Chances are that your first encounter with whisky, just like mine, has been with a blended Scotch. They are so common that we can hardly choose anymore. What if you never had a dram of whisky before and you want to buy your first blended Scotch? Than this list is the right place for you!
What is a blended Scotch?
Marketing these days has put a blended whisky below a single malt whisky. While a blended whisky generally is cheaper, we can not dismiss the art of properly blending different whiskies together to create a new whisky that combined is better than the sum of its components.
There are many blends out there, most of them readily available to us. But which ones should you try at least once to see if it is the one you have been looking for? I have composed a top 10 list of blended Scotches that are affordable and interesting to try. Where most blends are created with the intention to mix with cola or lemonade, there also are some very interesting and characteristic flavor sets that you have yet to discover.
Without further ado, let’s jump straight into the first whisky on this list. The list is in no particular order of quality.
1. Chivas Regal 12
My first whisky I have ever received, and I am sure this blended Scotch will be a very enjoyable whisky for you. It has been getting many good reviews over the years, and it is a quality Scotch whisky for its price.
The main component of this whisky is the Scotch single malt Strathisla, and it has been distilled in the Speyside region. Many popular whisky brands come from the Speyside.
Aromas: The Chivas Regal 12 Year Old has been award by critics many times for its great palate consisting of herbal, honeyed and vanilla notes taking center stage. The round, mild and slightly sweet whisky has delicious honey, nuts and butterscotch aromas that make it a treat.
2. Monkey Shoulder
Monkey Shoulder has been a whisky that has grasped my attention ever since I first saw the bottle, as it says “Blended Malt” instead of “Blended Scotch” like most bottles. The reason for this is because the Monkey Shoulder blend consists purely of 100% barley whiskies, and does not use grain whiskies to compose the taste.
Aromas: Monkey Shoulder is composed of three single malt Scotch whiskies: Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kinvenie. The usage of these whiskies gives Monkey Shoulder a very honeyed, sweet nose. There is some citrus as well as some vanilla. The taste is a malty, honeyed, oak experience. There is some vanilla as well. The finish is as sweet as the nose and palate.
3. Johnnie Walker Red Label
Johnnie Walker is an extremely well known brand all across the globe. I bet you have heard about it, and you maybe have even tried the Red Label yourself already. This whisky is made to be mixed. Many people add some ice, Coca Cola, Lemonade or another mixer to this whisky, and rightly so. It is a great, cheap whisky which you can use in cocktails or other drinks.
Aromas: If you do choose to drink this one neat or with a couple of drops of water, you will get a surprisingly rich whisky that contains a lot of cedar wood, honey, butterscotch and even some spices. Because this whisky is so cheap the smell and taste can be very nippy and unpleasant. If this is the case for you, try adding some ice to numb the stingy flavors.
4. Big Peat
If the real Islay peat smoke is your thing, you have to check out Big Peat! This Scotch blended whisky is a combination of a couple of single malts from the island of Islay, where all the really good peated whiskies come from. Just like Monkey Shoulder, this blend is a blended Malt, without the usage of any grain whiskies.
The four single malts that are involved in this blend are Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and Port Ellen. These smoky whiskies combined with other whiskies create an extremely interesting blend.
Aromas: The first impressions will be harsh, but in the good way we are used of Islay whiskies. If you have never had a smoky, peated whisky, you may or may not be intimidated by the smell of tar, smoke, peat, dried fruit and a super briny, coastal, maritime note. You might describe it as really being able to taste the harsh island environment on which it is distilled.
5. Cutty Sark
Cutty Sark is an extremely popular blended Scotch, especially on the American market. It is very affordable whisky, which you will probably find on the bottom shelf of your supermarket. The recognizable sailboat might have already gotten your attention, and I encourage you to give it a try. I was positively impressed by the vibrant taste, which I had not expected for the price.
Fun fact, this whisky is named after a boat called Cutty Sark, which was the fastest boat of its era!
Aromas: This Scotch blend has a colorful floral, herbal nose as well as palate. The overall light taste makes the whisky enjoyable and in some way refreshing. The whisky is really light and gentle. All in all an inviting, accessible and affordable dram.
6. Famous Grouse
Ahhh, the Famous Grouse. Whenever I do not know what to drink in a bar, I look for the grouse and it will not let me down. This blended Scotch is shipped throughout the entire world and I have the feeling you need to try real hard to escape the look of the Famous Grouse.
Available in massive bottles throughout Scotland, this blend is a go-to whisky for many people. It actually is the first bottle of whisky that I bought when I went to Scotland, because the look of the bottled appealed to me.
Aromas: I find Famous Grouse to be rather nippy on the nose, with a lot of spicy notes. There is a lot of Macallan and Highland park in the mix, which you may be able to taste. There definitely is a lot of grain, honey and vanilla in there. It is not the most complex whisky, and you will mainly find a lot of underaged grain, stuff that has only been in a barrel for 3 years. This whisky has been a staple in the supermarket for many years.
7. Grant’s Family Reserve
Grant’s is another one of those blended Scotches that you will find in the weirdest places across the globe. It is a widespread, very common blend which will not set you back a whole lot off money at all!
Aromas: This whisky is a pretty good dram for the money. The nose consists of some honeyed, figgy, but also grainy notes. It pretty accurately represents the Speyside character, with an ever so slightly peated whisky. Just like the triangular shape of the bottle, it has some aromas similar to Glenfiddich. Although it is not confirmed what other whiskies are in this blend, the company that owns Grant’s also owns Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kinvenie.
8. Vat 69
A popular, although a bit less commonly purchased, whisky is a blended Scotch called Vat 69. The backstory of this whisky is an interesting one: a distiller created a hundred different blends which were tested by a test panel. Now you guess which Vat, out of those 100 blends, won? Exactly, number 69.
Aromas: For this whisky being a simple, basic blended Scotch, the taste and experience is quite impressive. There are hints of spices, caramel, a touch of pear and quite some barley/wheat aromas. You may also find some brown sugar, raisins, tea and a bit of honey.
9. Ballentine’s Finest
One of the biggest blended Scotch whiskies by volume on the planet. In Europe, especially Spain, this blend is very popular. If you are looking for an above average whisky for an average price, this blend can be just the one for you! This is one blend which I would recommend to people just getting into Scotch, who are not willing to spend more on a single malt.
It really is a classic blend. But what does it taste like?
Aromas: On the nose, this whisky is extremely floral and fruity, giving a classic Speyside experience. Another single malt with similar notes, which is not from the Speyside, is Old Pultney 12. There definitely is some sweet caramel notes in the whisky. Well balanced vanilla aromas, together with oak wood aromas carried by a hint of peat smoke.
10. White Horse
Last, but definitely not least, is the White Horse Blended Scotch Whisky. The name is well known, but have you ever tried one? This is one of the more hidden gems among the blended Scotches. Now there are rumors that this blend is discontinued, so if you can still get your hands on this blend find yourself lucky.
Aromas: This whisky is renowned for its use of Lagavulin, which gives the blend that beautiful and delicious campfire smoke to it. There are balanced hints of oak, toffee and peat together with some more fruity notes even. The palate is really malty with honey and vanilla notes coming forward. The finish is long and spicy. In short, an interesting whisky which allows some of that Lagavulin smoke for an affordable price.