Posts tagged ‘Blended Scotch’

Phil’s Favorite Blended Scotches

Of all the genres of whisky in the world, by far the most famous and most recognizable on a global scale is blended Scotches. For many years, iconic brands like Dewar’s, Grant’s, and Johnnie Walker have ruled Scotch sales. In my sophomoric years as an avid whisky drinker, I must confess that I looked down upon blended Scotch whiskies, thinking that there was no way they could provide the same amount of enjoyment as single malts. But, I have come to learn with time that I was just a petulant youngster. Even though blends are immensely popular, it does not mean that there are not some brilliant blends out there. For the purposes of this list, blended malt Scotches are included as well. Here are the nominees for my favorite blended/blended malt Scotches.

Name: Compass Box Great King Street
Style: Blend
Age: No Age Statement
Proof: 86 (43% abv)
Price: $45-50/750ml
Notes: This is the flagship whisky from Compass Box, one of the fastest growing blended whisky-makers in Scotland. It is a viscous, oily presentation of whisky, with rich flavors of vanilla, potpourri, and toasted bread. There are some gentle hints of freshly cut peat and sawdust that set the whisky out to be a fantastic dram. Although this is a little harder to find and a little pricier than many other flagship blends, it is well worth it. This is one tasty whisky.

Name: Compass Box “The Peat Monster”
Style: Blended Malt
Age: No Age Statement
Proof: 92 (46% abv)
Price: $50-60/750ml
Notes: This whisky belies its name somewhat, in that it is not at all a monster of peat. Of course there is peat involved, but it is a balanced whisky with oak, vanilla, and salted caramels to balance out the medicinal, peaty, and smoky notes. There is no question that this a whisky for peat-lovers, but its balanced and refined, a trait that I suspect comes from using peated whiskies from all over Scotland, not just from Islay. This whisky is readily available in most liquor stores. Definitely worth the try if you enjoy peated malt whisky.

Name: Compass Box “The Spice Tree”
Style: Blended Malt
Age: No Age Statement
Proof: 92 (46% abv)
Price: $50-60/750ml
Notes: The edition of this whisky I am referring to is the resurrected edition currently on shelves, not the original Spice Tree that created a stir with the SWSA. This whisky is mostly comprised of Highland malt whiskies that are blended together and finished in custom-made barrels comprised of both French and American oak. The result is a unique whisky with spiced and herbal notes, with soft rolling smoke and caramelized peppers. Like “The Peat Monster,” this whisky is readily available and a great addition to any Scotch-lovers cabinet.

Name: Famous Grouse 18 Year-Old
Style: Blended Malt
Age: 18 Years
Proof: 86 (43% abv)
Price: $70-80/750ml
Notes: This blended malt whisky is comprised primarily of Speyside and Highland whiskies aged in ex-Sherry butts. This elicits brilliant dessert whisky flavors of spiced tea cake, sherry, warm buttered bread, and toasted pecans. There is some nice ginger spice notes to balance the whisky out and add complexity. Tragically, this whisky was discontinued a few years ago, most likely because of dwindling stocks. However, if you are able to find a second-hand bottle at a price you can afford, this seductive whisky is worth the buy.

Name: Johnnie Walker Platinum Label
Style: Blend
Age: 18 Years
Proof: 80 (40% abv)
Price: $100-125/750ml
Notes: This recent addition to the Johnnie Walker lineup really got my attention the first time I tried it, and recent drams have proved worthy as well. This aged blend delivers great balance with notes of toffee, hazelnuts, and peaches-in-cream. All these flavors are wrapped up in a wonderful wafting of gentle smoke that coats the whisky from start to finish. In my opinion, this is the best assembly of whiskies in the Johnnie Walker lineup. It is available in most higher end liquor stores, although it does come at a cost…

Compass Box Peat Monster Scotch Review


Not all monsters are scary, especially not peat monsters.

Before winter is up here in the Mid-Atlantic, I’m going to talk about a little whisky from my favorite style to sip on in the wintertime – Peated Scotch.  Thus my review today of one of my favorite blended malts, Compass Box Peat Monster.  Peat Monster is a blended malt Scotch, meaning that it is comprised of only single malt whiskies, as opposed to most blended Scotch whiskies which are comprised of both malt whisky and grain whisky.  Despite its name, Peat Monster is hardly a peat-bomb.  It is comprised of peated whiskies, some heavily peated and some lightly peated, from all over Scotland, not just Islay.  It is non-chill filtered, naturally colored, and bottled at 92 proof (46% abv).

