The vast majority of the (Scotch) whisky sold around the world is blended whisky.
These days, most blended whiskies are a 'mixture' of a lot of grain whisky (made
from various grains in industrial column stills) and a number of malt whiskies (which
are produced from malted barley in pot stills). This allows the 'master blender' to
combine these ingredients into a blended whisky with the desired characteristics.
I've been told that there may be as much as 50 or more different single malt and
grain whiskies in a blend. However, I'm quite sure that they don't bother so much
with the cheaper brands of blended whisky - and that over 80% of the whiskies
used for those are very young grain whiskies. The production of grain whisky is
much easier and cheaper than distillation of malt whisky, so that makes sense.
Anyway, here are just a handful of the hundreds of different brands around;
Bailie Nicol Jarvie
Black & White
Dew of Ben Nevis
House of Lords
Whyte & Mackay
As you may have been able to read between the preceding lines,
I personally don't care too much for your average blended whisky.
However, the sales figures indicate that many people disagree...
was introduced in the 19th century, partly
because many of the malt whiskies of the period had a little
too much 'character' for the average Victorian whisky drinker.
The modern 'malt whisky connoisseur' would quite possibly
have been delighted by the variation in styles and flavours that
were available in the malt whiskies of the time, but we should
not forget that daily life was very different for most people at
the time. Based on what I've read about the living conditions
in the 19th century, I imagine that most whisky drinkers just
wanted to get drunk as quickly and affordably as possible.
An even more important factor (especially w.r.t. production costs) is the fact that the whisky producers are not limited to
expensive malted barley for the grain whisky production process. Whisky producers can use any type of grain they like for
the grain whisky; corn (maize), rye, wheat, etc. It should come as no surprise that they usually choose the cheapest type
of grain that they can get their hands on. Since the producers can keep the 'recipe' secret (and most consumers of whisky
are influenced much more by advertising than by the taste of the whisky) investments in marketing make far more sense
than investments in better raw materials or casks. The effects of this 'sensible' approach are painfully clear for anybody
who ever had the chance to taste an 'antique' bottle of blended whisky from the 1960's or 1970's...
After the invention of the 'column still', the whisky industry was able to deliver.
The production capacity of malt whisky is limited by definition, mostly due to two production factors.
First of all, malt whisky is produced in copper pot stills in a 'batch' process; after each distillation run,
the stillmen have to empty and clean the still before it can be filled and used again. The column still
(also known as 'continuous still') can keep producing whisky for 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
All that being said, I still find myself sipping the occasional blended Scotch whisky. More often than not, it reminds
me why I try to avoid blends in general. Nevertheless, there are still a few blends out there worth mentioning...
Dewar's 12yo Special Reserve
(43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2004)
Nose: Surprisingly malty and spicy. Much more nose than your average blend. Something faintly 'veggy'.
Very subtle organics playing around in the background. And it develops over time. Wow! Cookies. Smoke. Maggi? Is that cabbage?
Taste: Quite malty for a blend. Medium sweet centre, a little gritty. Flash of mint. Coffee? Something vaguely fruity in the finish.
Score: 66 points - very impressive for a blend! It beats the Johnnie Walker Black Label (from the early noughties) on the nose.
That's a very pleasant surprise; many blended whiskies struggle to reach the 50 points like/unlike border in my book.
Famous Grouse 12yo Gold Reserve
(40%, Bottled +/- 2003)
Nose: A little maltier than many other 12 year old blends from the early noughties, but I couldn't get a lot of distinct aroma's.
Taste: gritty and quite dull as well, but in the end I liked it a fraction better than the Ballentine's and some other 12yo blends.
Score: 39 points for this one - there is very little that sets it apart from other sub-premium blends in this category.
Not something I'd recommend to anyone myself, but I should stress once more that I'm a little 'allergic' to grain whisky.
Glen Talloch NAS 'Rare & Old'
(40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2005, 100cl)
Nose: Sweet. Quite grainy. Faintest hint of coffee in the background. Slightly metallic. Restrained.
Taste: Metallic as well. Drops off in the bitter and slightly vomity finish. Not worth its 15 Euro's a litre.
Score: 27 points - slightly more pleasant than the expression sold in the early 90's but still well below par if you ask me.
(40%, OB, Bottled +/- 1996)
Nose: Powerful, slightly malty aroma. Prickly in the nose, but it lacks 'definition'.
