Single malt Scotch whisky may be the fastest growing segment of the Scotch whisky business, but 90% of all whisky sales by volume and 70% of sales by revenue are still represented by shipments of blended Scotch whisky.
To be sure, in the last several decades this segment has seen dramatic changes and a significant premiumization of the category. Those changes have included the proliferation of age statements on blends, the bottling of ultra-aged expressions as well as the release of ultra-premium blends both with and without age statements.
The 10 largest blended Scotch whisky labels represent roughly 75% of global blended Scotch whisky sales. Many of these brands like Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, Dewar’s, Ballantine’s and Grant’s are household names. They have become multimillion dollar franchises annually selling millions of cases of whisky and generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. In some cases, though, they too can also offer exceptional values.
There are hundreds of different brands of blended Scotch whisky available in the US, however. Most are readily available but have small market shares. Some are best sellers in specific countries but relatively unknown everywhere else. Old Smuggler, for example, is the best-selling blended Scotch whisky in Argentina. William Lawson’s is the best-selling blended Scotch whisky in Russia. Both brands are available in the US, although neither is well known.
A blended Scotch consists of a mix of single malt whiskies and grain whisky. All the whiskies in the blend must conform to the minimum aging requirement specified on the age statement. Per the Scotch Whisky Association regulations, there is no minimum percentage of malt whisky that must be included in the blend. Typically, the percentage of malt whisky in a blended whisky will vary from a low of 10% to a high of 50%.
Likewise, the number of single malts used in a blend can also vary dramatically. Most blended whiskies are based on a core of three to six single malts. The total number of single malts in a blend can vary from a dozen or so to as many as 50.
Many single malt Scotch whisky enthusiasts look down on blends. All too often they are judged inferior to single malt offerings; something adequate for inexperienced Scotch drinkers but certainly not something that the Scotch connoisseur would admit to drinking.
That’s unfortunate. Blended Scotch can represent outstanding whiskies and offer exceptional values. Below is a selection of outstanding blended Scotch whiskies. They range from entry level brands to premium bottlings. Many are multiple award winners in international spirit competitions. They all offer an excellent whisky that is available at a compelling price and well worth sampling!
Old Smuggler, Blended Scotch Whisky, 40% ABV, 750 ml, $9.99; Old Smuggler 12 YO Blended Scotch Whisky, 40% ABV $30
Since 2006, this whisky has been produced by Italian drinks company Campari Group. It’s not well known in the US, even though it is the eighth best-selling whisky by volume in the country. You’re likely to find it in 1.75-liter bottle sizes in most retailers for around $18. It’s also ubiquitous in bar wells. It’s ridiculously cheap for a whisky that consistently gets good consumer reviews. It consists of a blend of 40 different single malts and grain whisky.
It’s sweet, creamy and flavorful with flavors of digestive biscuits, caramel, yeasty bread dough, along with notes of cooked cereal, honeycomb, wood and cinnamon spice. Old Smuggler was a go to whisky during Prohibition. There are also 18- and 24-year-old expressions but these are hard to find as well as a virtually impossible to find 30 YO bottling.
At the very least make it your “cocktail whisky,” that’s what most bars do!
Grand Old Parr, 12 YO, 43% ABV, 750 ml, $30
An amazing blend. A very smooth, sherried Scotch whisky owned by Diageo. Malty with cereal/digestive biscuit notes accompanied by some cinnamon and clove and just a touch of earthy peat. Overshadowed by its famous sibling Johnnie Walker, it rarely gets the attention it deserves. It is based primarily on Cragganmore and Glendullan malts. Unavailable in Great Britain, it’s the Scotch whisky Brits bring home from overseas trips.
Dimple Pinch, 15 YO, 40% ABV, 750 ml, $28
Rich, smooth and complex with pronounced dried fruit and vanilla notes. Another, often forgotten blended whisky that offers exceptional value for the price. Based on Glenkinchie and Linkwood malts with additions from other northern highland distilleries.
Chivas Regal, 12 YO, 40% ABV, 750 ml, $30
Chivas Regal is a well-known brand with broad distribution around the US. It’s the fifth best-selling blended Scotch whisky in the US. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be better known. Chivas represents exceptional value, offering one of the highest percentages of single malts in their blended Scotches.
Chivas has appealed to Scotch enthusiasts as varied as Queen Victoria and Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack crowd. Victoria gave the Chivas Brothers a Royal Warrant on her first trip to Scotland as monarch in 1842; that’s where the “regal” in Chivas Regal comes from. Chivas introduced premium blended whisky, a 25 YO blend in 1909, decades before the category of Premium Blended Scotch whisky was established.
The Chivas 12 YO is a very refined, blended whisky, replete with notes of honey, fruit and dried herbs. Exceptionally rich and creamy it offers a complex and nuanced array of aromas and flavors. An exceptional value for the price.
See also the 18 YO, 40% ABV, 750 ml. It carries a list price of $80 but can often be found for under $60. It’s an even better bargain for the price.
Looking to move up market, then consider the Chivas Regal Ultis, NAS, 40% ABV, 750 ml, $140
This is a blended malt whisky drawn from what the distillery calls the top 1% of its casks. That means it is 100% single malts with no addition of grain whisky.
The whisky is a blend of five single malts: Tormore, Longmorn, Allt-á-Bhainne, Braeval and Strathisla. These are the same malts used in the Chivas range of blended whiskies. Ultis offers a refined, intense expression of the Chivas signature style.
Dewar’s, 18 YO Scotch Whisky, 40% ABV, 750 ml, $50
An excellent, slightly peated Scotch redolent with aromas of cooked cereals and fresh herbal and floral aromas of newly cut hay and ripe fruit. First aged in ex-bourbon casks and then married in a vat for a second extended aging.
Consider also the Dewar’s 25 YO, 40% ABV, 750 ml. It carries a $250 list price but can often be found for around $150. An exceptionally smooth and complex whisky in the Dewar’s style. An outstanding value, especially at a price of around $150. The Dewar’s 25 YO has been a consistent and multiple medal winner at both the International Wines and Spirits Awards and the San Francisco World Spirits Competitions.
Gordon Graham’s, Black Bottle Original Blended Scotch Whisky, 40% ABV, $28; Gordon Graham’s, Black Bottle Original Blended Scotch Whisky, 10 YO, 40% ABV, $39
Black Bottle has been around since the late 19th century. The brand is now owned by Burn Stewart. They have opted to resurrect the brand’s historic style. The result is a sweet, rich, smooth slightly peated whisky with pronounced fruity notes, hints of smoke, and a broad array of other flavors. An exceptional whisky at an excellent price. There is also a 10 YO expression that is only slightly more expensive and is an even more compelling buy.
Antiquary, Blended Scotch Whisky, 21 YO, 40% ABV, $59
Antiquary is another historic brand of blended Scotch whisky. It is based on Tomatin single malt whisky and showcases the apple, mint and honey notes that Tomatin is known for. It offers up notes of oak, a hint of smoke, along with citrus zest and cut grass. An exceptional price for a 21 YO whisky. There are also 30 YO and 35 YO expressions, although these can be hard to find.
There are several retailer specific brands that also offer exceptional value. See, in particular, Costco’s Kirkland Signature Blended Scotch Whisky offerings. It is available in a no age statement bottling as well as a 12 YO expression. The latter offers outstanding value and quality!
The world of blended Scotch whiskies is an undiscovered country that offers exceptional values and intriguing aroma and taste profiles. It’s waiting to be discovered. Start exploring!