The nose is absolutely brilliant on this whisky, with a good ashy, Caol Ila peat coming together with full, fresh oak, salty sea spray, and big vanilla.  There is a nutty, earthy peat going through the nose, too.  It just leaps out of the glass and has great balance between the peat and sweet.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the palate holds up to the nose.  The palate is medium-bodied with medicinal, rubbery peat, a bit of smoke, and some spicy sandalwood. Those sweet notes from the nose don’t quite follow all the way through to the palate in the full force they possessed at the outset.  The finish is medium-long, elegantly peaty with twinges of vanilla.

If you are looking for a warming whisky to sip by the fire, but one with great balance between smoky and sweet, then look no further.  It is all too often that single malt drinkers are afraid to spend money on a blend thinking they will be sacrificing quality because of the input of multiple distilleries.  Compass Box makes a host of whiskies that prove this is not the case, and Peat Monster is very much in that realm.  My grade: B+.  Price: $50-60/750ml.  At its price point, Peat Monster competes very well with other smoky base malts, like Laphroaig and Ardbeg, and the juice in the bottle stands right there as well.

Comparison Review: Monkey Shoulder vs. Sheep Dip Blended Malt Scotches

Well, it has been a good long while since we’ve had a comparison review here at Bargain Bourbon, so today’s review is aimed at remedied that minor oversight.  Today, I am reviewing two blended malt Scotch whiskies – Monkey Shoulder and Sheep Dip.  Since I have not yet discussed blended malts on the blog, perhaps a brief word.  Simply, blended malts are Scotches that are derived from single malt whiskies from two or more different distilleries.  Blended malts differ from blended Scotches in that blended malts only contain single malt whiskies in their components, and blended Scotches may contain both single malts and other grain whiskies.

The two particular blends in question today are both blended malts – Monkey Shoulder and Sheep Dip.  Monkey Shoulder is a blended malt from William Grant & Sons, and the three distilleries that contribute to this whisky are all owned by Grant as well.  Single malt Scotch from The Balvenie, Glenfiddich, and Kininvie all find their way into Monkey Shoulder to make a fine Speyside blended malt.  Monkey Shoulder is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv) and this particular batch is Batch 27.  If you are wondering about the name, Monkey Shoulder is a slang term for the soreness in the shoulder that occurs when a malt man has been turning the germinating barley for a long period of time.

Sheep Dip is a blended malt made from 16 different single malts from all over Scotland, with the famed Richard Paterson as the head blender on the project.  Sheep Dip proudly proclaims that of the different Scotch regions have been included in the whisky.  Sheep Dip is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).  As far as the name on this one, “Sheep Dip” was often how whisky makers would label their products to avoid their stock being confiscated by the authorities back in the days when such things were a more common occurrence.

Now, onto the tasting…

I assume he enjoys a fine dram from time to time...

I assume he enjoys a fine dram from time to time…

On the nose, Monkey Shoulder is floral and sweet, with honey, vanilla, and some rich orchard fruits.  This is a classic, bourbon-aged Speyside nose.  The palate is wonderfully creamy, with orchard fruits, berries, peaches, apples, and rich honey.  The finish is relatively short with oak, vanilla cream, and drying perfume notes.  My grade: B.  Price: $35-40/750ml.  Overall, this is a very good introduction to what an ex-bourbon cask might do to Speyside spirits, and it is priced perfectly.

For Sheep Dip, the arrival is a bit heavier.  The nose is a funky, sherried nose, reminiscent of Edradour.  It is sweet and nutty, with notes of pralines and candied pecans.  The palate is earthier, with those pralines there, along with dates, molasses, brown sugar, and wet moss.  The finish is sweet, dry, and very short.  My grade:  C+.  Price:  $35-40/750ml.  Overall, this is in a nice price point just like the Monkey Shoulder, but the flavors seem disjointed in Sheep Dip, like there are too many chefs in the kitchen.

Something tells me these sheep got into the Sheep Dip...

Something tells me these sheep got into the Sheep Dip…

On the whole, I do like Monkey Shoulder better, but the greater point I want to make with this post is that blended malt Scotches are great alternatives to buying single malts.  Blended malts are often high quality whiskies with great taste profiles.  If you want to introduce someone to Scotch, save the money on a single malt, but give yourself a cleaner palate and a softer alternative to the blended Scotch route.  As always, let me know what you think, and let it ride!

