Ah cannae believe aam daein' thes. it goes against most ay mah firmly held standards, but aam daein' a review ay blended watter o' life.

Aye aam a staunch single malt watter o' life fan, but as i've said, a body main try an' appreciate th' bevvy an' th' goals ay th' bottler tae decide if th' bevvy is weel gart ur dreck. Och, bide, mah translation device isnae working, lit me turn it aff.

There, thatís better. Back to the matter of blended Scotch whiskies. I got good response to the Canadian whiskies I reviewed, and a few pleas for one on Scotch blends. So, Iíve once again punished the evil kidneys to enhance the knowledge of e-budo members.

Blended whisky defined
Blended whisky: A drink that is composed of single malt whiskies and neutral grain spirits. A neutral grain spirit is essentially highly distilled alcohol (think vodka) and has few remaining flavor components.

Similar to blended whisky, there is a vatted malt whisky, which is a blend of single malt whiskies with no neutral grain spirits added. For this review, I have simply placed them together since the intent and purpose of the blender in both cases is the same.

The usual blended whisky is comprised of anywhere from about 15% single malt whisky at the low end to about 45% at the high end. The more single malt whisky in the blend, the more aromatic and flavorful the drink will be. The number of single malts used in the blend can vary from just a few to a very large number, over 40 in some cases. The reason for a high number of whiskies combined is to ensure that if a distillery closes, the blended whisky produced will still be able to maintain the major characteristics sought by the blender.

For a vatted malt, the same logic in creation applies, only no neutral grain spirits are used.

History
Why do blends exist? Iíve discussed this before and itís primarily due to economics. To sum it up quickly for attention challenged readers, blends are much more cost effective due to more broad mass-market sales appeal and are cheaper to produce than a similar quantity of single malt whisky. Note: this doesnít mean high quality blends will be cheaper than single malts are at retail or in bars. It simply means itís cheaper to produce.

The secondary reason is one of tastes. Starting with a very neutral grain spirit as a base, the blender can take different malts and combine them to achieve the specific aroma, body, flavor, and finish, that he wants to achieve. Itís easier to do this by blending than in production of a single malt whisky. Blending sounds easy, itís not. Like cooking or painting, taking the base ingredients and combining them into something worthwhile is an art form and takes native talents as well as training.

The popularity of blended whisky is due to timing. In the middle of the 19th century, there was a rise in popularity of things considered Scot, led by the tastes of Queen Victoria. She loved her Scotch and Balmoral castle in the Eastern Highlands. It was Queen Victoria who bestowed the ďRoyalĒ designation onto the Lochnagar distillery after a visit to the distillery one afternoon in 1848.

This popularity coincided with the efforts of a number of blenders who developed and marketed higher quality blends through their shops. Many of these men are remembered by their names, now gracing bottles, such as Johnny Walker, Dewars, and Buchanan.

Third was the completion of roads and rail improvements increasing the ease of transport and growth of industry in Great Britain. Easier transportation lead to the use of larger casks for aging, which increased production and lowered costs, all of which lead to Scotch whiskies increased availability and popularity in Great Britain and overseas.

Finally, the French Brandy industry was suffering from a Phylloxera louse infestation of the grape crops. This created a shortage of wine and brandy stocks worldwide. Into the gap came the blended whiskies from Ireland and Scotland. The popular drink at the time was brandy and soda, and whiskies were pushed as a replacement for the brandy.

Blended whisky 101
The goal of the blender is to achieve an aroma and flavor balance that they believe will appeal to a broad market. It is then a question of whether the blender has done a good job and what appeals to your taste. So, that brings us to the question, ďWhat is the aim of the master blender in the bottling?Ē

What the goal of the master blender can vary. He can be trying to make as aromatic and flavorful a drink as he can, or a very smooth drink with aroma and flavor as secondary considerations, or trying to make a drink to meet a manufacturing cost requirement.

As examples of what I mean, Johnny Walker blends are higher in percentage of single malt whisky, typically about 35% to over 60% depending on the blend, use well aged malt whiskies, so are more aromatic, flavorful, perhaps a bit smoother, and cost more. In contrast, J&B is low in malt whiskey, about 15%, high in grain spirits, use less aged whiskies, so is very light in aroma and flavor and is more affordable as a result but still gives a the drink a perceptible Scotch whisky aroma and flavor. As an unusual example, Chivas Century Vatted Malt was created by geography, and used 100 different malts. Different goals in creation, but all still blended Scotch whisky.

So what blended whisky is better? That depends on your tastes and budget. To appreciate a blended whisky, keep in mind the following.

A blend is usually not going to have bold assertive flavors like single malt whiskies. That is not the goal of a blend in most cases.
The best ways to think of a blended whisky is to think music or painting.

A good conductor keeps the instruments played in balance and moderates one against another. Sometimes the brass section dominates, at other times, woodwinds, percussion, sometimes the violins. But the conductor works to compliment or moderate the components with each other.

