Single malt whisky drinkers can be a snooty bunch. They’ll talk up a big game, bragging about how peaty and earthy their last Islay scotch was — “That Bruichladdich Octomore I just tried was so intense, it tasted like I was drinking a bag of Scott’s Turfbuilder!” But you don’t exactly see blended-whisky fans spinning such yarns. They’re a more muted crowd, unless they’re regularly consuming bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue Label or they own rare bottles of Ballantine’s Very Old 30 Year (then they seem to want everyone to know about it).
Part of the single malt snootiness is actually based on an erroneous assumption — that single malt whisky means single batch or single barrel. Truth is, single malt simply means that the whisky emerged from a single distillery; single malts can contain multiple whiskies. Then there’s blended whisky — meaning it contains a mixture of both barrel-aged malt whisky and grain (barley or corn) whisky. Conventional wisdom perpetuates the myth that single malts are best consumed like a purist: neat and unadulterated except for perhaps a small splash of water or a single ice cube, while blended whiskies are really best left for mixers.
And, of course, that’s all wrong. With a truly unique blend, like The Syndicate 58/6 ($159), blended whisky is as much a purist’s pursuit as single malt. And they’re equally as storied. The 58/6 history starts with a rare blend of whiskies discovered in the Port of Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland back in 1958. 10 oak casks held a blend of both Scotch malt and grain whiskies, and their flavors were found to be quite desirable — so much so that six whisky aficionados gathered to bottle some of it, and thus coined the name indicating the year (’58) and the founding group (6).
What emerges in liquid form is not a gimmicky drink hinged on a far-off story.
The Syndicate 58/6 whisky is comprised of 18 single malts and four single grains, mixed with some of the original whisky from the ’58 batch. It is aged through a solera system, with the 1958 blend resting in the base barrel, to be mixed with the newly aged whisky. At the end of solera aging, part of those ground barrels (“solera” is Spanish for “on the ground”) is removed and finished for two to four years in Oloroso sherry casks before it’s finally signed off by Richard Patterson, master blender. It’s impossible to know how much of a role that original whisky still plays, but it definitely helps justify some of the $160 asking price.
The Syndicate bottle design is up there with the single malts. It says “Premium” on the label, which tends to be contradictory in the world of spirits, but doesn’t pan out here. Blended whiskies tend to be smooth rather than distinct, bold and complex. The 58/6 elicits a double-take, since from the first whiff it’s fraught with richness. The nose opens with notes of oak, honey, orange peel, grain and even a pleasant smokiness not usually present in blends. That experience alone had defied the widely accepted view of blends. Then, the initial taste that followed was pleasant, with malted grains, vanilla and caramel and a very smooth mouthfeel. It finished well with citrus and spice, albeit not as long as I would have liked.
Sip after sip resulted in a truly enjoyable drink that belied my view of blended whisky, especially at this higher price point. Since the proof was on the low side, there seemed no need to cut it, coupled with the fact that there was very little of that initial alcohol bite. It’s best consumed neat. Avoid the ice, for fear of losing its unique character. Syndicate 58/6 claims and asks a lot, but what emerges in liquid form is not a gimmicky drink hinged on a far-off story. Rather, it’s a blended whisky that deserves a place in your liquor cabinet, if only to silence the naysayers.