Today we are looking at the best blended whiskey you can buy today. We’ve chosen something to suit every pocket and are confident you will find something perfect for your palate.
In our last whiskey article we reviewed the best whiskey glasses, now we need something to pour into them!
A Shot of History
The 19th Century was when whiskies returned to popularity and this, in part, was down to the emergence of blended varieties. Scotland was where this resurgence would begin. In the early 1800s glass was prohibitively expensive so whiskey drinkers got into the habit of refilling their bottles at their local grocers. Over time, grocers would top up their casks with different single malts, often mixing those from a variety of suppliers or stills and serendipitously creating blended whiskey.
Fast forward a few years and canny grocers fine-tuned the malt whiskies they used and developed the blends into a consistent product. Those blends would gain a local reputation and fame and soon their popularity would spread. In 1830 a new type of still was invented by Irishman Aeneas Coffey which introduced the lighter whiskey – the grain whiskey – to the world. Grain whiskies soon became a staple of the blend recipes, their more delicate nature balanced the heavier malts. The modern blended whiskey was now ready to take the whiskey-drinking world by storm. Read on to discover our choice of the best blended whiskey.
From Grocers to Purveyors of Blended Whiskey
So many of the Scottish grocers’ legacies live on today and indeed their names are some of the most well-known in the industry. Names such as Ballantine’s, Teacher’s, Johnnie Walker and Chivas Brothers are all brands that started out life from these humble high street beginnings.
The Best Blended Whiskey
You should know by now that we only choose the best for our review articles. Whiskies are no exception: we only recommend those we drink and love ourselves!
Our first entry in the Best Blended Whiskies is this no-nonsense, wallet-friendly, blend from one of the most respected distillers in the world. Ballantine’s is about to celebrate its 200th anniversary and it’s a brand that’s still as relevant today as it ever was.
While it’s true that Ballantine’s Finest is affordable, it doesn’t mean that it’s cheap and rough. Indeed, this whiskey is the culmination of many years’ fine-tuning and evolution which has resulted in a superb fusion of milk chocolate, red apple and vanilla. Its nose introduces you to heather honey and mild spices before it finishes with a fresh and floral radiance. It’s one of the milder whiskies and serves as a good introduction to the virgin whiskey drinker.
Ballantine’s Finest can be enjoyed neat, on ice or in cocktails, it’s a particularly versatile everyday whiskey. But which is best? We approve of the quote by their current Master Blender, Sandy Hyslop, “Stay true to your own taste, because the best way to drink Ballantine’s is exactly the way you like it.”
Do you recognize it? After all it’s one of the most popular whiskies on the market today. Initially known as ‘The Grouse’ this accessible Scotch dates back some 120 years and, in 1980 it made its way over here. This particular Grouse, the ‘Smoky Black’ was created in 2007 and is one of the newest blended Scotches on the market.
Famous Grouse Smoky Black is made from distiller’s malt that has been smoked over slow-burning peat imparting a distinct smoky flavor profile with a warm, comforting aroma of dried fruit. Hints of cloves and aniseed give way to a long, sweet and smoky finish. Its appearance is a more russet color than your typical whiskey and we find this rather enticing to pour. This splendid drop of whiskey is 80 proof.
Hardly a day goes by without someone asking us about the name, so let’s address that first! In the early days, malt whiskey making was physically demanding and a common repetitive strain injury would make a man’s arm dangle lopsidedly. In silhouette, this gave the malt man a rather monkey-like appearance and the name stuck.
The brand, Monkey Shoulder comes from the stable of family-owned William Grant & Sons. But, unlike the serious flair of its parent, Monkey Shoulder delights in a playful, mischievous outlook, aimed at introducing a new generation to the pleasures of whiskey.
