Infinity bottles: blending whisky at home

8 Comments on Infinity bottles: blending whisky at home

Inifinity Bottle

Blending whisky is hard. It takes master blenders years to hone their skills, working up slowly through the ranks to take on the creation of new whiskies. However, that shouldn’t stop you having a go yourself at home. One of the easiest ways of examining this facet of the world of whisky creation is to make yourself a never-emptying infinity bottle – whenever it gets low, top it up with some more whisky.

I’ve currently got four different blends on the go: Speyside, Highlands and Islands, Islay and ‘Misc’. The final one is my longest running and I have a notebook listing everything I’ve added to it over the past five years – odds and ends, the occasional specially purchased bottle, and lots of great drams. Whenever I taste it, I have a think about what it needs next and add a little slug of that from my collection of open bottles. Slowly but surely, with an occasional backward step, all four of my blends move towards being my ideal drams.

However, as with everything, there are a few rules of thumb to follow:

Starting out…

There are many schools of thought to this. The two I like most are:

1) Start with a bottle of reasonably priced whisky you know you like – this will give you a good base and allow you to build on flavours you are already familiar with.

2) Start with a random mix of odds and ends – whisky doesn’t last forever in the bottle once it’s opened, and if you only have a dram left, then it’s probably going to become flat and lifeless before long. Why not combine all of your dregs into a starter blend? It might be confused, but finding the threads and dragging it into excellence can be fun.

I’ve done both, and while the first method creates more reliably decent whisky, the occasional flash of excellence from a random mix and the subsequent work to polish its edges is immensely satisfying.

Have a plan before you add anything

Chucking any old whisky into your infinity bottle is probably not going to make the best blend. However, a few minutes’ thought about where you want it to go can help make sensible choices. Is it too dry? Add something sweet. Is it too heavy? Add some lighter whisky. Does it need some richness? Add some sherried whisky. Is it too smoky? Add something unpeated. Simple decisions that can push your blend closer to your ideal whisky.

Be careful with smoke

Smoke is a powerful flavour and should be used in moderation. For a demonstration, grab a glass of your favourite unpeated dram and add a few drops of a heavily peated whisky. You’ll be surprised how few you need to add before it becomes very smoky.

Remember: you can always add a splash more whisky, but taking it out again gets very complicated…

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Want to see what will happen if you add some bourbon to a blend of Scottish whiskies? Want to add something that isn’t whisky? Go ahead! You don’t need to use your whole batch, but have a play in a glass if you want to try something whacky – it might be excellent and be worth a test on the full infinity bottle.

While my regional blends have fairly obvious rules as to what I’ll add, for my Misc bottle, anything goes. It contains whisky from around the world, whatever I thought might make it taste good. I’ve not stretched across drink boundaries yet, but rumours of Compass Box’s Scovados (Scotch and Calvados) experiments make me think I should…

Taste, taste and taste again

The whole point of having an infinity bottle is to explore the flavours of whisky, so make sure you taste it regularly. Not only will you see how the whisky slowly changes as the components marry – whisky is a complex mix of compounds and they take time to settle down – but how else are you meant to make space in the top for the next dram you want to add?

Good luck, and may your infinity bottle never be emptied.

If you want to step things up and start making bigger batches of blended whisky, check out former TWE blogger Tim Forbes’s excellent guide.

Posted in Irish Whiskey, Japanese Whisky, North American Whisk(e)y, Scotch Whisky


glazefoliodb says:

This is a great post! I have thought about trying this for a while and think I will give it a try soon. Good excuse to buy a few bottles of bourbon too!

siglov says:

Started my infinity bottle with the remains of 4 bottles…
20% Balvenie 12 Double Wood
40% BenRiach 10
10% Glenfiddich 12
30% Old Pultney 12

Which created a fruity Speyside biased blend with a touch of sour & salty from the Pultney.

Since then Ive topped up with with (large) drams as I’ve been trying other good malts in my collection…

Springbank 12 cask strength
Arran 14
Glenfarclas 21
Benrinnes 15
Linkwood 12
Clynelish 14
Edradour Caledonia 12

The infinity bottle is definitely developing more character with each new malt. I’m keeping away from adding any peated whisky. I was a bit reticent about adding the Glenfarclas but in the end I fed the bottle a very generous slug. I like the idea that once the bottle has been finished small amounts of the 21 will still be in my blend.

It’s great fun and I can see this project going on for years!

Billy says:

Sounds like an excellent start. Good choice on being wary about smoke – once it’s in there, it’ll never entirely leave 🙂

Andrew Blatherwick says:

I’ve started one. However it is the opposite way around. Started off with Highland Park and Bowmore as half and then topped up with sweeter sherried style. Glenrothes and a bit of macallan Gold. Worth doing as an experiment when you’ve had the best out of a bottle

me-myself-I says:

Clynelish 14 always helps, for the unique waxy mouthfeel it adds to a blend. I like a touch of smoke from Caol Ila (but a very little gos a long way).

The most important element (and I’m surprised that the O.P. didn’t touch on this) is 25% or more WELL AGED GRAIN whisky to round out and extend your blend – its amazing the improvement this brings. Compass box hedonism, or a bottle of single grain from an indy.

Billy says:

I tried to avoid mention of any specific type or producer of whisky – I was just talking about flavour. Start from there, and you can drop in any type of whisky you want from anywhere and see how it goes. My whiskies are generally blended malts, as I don’t usually have spare grain knocking around, but if you want to go down the route of a traditional blended whisky then you should probably knock it up a bit higher than 25% – appreciate the grain, rather than try and hide it with malt.

Caol Ila is indeed great, which is why it (along with some carefully selected grain) is the core of the character of Johnnie Walker Black Label. Clynelish, likewise, is a main component across Diageo’s range – that’s what they focus on in their distilleries, and you can rarely go wrong by dropping in a touch of one of their whiskies

Unfortunately, I’m down to just one house blend these days – an international blend of whiskies made with lots of different grains using lots of different stills. The others were too good and got drunk faster than they were replenished, so I’m just keeping the one until I get surplus again 🙂

Alisdair Brown says:

Every year I get a Laphroaig 10yr old bottle from a businessman I give work to on regular basis. He’s a great great guy and I don’t have the heart to say I can’t drink it its too smokey. I like blended whisky; any ideas how to blend it ‘down’.

Billy says:

A little bit of smoke goes a long way, so blending Laphroaig to a less peaty state is going to take a lot of other whisky. I’d generally say that you’d not want more than 10-15% Laphroaig in your blend for it not to get overtaken by its quite distinctive character. So, a really big infinity bottle? 🙂

If you want to make a house blend to temper the Laphroaig, then I’d start with a couple or three bottles of a blended whisky that you like, pop them in a demi-john and then add a little bit of Laphroaig at a time until it gets to the smokiness you like. Then tweak away as you drink it, being careful not to overdose with the smoke. Good luck!

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