Taste: Expressively malty. Prickly like the nose. The malty character doesn't leave room for many other elements.
Score: 26 points - which makes this a 'bottom shelf blend'. It's very affordable, but so is the superior Teacher's blend.
Grant's NAS 'Ale Cask'
(40%, Bottled +/- 2003)
Nose: Definitely more interesting than most bottom shelf blends. And indeed, a whiff of old ale - it smells like a bar in the morning.
I also found the nose slightly oily with some citrus and faint organics. More character than most other young blends of the period.
Taste: Sweet and fruity, just the way I like it. Some people may find it too 'liqueurish' though.
Score: 47 points - a blended whisky that approaches likeability for me - but never quite reaches it...
John Scott's 35yo Superior Blended'
(43%, Duncan Taylor, Bottled +/- 2003, 675 Bottles)
Nose: Sherry. Fruity. Hint of smoke. Dark chocolate. Extremely complex for a blended whisky.
Taste: Smoky. Medicinal. Heavy sherry. Salty. Extremely dry. Different from 'antique' blends, but a great composition.
Score: 85 points - yep, I like it. I like it A LOT actually; finally another blend that can compete with single malt whiskies.
In fact, this beats quite a few single malts with its hands tied behind its back - if whiskies would have hands and backs...
Johnnie Walker Red Label
(40%, OB by Diageo, Bottled +/- 2012)
Nose: Wow, I didn't realise there was room for further dumbing down for one of my least favourite blended whiskies.
Dull, dumb and weak in the nose; even less character than some batches I've tried a few years ago. Whisky in name only.
Taste: Much sharper than the nose suggests. A bite in the opening, followed by a lingering aftertaste. Pretty foul if you ask me...
Score: 16 points - people who drink this regularly must have never tried a real whisky - or their taste buds have died off.
The fact that this is the world's biggest selling blended Scotch whisky proves the incredible power of advertising.
Johnnie Walker Black Label
(40%, OB by Diageo, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Vaguely whisky-ish. Malty with a hint of smoke. Pretty smooth and well-rounded, but my nose can't pick up a lot of specifics.
Taste: Fits the nose like a surgical glove with some faintly rubbery notes. A step up from the Red Label, but not all that great.
Score: 54 points - which may not seem too bad compared to other blends, until you look at the relatively steep price.
I used to find the Black Label quite drinkable in the 1990's, but whenever I see a bottle these days I'll just keep on walking'...
Johnnie Walker Black Label
(40%, OB by Guinness, Bottled +/- 1996)
Nose: Heavy, malty aroma. Sweet and slightly oily. A fruity punch that reminded me of 'wine balls' candy.
Taste: Pleasant but perhaps a little 'middle of the road'. The finish lasts for a long time and slowly retreats to the back.
Score: 60 points - better than the cheap 'Red Label' variety of Johnnie Walker, but I'd rather drink a single malt.
Johnnie Walker Gold Label
(40%, Bottled +/- 2003)
It's no secret that I despise the 'Red Label', but I wouldn't turn down a Johnnie Walker with a black, green or blue label.
It's a blend of 15 whiskies aged for at least 18 years, released to celebrate 'the company's' 100th anniversary. Which company?
According to the marketing gobbledygook it's made according to a recipe from 1920, but sensible people will know that's another lie.
Given the fact that the vast majority of the distilleries that operated in those days are now closed that's pure nonsense...
Nose: Hey, now I get some peat and pepper. Did they use Talisker for this one as well?
Grainier and fruitier with time. The first one to reach 'likeability' and the winner so far.
Taste: A little prickly at first, but unlike #1 and #2 it it has body and substance.
Score: 60 points for now - just like the Johnnie Walker Black Label I tried in the 1990's.
Is it worth the +/- 75 Euro's they want for it? Not by a long shot...
Mac Lean NAS Blended Scotch Whisky
(40%, 70cl, Bottled +/- 2003)
Nose: Clean. Wodka & tonic with a hint of lime. Spirity but not too sharp.
Taste: Smooth start with a distant hint of menthol in the background. Grows grittier and grainier quickly.
Score: 32 points - which really isn't too bad considering the price. However, it feels rough and fairly immature on the palate.