Chivas Regal 18 Year Blended Scotch Review

Makes you want a dram, doesn't it?

Makes you want a dram, doesn’t it?

Well, its holiday season for a lot of folks (and the first day of winter for half of us), and that means that folks are giving all manners of whisk(e)y gifts.  Most common in the Scotch-giving arena among such gifts are popular single malts like The Glenlivet and The Macallan and upscale blends like Chivas Regal 18 yr.  What?  I haven’t reviewed Chivas 18 yr. yet?  No worries, my friends.

Chivas is one of the best-selling Scotch brands in the world, which means that Chivas is often shunned in the blogosphere.  We hipster bloggers like to review what is new, cool, and not yet popular.  Well, Chivas is not new, it is only cool in some circles, and it is most certainly popular already.  However, that does not mean Chivas is bottling a bad product or that it does not make a great gift.  Chivas 18 year-old is reasonably priced for its age, and it is beautifully packaged, making it a great present to unwrap under the tree.  But, what of the liquid in the bottle (80 proof, 40% abv)?

On the nose, Chivas is pleasant and welcoming, yielding a lot of malty and citrusy components.  I get notes of orange marmalade, pineapples, potpourri, and a hint of wood smoke.  The palate is soft and seductive, with warming oranges, dry oak, white chocolate, and a hint of wood smoke.  The finish is medium in its length, with drying oak, wood spiciness, and a drying citrus note most reminiscent of grapefruit.

Overall, this is a good gift because most people will think you paid more for it than you actually did.  As for the whisky in the bottle, it is not bad at all, but there are definitely better single malts on the market at the same price point.  Then again, the simplicity and the silky seduction of Chivas 18 make it the perfect introduction to older Scotches without breaking the bank or getting too much complexity and body.  If you’ve got a whisky lover on your list that has expressed trying some older whiskies, this would probably be a very welcome gift under the tree.  My grade: B.  Price: $70-80/750ml.  There are definitely better drams for that money, but not many of them have 18 years under their belt.

Black Friday Blends: Thoughts on some Grand Macnish Drams

Happy Friday everybody!  It is my hope that despite all that requires change, some folks reading this found something to be thankful for yesterday.  As you might have guessed, I am thankful for whisky, in almost all of its forms.  So, what I am saying today is, don’t shop at Wal-Mart; drink good whisky with good people!  Today, I am reviewing two different blended Scotches, Grand Macnish 12 year-old and Grand Macnish 15 year-old “Sherry Cask.”

Grand Macnish was founded in 1863, and has been making quality blends since that time. Ever since 1991, with their buyout by MacDuff International, this blend has gotten even more global.  Since the importer for Grand Macnish is based in the Greater Boston Area, I see a lot of this blend floating around, and I have had a few folks ask my thoughts on it, so here we go.

Grand Macnish 12 year-old is a standard blend in the range, bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).  On the nose, this smells of the Scottish Highlands, with light heather, honeysuckle, roses, grass, and lilacs.  The palate is light-bodied with a backbone of smoked heather or smoked grasses, almost peaty.  There are also honeyed sweet notes, and some fine ripe pears.  The finish is a bit peated, evolving to a very pleasant honey sweetness.  My grade: B-/C+.  Price: $20-25/750ml.

Grand Macnish 15 year-old “Sherry Cask” is also bottled at 80 proof (40% abv), and would seem to have some sherry cask influence, but what that means exactly is left a mystery.  My guess is that there is just a bit of extra sherry cask-matured whisky in the blend (as opposed to a sherried finish), but that is just a hunch.  On the nose, this one is lightly sherried, with a little booze, oak, dry grapes, and dry sherry.  The palate is medium-bodied, with some malt, oats, raisins, dry tannins, old wood, and some sizzling steak.  The finish is medium-long with a light puff of smoke, burning wood, and some fino sherry.  My grade: B-/C+.  Price: $30-35/750ml.

