Whisky Review: 6 Affordable Blended Scotch Whiskies (+One Expensive)
I have been trying to branch out in trying some Blended Whisky, which is afterall the most popular category of whisky worldwide. Today I’ve dug out seven blends, four of which are quite affordable, two of which are more upmarket, and one of which would be in the luxury category.
Please note the scoring guide! Relative value may be discussed, but isn’t a factor into the actual scores.
Table of contents:
· Ballantine’s Finest Blended Scotch Whisky — ★½
· Ballantine’s Blended Scotch Whisky Tribute Release 17 Year Old — ★★★
· Dewar’s Blended Scotch Whisky 12 Year — ★★
· Chivas Regal 18 Year Gold Signature — ★½
· Dewar’s 8 Illegal Smooth Mezcal Finish — ★★½
· Johnnie Walker Blender’s Batch 10 Year Triple Grain American Oak — ★★
· Johnnie Walker Blue Label The Casks Edition — ★½
Ballantine’s Finest Blended Scotch Whisky — ★½
Tasted neat / 40%
This NAS, 40% bottle of blended scotch whisky is George Ballantine & Son’s Finest, and also cheapest blend. I purchased this to drink over rocks at a hotel from a Don Quijote outside of Tokyo for something in the vicinity of ¥870 (<$10 USD depending on exchange rates).
- Color: chestnut (1.2) — almost certainly artificially coloured
- Nose: inescapable nail polish, lemony citrus, olive brine — I have an inescapable urge to polish furniture
- Taste: I swear I can taste the caramel colouring; some sweetness, sliced apple
- Finish: short, hot grain whisky, maybe the tiniest hint of smoke?
If you drink this is a competitor with other highball whiskies, or smash a bottle on the rocks (not literally), you probably will achieve the degree of intoxication you’re looking for, but you will have a regrettable and unmemorable drinking session.
Ballantine’s Blended Scotch Whisky Tribute Release 17 Year Old — ★★★
Tasted neat / 48%
This 17 year-old Blended Scotch Whisky is Ballantine’s Tribute release to its original 1937 formulation for its blended malt and grain whisky. Released as a limited edition for the Japan market.
Clocking in at a punchier +8% ABV to its entry-level cousin above, this has a nice age statement, and is non-chill filtered.
I was able to snag this for ¥6,500 (~$50 USD, depending on exchange rates) on the secondary market, a significant ~25% discount to MSRP. The manufacturing code is LKMA M2963, 2018/07/18 16:46.
- Color: tawny (1.4) — again, probably artificially coloured and dialed up a bit to look older compared to Ballantine’s Finest, but also at 17 years old, if it were a single malt, it could absolutely be this colour in an ex-bourbon cask. The casks involved here are probably quite the mix of refills.
- Nose: acetone, lemon-vanilla tart, beach campfire, baked apple cobbler; a little muted milk chocolate
- Taste: fruity green apple, lemon peel, silky sherry undertones, graham cracker, and some grapiness
- Finish: medium; icing sugar, cream, honeysuckle and oak
Finally, a mass-market blend that tastes like a proper blend should: smooth rich and complex. The 17 Tribute trends towards sweet and balanced, but with some depth and decent integration of the flavours. The concessions to the connoisseur market (punchier ABV, NCF, age statement) are fantastic.
Could we please get more mass-market blended whisky like this? 🥺
Dewar’s Blended Scotch Whisky 12 Year — ★★
Tasted neat / 40%
Dewar’s 12 year old is a step up from the entry level NAS white-label Dewer’s blend, but aside from miscellaneous label statements like “double aged for Extra Smoothness”, “Gold & Prize 500 Medals”, “Selected oak cask”, there is nothing substantive on the label except its age statement.
Other bloggers suggest that there is a substantive Aberfeldy malt component in these bottles, which have been blended and then married for a final 6 months in oak before bottling.
