Single Malt Or Blended Whiskey? Ballantine's Says Both Are Good
With single-malt whiskies the current drink of choice in Asia, especially in Taiwan, 190-year-old Ballantine’s is shaking things up in the liquor market.
For decades, it has been the same prolonged debate among Scotch experts about which is better: single malts or blends? For the Taiwanese, it’s just a matter of how fast you can down your dram.
Many, if not all, toast to ‘ganbei!’, which literally means ‘empty your glass’ — a far cry from the traditional Scottish Gaelic cheer that is ‘slàinte mhath’ meaning 'cheers and enjoy'. Yet, despite the differences in culture and language, people of this island nation appreciate a bottle of Scotch as much as the average Scotsman.
With a population of just three million, Taiwan is surprisingly the fourth-biggest nation for Scotch imports based on value. “If you look at volume, it will be even more,” said Stuart Fear, brand ambassador of Pernod Ricard Taiwan. “The quantity of Scotch whiskies in Taiwan is quite astounding.”
But to really answer the question of how the Taiwanese like their Scotch, it is reported that they are four times more likely to choose a single malt over blended whiskey. This is likely to be why Scotch whiskey brand Ballantine’s, after 190 years of offering only blended whiskies, has decided to unveil its first trio of 15-year-old single malts in the heart of Taiwan’s capital.
The reveal was held at a spot that overlooked Taipei 101, which itself fuses traditional and modern elements. Terence Ong, managing director for Pernod Ricard Taiwan, a company that holds some of the world’s biggest whiskey names, said: “Ballantine’s was one of the first whiskey brands to come into the market and 15 years later, they are still here. Even so, Taiwan is a country where you have to innovate or your brand will get lost in the crowd.”
These malts, each named after the distilleries they come from: Glenburgie, Miltonduff and Glentauchers, had their time as part of a blend and now, they get to shine in their own right. Sandy Hyslop, master blender for Ballantine’s, has worked hard to craft the brand’s inaugural single-malt series. He said: “People are going to learn more about the Ballantine’s style by exploring these malts — a sort of deconstruction and reconstruction of our iconic products.”
The stay-true heritage and innovative spirit of Ballantine’s continued through an interactive virtual-reality experience that transported drinkers to the three distinct distilleries in Scotland. The launch event also saw several tasting sessions with Hyslop himself. These activities are what the whiskey veteran of 30 years believes will preserve the identity of the brand in a foreign country. Hyslop said: “I’m not just master blender of Ballantine’s, I’m also custodian of the product. We have a reputation second to none and I need to make sure it stays that way. We do need modernity but we have to look after what’s important: producing consistentcy and quality year after year.
“Besides, how many companies would actually let you see what the key ingredients of their product are? That’s how confident we are about the ingredients used in Ballantine’s. We’re happy to share how important they are and how amazing these whiskies are in their own right.”
The Glenburgie single malt looks to the be crowd favourite and forms the heart of Ballantine’s whisky character, delivering concentrated fruitiness and honeyed sweetness. The Miltonduff forms the foundation, bringing floral notes with a hint of cinnamon spice. Seasoned imbibers will appreciate the Glentauchers, which delivers the lingering luscious finish of Ballantine’s, with flavours of berries and barley-sugar sweets on the palate.