success aspect anyway.

As with many analogies you can take them too far and the obvious weakness in my argument is of course Paul McCartney has had great success as a solo artist and yet grain whisky remains by far, the least developed of the whiskies, while single malts have grown in popularity (ironically since the time of the Beatles first single in 1962).   However we will know what John’s true potential as a solo artist as we were robbed of his talent in 1980.  As I said; no analogy can stand too much scrutiny and mine is getting stretched beyond breaking point now so I will, like Ardbeg's latest release, call it a day.  

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