Also, a cork in contrast to the Ballentine’s screwtops. I am not sure which I prefer, this one is plasticy and synthetic, and I’ve read that screwtops may offer superior preservation over time…
- Color: chestnut (1.2) — almost certainly caramel coloured
- Nose: terps, lilac, salty bacon, and meringue pie
- Taste: pine sap, pickled ginger, stewed pears, spice; a dash of cream
- Finish: short; some caramel and spice with honey
This is pleasant but generic. It would improve if it were bottled at a higher ABV; the marrying process in blending is less useful when you’ve gone to the rock-bottom of ABVs, so that extra six months finish as a blend does nothing more than really muddy up any potential complexity.
Chivas Regal 18 Year Gold Signature — ★½
Tasted neat / 40%
The Chivas Regal 18 Year Old Gold Signature labels tells us nothing at all about this whisky. The rumourmill is the malt component has a strong custom Strathisla weighting, but with over 20 distilleries featured in the blend, it’s impossible without Chivas disclosure to say anything more.
- Color: chestnut (1.2) — inevitably caramel coloured
- Nose: floral, lots of tropical fruits, hermes d’jardin parfume, unripe apple, pineapple
- Taste: prickly pear, sherry, guava, caramel and chocolate
- Finish: some cardboard, vanilla, short; a little oak
Inoffensively bland, but recognizably still whisky, you won’t be angry drinking this, but I don’t think you’ll be coming back for more. Despite the age statement and premium pricing, this doesn’t offer good value for the money.
Dewar’s 8 Illegal Smooth Mezcal Finish — ★★½
Tasted neat / 40%
It’s Dewar’s, but done up with a Mezcal Cask finish. The name “Illegal Smooth” is a poke at the scotch whisky association regulations which only recently allowed this cask type for a whisky to be allowed to be called “Scotch whisky”.
Timelines are unknown, but maybe the last six months of marriage are in Mezcal casks.
- Color: chestnut (1.2) — caramel again; I don’t get it, I’ll drink a light natural-coloured whisky, but I suppose the majors are doing this for a reason
- Nose: smokey; a little vinegar, some burnt plastic, salt, tequila, and caraway seed; behind it all, a hint of chlorine
- Taste: really rounded, mellow, sherry with some spice and smoke; some bright agave and ice cream
- Finish: smokey, but short, with prickly tequila again
Doing up a blend with a finish is courageous, and this at least partly delivers on ez-Mezcal cask finishing, which we’ve seen to great effect now in Lagavulin’s recent Jazz release. You could consider this an immature, but accessible, version, and I think it’s done well enough that people will be able to pick this up and note “wow, here’s a whisky with a hint of Patrón.”
Johnnie Walker Blender’s Batch 10 Year Triple Grain American Oak — ★★
Tasted neat / 41.3%
This 10-year-old Blender’s Batch is “A blend of 3 Grain Whiskies- Wheat, Barley, and Corn- and 2 Malts — from Cardhu and Mortlach. Aged for 10 years in American Oak Casks.” There’s also some Port Dundas in there.
That’s more disclosure than we usually get, and they gave up +1.3% on the ABV.
- Color: chestnut (1.2) — artificially coloured again
- Nose: rye whiskey, spicy chili peppers, corn, and leather
- Taste: butterscotch and marshmallow, togarashi spice, a little oak, and quaker oats
- Finish: long but thin, with grainy hot spirit, some hints of sweetness, and licorice
This is pretty good! It’s simultaneously interesting and flat. In this case, the ABV is not so much the problem I think, as the very grain-forward presentation.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label The Casks Edition — ★½
Tasted neat / 55.8%
This is a cask-strength version of Johnnie Walker Blue Label which I have wanted to try for a long time. The label tells you nothing except that this is a “A Bold and Robust Special Release”.
It comes in a higher ABV than normal, and in a very snazzy 1L bottle with thick glass.
- Color: tawny (1.4)
- Nose: musky, heather, alcohol, confused fruit cobbler, lilac? flowers, and peaches
- Taste: prickly molasses, honey flowers, a fair bit of smoke, a hint of peat; cloying
- Finish: long and sweet, with a heavy grain undertone, lemon zest and sherry
This is OK, but I don’t like it. It’s a dialed up mashup of “smoothness”, which means it has no particular flavour, and is cloyingly muddied.