By Bruce Collier
More than 90 percent of all whisky blended in Scotland goes to make blended Scotch—a blend of one or more single malt (malted barley) whiskies and one or more grain whiskies (wheat, corn or rye).
Blends of single malt whiskies (without grain whiskeys) from different distilleries are called blended malts, formerly “vatted malts.”
Single malt Scotch is generally the most expensive. Blends can be costly, but generally are cheaper and more accessible than single malts.
This is a survey of 10 blends (including one blended malt) priced from $12.99 to $69.99 for a 750 ml bottle. I bought all but one in this area, and sampled all neat.
Grant’s Family Reserve, $12.99, 80 proof. Grant’s bottle reminds me of the Flatiron Building. The color is sunny gold. The nose is apple peel and coconut. Grant’s tastes of apple cider, with the malt and smokiness staying in the background supporting and framing it all. The finish lasts longer than some I tried at twice the price.
Teacher’s Highland Cream, $13.99, 86 proof. Old school Scotch, pale gold, with the smoke upfront on the nose, along with malt, leather and sugar cone. The taste brings more smoke, but sweetness steps in creating a bacon-ish character. More time in the glass adds maltiness, and the taste of dry-smoked meat, waffles with bacon.
Ballantine’s Finest, $16.99, 80 proof. There’s a nutty whiff of grain and barley on the nose. The mouth feel is chewy, with toasty, burnt sugar at the edge. Wait and you’ll get sherry, grape, confectioner’s sugar, and a smooth, burn-free ending. Ballantine’s is one to sip straight, no ice or water. Like Grant’s and Teacher’s, a trusty bargain.
Monarch of the Glen 12 Year Old, $18.99, 80 proof (purchased in Georgia). By law, the age statement on a bottle of Scotch refers to the youngest whisky in the blend. This one’s a sweetie, from nose to tail. It’s fruity, with pear-and-malt on the first taste. Then some prunes come along, then sherry. Monarch is medium-bodied, with no noticeable smoke.
Dewar’s White Label, $22.99, 80 proof. This was the lightest blend I tried. It’s subtle to a fault. With enough air time there’s a sliver of malt on the nose. The taste was mild apple peel and cider. Water—or ice—could sink this one. Dewar’s is available everywhere, but I think you can do better for your dollar.
Black Grouse, $25.95, 80 proof. This one’s dark—caramel coloring of Scotch is lawful, though controversial, and I suspect some here. Some countries require that coloring be mentioned on the label, but the USA does not seem to be among them. Black Grouse’s nose and taste fly straight at you—honey, sherry and dried fruit like figs and prunes. The smoke takes its time emerging. After all that, I expected a longer finish, my only criticism of this bird.
Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend, $32.99, 86 proof. Compass Box prides itself on transparency. You can go online and see the “distillery sourcing” for this blend, a Lowland grain, Northern Highland single malts, and Speyside Highland malt. There’s no coloring or chill filtering. It’s pale (like reposado tequila) and slightly hazy. It’s mild and gentle, smelling and tasting of fresh pears, followed with a creamy, custardy taste. That extra six points of proof adds warmth. This is one to linger with, and one of the least expensive in the Compass Box line.
Chivas Extra, $34.99, 80 proof. This seems experimental—reddish like bourbon, heavier bodied, coating the glass. The fruit and malt nose leads you to a sweet sherry taste, followed by…that’s all. The intro promises a longer finish. I wonder if the “exceptionally rich and generous” taste promised on the label wouldn’t benefit from higher proof. A little costly for what you don’t get.
Grand Old Parr 12 Year Old, $36.99, 80 proof. You won’t find this Scotch everywhere, but buy it if you do. This retro whisky harks back to the days when all Scotch was aged in former sherry barrels (bourbon casks are more common now). It’s dark and rich, smelling like dried orange peel, apricots, peaches, prunes, malty waffles, and Charles Dickens’ aftershave. The smoke doesn’t come in much on the nose, saving its entrance for the taste. Sip it after dinner.
Johnnie Walker Green Label, 15 Year Old, $69.99, 86 proof. JW temporarily took Green off the market. One liquor store I called said “good luck finding it.” Thanks to Editor Chris Manson, I did, and recently read that JW has resumed production. Green is a malt blend, a medium light honey color. Malt sniffers will love the way the nose hits, full on. It sweetens with airing. The fruit slides in on the tongue, like a lollipop, while peat brings the juicy fruit in line.
This Father’s Day, let Dad pick out his own neckties. And he already has enough wine.
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