Mac NaMara NAS
(40%, Gaelic Scotch Whisky, Bottled +/- 2001)
Nose: surprisingly deep and nutty for a blend. Coffee and tobacco. Honey. Watermelon. Barbecue spices? Very impressive!
Sweet and much stronger than most blends. Creamy. Distinct whiffs of peat after 10 minutes. Some smoke too. Juniper?
Taste: Watery start, then an unpleasant sharp burn. Cleaner after a while. Coffee & fruits later on. Cool on the palate.
Sourish. Metallic finish. Bummer. A hint of smoke. The finish reminded me a lot of gin and 'jenever'.
Score: 61 points - the nose is very, very expressive for a blend!
Sadly, the taste isn't in the same class, which drags the overall score down quite a bit.
(43%, J. & A. Mitchell & Co Ltd., Bottled +/- 2001)
Nose: Relatively smooth and creamy for a blend, although there are grainy elements too.
Gentle with faint hints of fruits. Water melon? Some smoke. Something flowery?
A nutty oiliness and some 'veggy' notes. Organic overtones. Sour moments.
Taste: Sweetish and smooth in the start, coating the tongue in the centre. Grainy.
Flat at first. Hint of smoke. A pinch of salt. Turning sour. Strawberry curd? Gooseberries?
Not unpleasant at all, but ultimately too grainy and bitter in the finish.
Score: 58 points - quite nice but a bit bashful.
Old Cricket NAS Original Whisky
(40%, Bottled +/- 2001, probably produced outside Scotland, price = just 4 Euro's in Italy)
Nose: Well, it smells like whisky. Cheap whisky, to be precise. Alcoholic.
Featureless - which isn't necessarily a bad thing in a cheap whisky.
Taste: Flat and sweetish at first, evolving into a sharp burning sensation.
Sterile. An acidic burn all the way to your stomach. Metallic finish.
Score: 26 points - actually, I've had far worse than this. Compared to crap like 'Big Blend' this is top notch hooch.
Old Mull NAS
(40%, John Hopkins & Co, Essivi Import, Bottled 1960's, 75cl)
Nose: Antiquity. Ripe or even dried apples. Furniture polish. Faint hint of caramac. Very different from modern blends.
Taste: A pinch of peat. Tannins. Harsh. Very dry in the finish. Not as accessible as the nose, but quite decent.
Score: 75 points - not bad at all for a blend, but not nearly as great as some other antique blends either.
(40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2006, Blend of Kentucky Bourbon & Canadian Whisky)
Nose: Starts incredibly sweet with a faint touch of apple. Alcohol in the background. Almond liqueur?
Not complex. Over time the grainy elements become more pronounced. Fairly simple, but quite enjoyable.
Taste: Mocca. Very sweet as well; reminds me a bit of Italian Galliano liqueur. Nutty overtones - coconut?
Smooth start and centre, but the mouth feel becomes hotter and gritty towards the bitterish finish.
Score: 55 points - almost like a liqueur. Quite different from a Scotch malt whisky but enjoyable.
I actually had it at 59 points for a long time, but the rough finish pulls off a few points.
(40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000)
Nose: Extremely light and bland in the nose - which isn't necessarily a bad thing for a summerime blend, mind you.
Taste: On the palate, this is just too flat for me. Fine if you want to get drunk, but not a good choice if you're looking for flavour.
Score: 31 points - which makes it less offensive than some blends, but you might as well be drinking wodka.
Teacher's Highland Cream 12yo
(40%, Bottled +/- 1995)
Nose: Nutty and bittersweet with hints of chocolate. Amazing complexity for a blended whisky - and mighty pleasant.
Taste: The palate doesn't match the complexity of the nose, but it's enjoyable enough. Pretty smooth finish.
Score: 49 points - which puts it a class below the Teacher's '60' with a higher malt whisky content. Still great value though.
Whyte & Mackays 'Special' NAS
(43%, OB Whyte & Mackay, Cream label, 5.5cl, Blend, Bottled Early 1970's)
Nose: Sweet with some faint pickles in the background, growing dustier. After a few minutes clear notes of antiquity.
Here's a whisky that deserves some serious attention. Hints of diesel oil? Turpentine perhaps?
Taste: Oy... Flat, sweetish and dusty with a hint of perfume. The taste seems oxidised or just seriously off.
That being said, after some fifteen minutes some pleasant medicinal and antique notes emerged.