For painting, think of the neutral grain spirit as the blank canvas and the malt whiskies as paint. It must be arranged properly to form a pleasing view for the senses of the viewer.

A blender works the same way. The key is a balance where each component malt used in the blend will make its presence known somehow to your nose or palate or will be used to moderate another malt used in the blend.

A blend can be better for those who favor smoothness more than the aroma and flavor intensity usually found in single malt whisky.
Which is why blends sell so well. Blended whisky offers a reasonable depth of aroma and flavor in contrast to smoothness.

A blend is likely to continue with little perceptible change in the taste and aroma to the drinker if a single distillery that is used in the creation goes out of business.
The same canít be said for a single malt whisky. If the distillery closes, itís a sad day for the fan of that single malt whisky. In my case, itís Port Ellen, and now the only Port Ellen I can find is horribly expensive and out of my price range. Yet blends manage to go on due to the nature of how they are made.

Get to the important part, howís it taste?
So, with those things in mind, here goes with tasting notes for a range of commonly found blends. I still prefer single malts for the depth of aroma and flavor that just canít be found in blends. For that reason, Iím considered by some to be a Scotch snob. To uphold that reputation, in my notes for each whisky Iím including a single malt for roughly the same cost which I would buy instead of the blend. If I donít mention a single malt in the notes for the blend, seriously consider buying the blend for your own cabinet.

A few of these are from older tasting notes. That means the blend may have changed since that tasting. I note that in each where appropriate.

Ballantine
Color: Pale yellow straw
Nose: light faintly sweet, smoke
Mouth: Medium body
Taste: Light, grain cereal sweetness, hint of oak.
Finish: Light sweet, citrus, medium finish
Notes: Surprisingly pretty good especially given the cost. A nice light day to day, very easy to drink whisky. But spend a few dollars more and get a bottle of Speyburn for more depth of flavor.

Ballantine 17
Color: Golden brown
Nose: Smoke, coffee bitterness, grass,
Mouth: Medium to full body
Taste: Grain, then malt sweet, sugar cookies, vanilla, oak all peek out
Finish: Medium length, sweet but still crisp and dry.
Notes: Tasting from a couple years ago. This is a very good blend, and I would happily sip a drink of this. Best when warmed up in the hand or with a bit of hot water. However, for roughly the same cost, I would buy Tomatin 10, or Glen Garioch 10. And for even less money, a bottle of Speyburn or Bowmore Legend. Donít turn your nose up at this if offered a dram though, it is a good blend.

Black Bull
Color: Deep gold
Nose: Big full blast of malt, honey, peat smoke, fruity
Mouth: Big full bodied, bites aggressively
Taste: Malt, peat, some honey, orange, alcohol bites the tongue
Finish: Long big finish, warm to hot, more honey, peat
Notes: Iím including this as a Rest In Peace since I liked this whisky. This is from an older tasting. As far as I can tell, it looks to have been discontinued by the parent company. At 100 proof, this was not for those who prefer smooth and light. This was supposed to be a big full flavored kick your butt whisky. 50% single malt so it had good flavor and aroma. If you stumble across some in a bar somewhere, try it both neat and with a splash of hot water.

Chivas Regal
Color: Light gold
Nose: Fruit, sweet, honey, vanilla
Mouth: Light to medium bodied
Taste: Nutty, light smoke, oak, vanilla, herbal bitterness
Finish: Light, some bite, peat and oak, sherry
Notes: There is a bitter flavor lurking in this that puts off my taste buds. I love the nose of this one, but not the taste. A splash of water or ice helps in that regard. For around the same cost, give me a Glenlivet or Dalmore.

Cutty Sark Scots Whisky
Color: Pale Gold
Nose: Peat, seaweed, sherry, grain, honey, nougat
Mouth: Very light bodied
Taste: Nuts, grains, sweet, smoke in very small quick bursts
Finish: Short, thin, some salt, seaweed, smoke, sweet again
Notes: I used to like this one since my tastebuds picked up on the Islay whiskies used in the blend. Now, Cutty Sark seems to lack any real depth of flavor and aroma to me. This is a whisky which shows momentary glimpses of flavor, but thatís all. Skip this one and buy a Glen Garioch 10 or Bowmore Legend.

Dewars White Label
Color: Light gold
Nose: Pine resin, sweet, grass
Mouth: Light bodied
Taste: Sweet, overly so, light smoke and fruit
Finish: Short, vanilla, sweet, grain, more pine resin
Notes: Kudos for marketing here. Because it sure doesnít taste good. Like Cutty Sark, skip this one and buy Glen Garioch 10 or Bowmore Legend. But contrast this to the 12 below, almost as if they are not connected to the same company and blender.