Overall, both of these blends are crowd-pleasers and wallet-pleasers.  Neither of them will blow you away with complexity or velvety elegance, but they are both very tolerable drams that won’t break the bank.  Between the two, I probably prefer the 12 year-old, but I wouldn’t turn down a dram of either (unless it was being contrasted with a Chivas 25 year-old or some other elderly blend).  Next time you are having some folks over, and you are looking to put a blend in the cabinet, give Grand Macnish a shot.  Even if you are horribly disappointed, and it turns out that your palate is nothing like mine, you’ll only be out a third of what a single malt would cost you!  Let it ride!

Comparison Review: Johnnie Walker Red Label vs. Johnnie Walker Black Label

Today, I am taking a brief hiatus from single malts to do a comparison review of two whiskies from the best-selling Scotch brand in the world, Johnnie Walker.  There is no picture of the bottle in this post because most folks know what Johnnie Walker looks like.  When people think of Scotch, they often think of Johnnie Walker first, helped out by common pop culture references (see Joe Namath and George Thorogood).  Unlike my reviews so far in Scotchvember, Johnnie Walker is Blended Scotch Whisky, which means that the whisky in the bottle contains a blending of single malts and grain whisky.  In Scotch terms, grain whisky is whisky comprised of anything except for 100% malted barley.  This usually entails a lot of wheat, which lends to a smoother, less flavorful Scotch.  That said there are some very enjoyable Blended Scotches on the market today; they usually just require a bit more age to reach their full potential.  Without further ado, let me get into a comparison review that I have had many requests for.

Joe Namath famously said he liked his, "Johnnie Walker red and his women blonde."

Joe Namath famously said he liked his, “Johnnie Walker red and his women blonde.”

Johnnie Walker Red Label is the entry-level blended Scotch from Johnnie Walker.  There is no age statement on the bottle, but most of the whisky in this is around 6 years old on average.  The grain whiskies in the Red Label tend to be a little younger (around 4 years), whereas the single malts tend to be a little older (around 8 years), but those are just conjectures.  Red Label is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

On the nose, Red Label is pleasant and sweet, with notes of honeysuckle, vanilla extract, and malted barley.  The palate is sweet and simple, with a nice balance between honey and malt.  The finish is medium in length, starting out sweet, and then presenting a little whiff of smoke after a few seconds.

Overall, Red Label is a simple whisky, but not at all unpleasant.  It knows what it is, and knows what it is not.  Red Label knows it will be drunk with a lot of ice and a fair amount of soda.  No worries, you are not wasting a great whisky if you do.  However, even though Red Label is a thin whisky, it is not at all poor drinking experience.  My grade: C.  Price: $15-20/750ml.  For the price, Red Label is exactly what I expected, a smooth, simple whisky.

Now, for Johnnie Walker Black Label, which carries an age statement of 12 years, which means that all of the whisky in a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black is at least 12 years old.  Judging from the whisky, I do not think Johnnie Walker Black and Red are made up of the same distilleries or the same recipes.  They have notably different flavor profiles, which I applaud them for.  Black Label is not simply an older version of the Red Label; they are entirely different whiskies.  Johnnie Walker Black Label is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv) as well.

The first noticeable difference between the two is that Black Label is a good deal darker in the glass, but that could very easily just be added caramel coloring.  On the nose, Black Label is much darker than the Red Label.  There are notes of toasted bread, wood smoke, dry sherry, and malted barley.  The palate is medium-bodied, with hints of peat, oak, and sherry, all backed up by a strong malt backbone.  The finish is medium in length, with some notes of dried fruits (raisins, dates) and peat smoke.

Overall, Johnnie Walker is a more complex whisky, in that there is definitely some sherry influence as well as more peated whiskies in the bottle.  However, it is a bit harsher on the palate, lacking some of the smooth, seductive qualities of the Red Label.  It is almost as if Johnnie Walker knows Black Label will go on ice, which is the way I see it drunk most often at the bar.  My grade: C+.  Price: $30-35/750ml.  Johnnie Black is a rough, complex Scotch whisky.  My issue with it is the price point; for that type of money, I will buy a 12 year-old single malt every day of every week.

Between the two whiskies, I think the Black Label is the better whisky, but Red Label is by far the better value.  If you put a gun to my head and told me to go to the store and buy a bottle of Johnnie Walker, I would buy a bottle of Red Label.  If I had $35 in my hand, I am going for a single malt whisky over Johnnie Walker Black Label any day.  But, with your money, you can do whatever the hell you want, so give Johnnie Walker a whirl, let it ride, and let me know what you think.