Score: 82 points - the nose is remarkably complex for a blend, but the taste kept it from the 80's for a long time.
Although the dropping of quality standards is most obvious among the younger and cheaper blends, developments
have also influenced the 'premium' segment of the blended whisky market to a certain extent. In fact, if my palate
and nose are not mistaken, the drop in quality has been even stronger in the 'premium' segment after the 1990's.
Because the 'recipes' for blended whiskies are closely guarded secrets, it's difficult to find out why blended whisky
has changed so much in recent years, but I imagine it has to do with a combination of the following factors;
As if the whisky world wasn't
confusing enough, some brand
names (like Black Bottle and
Sheep Dip) have been used for
both vatted malt whiskies and
That means that the type of
whisky you'll find inside the
bottle depends on (among
other things) the year in which
it was bottled and the market
for which it was produced.
And speaking of 'markets'...
That's one area where blends
differ greatly from single malts.
Most single malts are marketed
under the same name all over
the world - usually the name of
the distillery. But many blends
are produced and branded for
specific markets; countries and
sometime entire continents.
To add to the confusion, the
same name can sometimes be
used for very different blends
and labels in different markets.
So, while the first whisky that
most people get to drink is a
blended whisky, the market
for blended whisky is not easy
to comprehend for novices.
Anyway... Suffice it to say that,
while blends are far less complex
than single malts, the same is
not true for the blends market.
And now for a surprise;
It's true that I have been
advising people to forget about
blended whisky altogether ever
since I discovered malt whisky
in the early 1990's. However,
this has recently changed. The
quality of many single malts
has been dropping for years,
while prices steadily kept
There are still some really
fantastic malt whiskies, but
most are now priced well outside
my financial comfort zone.
There are a few blended Scotch
whiskies (like Cutty Sark for
example) that offer pretty
good alternatives these days...
BRANDS OF CONFUSION
(43%, Pedro Domecq, Taylor & Fergusson, Bottled 1970's)
Nose: Antiquity. Fruits. Givenchy. Organics. Wet hay. Sellery. Maggi. Perhaps even a hint of peat?
Taste: Fruits and tannins. A little herbal. Again a hint of peat? Impressive.
Score: 84 points - one of the best blended whiskies I've tried so far, actually.
Bailie Nicol Jarvie (40%, Bottled +/- 1996)
Nose: Rather sharp, nutty aroma with metallic accents. Quite interesting, actually.
Taste: Dry, malty flavour. Pleasant despite the rough mouth feel. Not a lot of individuality though.
Score: 38 points - better than a lot of 'bottom shelf blended whisky', but inferior to single malts.
Ballantines 12yo Special Reserve (40%, Bottled +/- 2003)
Nose: Fresh and a little flowery. Mild spices. Something grainy jumps forward after a minute and is
very obvious on the palate as well. Not my kind of whisky, I'm afraid - 38 points this time. That's twice
as much as the 19 points I gave to the standard Ballantines in the early 90's, though. If today's
standard bottling is anything like that from a decade ago, this 12yo is a serious jump up.
Bells NAS (40 %, Blend, Bottled +/- 2004)
The nose was quite sweetish and not as sharp and grainy as some other blends.
It had a smooth start on the palate, but quickly grows too bitter for my tastes.
Still, not at all bad for an affordable blend - I gave it 45 points which means I almost liked it.
Black Grouse NAS (40%, OB Blend by Famous Grouse, Bottled +/- 2007)
Nose: Starts off rather flat and introvert. A suggestion of a whiff of peat or smoke. Anthracite? Coffee.
Taste: The influence of the peat is much more obvious here. More skoky than peaty, though. Decent.
Score: 43 points - hardly a peat monster, but the smoke sets it apart from regular blends.
Chivas Regal 18yo (40%, Code FP6512N, Bottled +/- 2003)
The nose was excellent for a blended whisky - dried apples, spices, peanuts and organics. Sweet.
On the palate the gritty burn of grain whisky is obvious. Hot and lacking in complexity, but OK.
Score: 59 points - one of just a few blended whiskies that I've actually enjoyed (but just a bit).
Cutty Sark NAS 'Prohibition Edition' (50%, OB by Berry Brothers & Rudd, Bottled 2013)
(Celebrating CS's 90th birthday and the 80th anniversary of the repeal of the USA prohibition in 1933.)