Dewars 12
Color: Golden brown
Nose: Sweet, sherry, light peat smoke, honey
Mouth: Medium bodied
Taste: Surprisingly rich, a good balance of grain, some light smoke, honey
Finish: Medium length, very smooth and warm
Notes: A very good blend. Very smooth, good flavor and aroma balance, and easy to drink. Iíd buy this, but would be torn between this and a bottle of Tomatin for about the same price most of the time.

Famous Grouse Reserve
Color: Brown with gold tints
Nose: Nicely balanced oak, fruit, chocolate, vanilla, cake, sherry
Mouth: Medium bodied
Taste: Toffee, fruit, light smoke, oak
Finish: Short to medium, nuts and fruit appear
Notes: This is a very, very good blend in my book. There is a nice balance of flavor to smoothness. A very easy to like whisky. I taste McCallan in this somewhere. This is a whisky Iíd take to a party to share since I know it would be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or mixed. For a single malt alternative, spend a few bucks more and get a Glen Garioch 10 year old.

Grants Blended Scotch Whisky
Color: Gold
Nose: Sweet, malt, fruit vanilla
Mouth: Medium bodied
Taste: Sweet, fruit, vanilla, malt, hint of oak
Finish: Long and sweet
Notes: A very nice light easy to enjoy whisky. A bit light for my usual tastes, but also very reasonably priced. A very good value, right up there with Teachers in my book. I think I have a new blend that I'll keep around for guests or mixing.

J&B
Color: light pale gold
Nose: Thin, slightly astringent, light fruit, malt
Mouth: Light bodied
Taste: Thin, some light malt sweet, a hint of vanilla, a hint of bitterness like a rye bread
Finish: Short, thin
Notes: This is like Dewars, a well marketed brand. Iíd skip it entirely unless you have a favorite uncle who insists on having this on hand when he comes over. Buy Teachers, Grants, or Stewartís for about the same price.

Johnnie Walker Red
Color: Gold
Nose: Smoke, slight malt and honey sweetness
Mouth: Medium bodied
Taste: Grain, peat, malt and slight fruit
Finish: A bit hot, medium length, more peat
Notes: This is not a really good whisky, but is an everyday good ďgive me a shotĒ or ďon the rocksĒ type of whisky. I do like this because my taste buds pick up the smoke and peat from the Talisker used in the blend. This one benefits a lot from a splash of hot water or a bit of ice. Bowmore Legend or Speyburn wins if you want a single malt.

Johnnie Walker Black
Color: Deep gold
Nose: Good malt, oak, tobacco, grains, fruit, leather
Mouth: Medium to Full bodied
Taste: Sweet, spicy, citrus, vanilla, peat, followed by a strange bitterness
Finish: Long, smoky, more spice
Notes: I donít like the bitterness my taste buds pick up in the black label, but I will drink and enjoy this one on the rocks or with a splash of hot water. This is a good whisky, just not to my taste is all. For about the same cost, go for a bottle of Dalmore 12, Glenlivet 12 or Aberlour 10.

Johnnie Walker Blue
Color: Gold
Nose: Tobacco, citrus, oak, fruit
Mouth: Full bodied
Taste: Spiced fruit, vanilla, oak, nutty, light chocolate, smoke
Finish: Floral overtones, fruit, smoke
Notes: Tasting notes from a few years ago. Seriously overpriced in my book. A very smooth and a bit bland Ė to my taste buds - whisky. I think this is an ideal choice for those who favor smoothness over more intense flavors. Try this one with a splash of hot water to open the aromas. I would skip buying this and for the same cost or less, get a bottle of Glenlivet 18 year old and a decent dinner too. This is a good whisky, but not for the cost.

Stewarts Cream of the Barley
Color: light gold
Nose: Creamy, sweet, honey, fruit
Mouth: Light to medium bodied
Taste: Malty sweet, honey, light fruit, hint of smoke
Finish: Medium to long, more sweet, and the creamy texture really comes out
Notes: This is a good blend, but strangely reminds me more of an Irish whiskey on the nose and in the finish. Reasonably priced, good enough to drink neat, but works best with a splash of water or a bit of ice. A fine choice for a day to day blended whisky along with Teachers or Grants.

Teachers Highland Cream
Color: Gold, orange tints
Nose: Malt, honey, toffee, light smoke, nuts, orange
Mouth: Medium bodied
Taste: Honey, grass, malty cream, hints of bitter chocolate and dried fruit
Finish: Peat finally appears, with more sweetness, a hint of bite
Notes: This is perhaps my favorite blend. Very good flavor, high percentage of single malt used, and is good enough to drink neat or on the rocks. And itís only about $20.

White Horse
Color: Dark gold
Nose: Light smoke, citus hints
Mouth: Medium to full bodied
Taste: Surprisingly big in flavor, peat smoke, salt, light sweet citrus notes
Finish: Long and slightly hot
Notes: This is an older tasting and I updated the tasting too. This is a pretty decent blend now. There is a nice Islay accent to this and I find through a bit of digging that I get Talisker and Lagavulin in one bottle. Me thinks Iím buying this one for the cabinet too.