Monkey Shoulder is all about the mixing, giving it a flexibility that drinkers love. The internet abounds with Monkey Shoulder cocktails. But this doesn’t mean it’s not a terrific whiskey in its own right, it’s great neat or on ice. It has an energy and richness that is alive with fruity aromas and overtones of vanilla. This Speyside Scotch is a 100% malt blend giving it a creamy delivery. It’s finish is quite spicy and we’re sure there are hints of peppermint in there too! Monkey Shoulder is 86 proof.
Johnnie Walker is a byword for fabulous Scotches that are known the world over. Their Black Label is one of their most popular sellers and ranks near the top in global sales. Its popularity is well-earned, and we think this blend is close to perfect thanks to its vibrant blend of over 40 whiskies that manage to deliver subtlety and complexity.
From the very first pour you’ll pick up on its daring burst of fruits and a whisper of sweet vanilla. Your first sip will be a warming adventure of sweet fruits, creamy toffee and spice. Its finish is undeniably smoky and lingers pleasantly.
In our opinion Johnnie Walker’s Black Label works equally well neat, with ice or with a little water. It does lend itself to a few cocktails, particularly those with ginger, lemon or lime. This enjoyable whiskey is 80 proof.
Dewar’s is another popular Scottish brand with an amazing family heritage and a good range of high-quality whiskies. The 15 Year Old Scotch is the invention of award-winning Master Blender Stephanie Macleod’s work. She has taken rare, vintage single malts and single grain scotches to produce a sweet, light blend with a velvety finish.
How whiskies are aged is key to their eventual flavors and aromas. Typically they are aged in oak casks and often many years old and have been the home of other spirits, all of which go towards the final blend’s taste. Dewar’s 15 Year Old uses a double-ageing method and oak casks for their unique flavor. This classy whisky is 80 proof.
With each sip you will experience notes of honey, toffee and a hint of floral. While we enjoy our Dewar’s neat it is a gift for mixing and we especially like the light and fruity elderflower highball!
When it comes to the best blended whiskey, no list would be complete without another foray into Johnnie Walker’s extensive catalogue. This whiskey is the very special Blue Label Scotch, the one you reserve for those remarkable occasions and New Years’.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label won Gold at this year’s International Wine and Spirit Competition, well-earned because of its depth of flavor and use of the rarest whiskies in its blend. The Striding Man brand says that only 1 in 10,000 casks of vintage reserve whiskey are good enough to go into their Blue Label. All we know is that its unique flavor and sensory experience easily make it one of our top recommendations.
What should you expect from this top end whiskey? Well, sip it slowly and let it linger before swallowing and you will experience balanced notes of dark chocolate, hazelnut, hints of grass and ginger which evolve into a homely mix of spices, soft smoke, floral and honey finish.
We conclude our list with the incomparable Chivas Regal Royal Salute. Why the name ‘Royal Salute’ and what’s special about ‘21’ we hear you ask? In the UK, a 21 Gun Salute fired by cannon is used to mark royal occasions and act as tribute to Queen Elizabeth. Chivas Regal Royal Salute was launched on Her Majesty’s Coronation Day back in 1953.
Aged for 21 years in oak casks this extraordinary blend is then bottled in beautiful, hand-made porcelain flasks that make them stand out among their peers. Going that bit further is the Chivas Brothers’ mission. And not just in their whiskey but also their presentation. The porcelain flasks are made of Cornish clay that are naturally air dried for almost a week before receiving two glazes for color and protection.
One thing we love about Chivas is their push for sustainability in the distilling process. 90% of the water they use is recycled and this equates to an eye-watering 12 billion gallons a year!
Ok, back to the whiskey; and isn’t it amazingly extravagant? Perfect for gift giving to your nearest and dearest or as a treat to yourself. Chivas uses only mature and rare grain whiskies to compose their blends. The Royal Salute is an exemplar of the brand and exudes complex and thought-provoking fruity and smoky notes that develop into something rather nutty. On the tongue, it’s an altogether warm, velvety sensation that reminds you of its luxurious nature. This premium whiskey is 80 proof.