Nose: Light fruits; apples and sour pears. Raspberry? Nutty. A peppery prickle in the back of the nose.
Quite a bit of development as well - although it remains subtle. The sweetness deepens over time.
Taste: Sweetish with more smoke emerging over time. Even some tannins towards the finish.
Score: 65 points - I can see myself dramming an evening with this if no single malts were available.
Cutty Sark NAS 'Storm' (40%, OB by Berry Brothers & Rudd, Bottled +/- 2012)
Nose: Hey! Starts with some odd but pleasant organics; I rarely find that in a blended whisky.
Then lots of fruity notes and even some spices emerge. Cutty Sark is really on a revival course!
Taste: Smooth, although the grain whisky is more obvious here. Still some subtle fruits though...
Sweetish. The grainy and 'plywoody' finish drags it down a bit, but the nose is great for a blend.
Score: 54 points - which makes it a definite winner in the 'affordable blends' category.
Cutty Sark 12yo (40%, OB by Berry Brothers & Rudd, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Apples. Fruity. Hint of chloride. A hint of rubber and some extremely faint organics emerging.
Whiffs of citrus and smoke? Vaguely farmy? More paint thinner after a minute. Slowly opens up.
It feels fragmented, but the development is really quite interesting. The nose is complex for a blend.
Taste: Prickly but flat. Hot, slightly bitter finish. A fairly nasty aftertaste that hangs around.
This blended whisky is more fun to nose than to drink - but it also beats most of the competition.
Score: 56 points - I sampled it blind and was quite surprised that it turned out to be a blend.
This 'Deviant Drams' section is a mere diversion from the main focus of the Malt Madness website: single malt (Scotch) whisky.
My knowledge of and experience with world whiskies and other alcoholic beverages is relatively limited, but I have plenty to say
about single malt Scotch whisky. For example, there's a Beginner's Guide to Single Malts with 10 pages filled with lots of useful
information for (relative) beginners and the 'Distillery Data' section has profiles for over a hundred malt whisky distilleries.
Clicking on one of the links below will take you directly to the distillery profile of that particular whisky distillery in Scotland.
Aberfeldy - Aberlour - Ailsa Bay - Allt A' Bhainne - Ardbeg - Ardmore - Arran - Auchentoshan - Auchroisk - Aultmore
Balblair - Balmenach - Balvenie - Banff - Ben Nevis - Benriach - Benrinnes - Benromach - Ben Wyvis - Bladnoch
Blair Athol - Bowmore - Brackla - Braeval - Brora - Bruichladdich - Bunnahabhain - Caol Ila - Caperdonich - Cardhu
Clynelish - Coleburn - Convalmore - Cragganmore - Craigellachie - Daftmill - Dailuaine - Dallas Dhu - Dalmore
Dalwhinnie - Deanston - Dufftown - Edradour - Fettercairn - Glen Albyn - Glenallachie - Glenburgie - Glencadam
Glencraig - Glen Deveron - Glendronach - Glendullan - Glen Elgin - Glenfarclas - Glenfiddich - Glen Flagler
Glen Garioch - Glenglassaugh - Glengoyne - Glen Grant - Glengyle - Glen Keith - Glenkinchie - Glenlivet - Glenlochy
Glenlossie - Glen Mhor - Glenmorangie - Glen Moray - Glen Ord - Glenrothes - Glen Scotia - Glen Spey - Glentauchers
Glenturret - Glenugie - Glenury Royal - Highland Park - Imperial - Inchgower - Inverleven - Isle of Jura - Kilchoman
Killyloch - Kinclaith - Kininvie - Knockando - Knockdhu - Ladyburn - Lagavulin - Laphroaig - Ledaig - Linkwood
Linlithgow - Littlemill - Loch Lomond - Lochnagar - Lochside - Longmorn - Macallan - MacDuff - Mannochmore - Millburn
Miltonduff - Mortlach - Mosstowie - North Port / Brechin - Oban - Old Pulteney - Pittyvaich - Port Ellen - Pulteney
Rosebank - Royal Brackla - Royal Lochnagar - Saint Magdalene - Scapa - Speyburn - Speyside - Springbank - Strathisla
Strathmill - Talisker - Tamdhu - Tamnavulin - Teaninich - Tobermory - Tomatin - Tomintoul - Tormore - Tullibardine