Blended Scotch is More Complex Than You Think

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Conventional wisdom about blended Scotch is that it’s an everyday dram that’s engineered for consistency. It’s easy-drinking in terms of flavor and proof, and tends to be priced with an eye toward value.

While that’s true of many, it’s not universal. In fact, a growing number of blended Scotch bottlings are complex and intriguing, and a handful are clearly priced as special-occasion sippers. While consistency still is prized, many blends are produced in limited quantities, yielding just as few hard-to-duplicate bottles as a small-batch single malts.

Consider, for example, Hedonism Felicitas, produced by Compass Box to celebrate the brand’s 20th anniversary. When the brand launched in 2000, the vanilla-­forward Hedonism was its first product. The new limited-­edition Felicitas comprises three grain ­whiskies, each distilled in a different decade. Despite its custardy plushness—a Hedonism on steroids­—it’s complex and bottled at 106 proof, not exactly a standard easy-sipper for entry-level whisky fans.

Despite famously strict regulations from Scotch’s governing agency, producers employ a number of tools and techniques to stretch boundaries. Just look to “teaspooned” blends like Peatside, meaning it’s 99.9% of one single malt, and .01% (a teaspoon) of a sister malt, or Syndicate 58/6, which is finished in a solera system—in other words, it may contain tiny traces of older whiskies. And while finishing Scotch in casks that previously held other spirits or wines is a long-held tradition, ­mezcal is a relative newcomer to the toolbox. Witness stalwart ­Dewar’s experiment with Illegal ­Mezcal-finished Scotch.

These bottles defy many of the usual expectations about blended Scotch and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. An old reliable is great to have on hand, but since every day is a little different, maybe it’s best to have more than one “everyday dram” to enjoy.

Why Ultra-Aged Spirits are Ripping You Off

Compass Box Hedonism Felicitas Scotch; $175, 94 points. Released to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Compass Box brand in 2020, this special, higher-octane edition of the Hedonism expression is worth seeking out. Look for fresh apple and almond aromas. The notably soft, plush palate opens with vanilla custard and warm baked apple, finishing gently on a cloud of sweet spices and final burst of cinnamon. A splash of water brings more vanilla forward, so each sip suggests cinnamon buns or vanilla French toast.

Duncan Taylor Politician Blended Scotch; $20, 93 points. So named because it was originally an exclusive for The Politician bar on Scotland’s remote Eriskay island, this golden whisky has a mild, slightly floral aroma. Hints of almond butter, pear and white flowers lead into a warming toasted coconut finish laced with plenty of tingly white pepper. Best Buy.

Blackadder Puff Adder Scotch; $73, 92 points. This pale-straw blended whisky offers a fresh apple aroma. The buttery palate echoes that apple sweetness, layering it with moderate smokiness, coconut and black pepper. With repeated sips, the balance shifts, with smokiness overtaking the fruit and spice, finishing on iodine and saline. Still, it’s a moderate amount of smoke that enhances rather than engulfs.

Monkey Shoulder Scotch; $33, 92 points. This blended Scotch opens with a bright, fresh-cut apple aroma. On the palate, butterscotch richness gives way to mild hints of smoke and juicy citrus. This versatile pour could be enjoyed on its own or recommended for mixing. Best Buy.

The Islay Boys Flatnose Blended Scotch; $35, 92 points. Golden and bright in the glass, this whisky offers mild aromas of toasted grain, hops and white flowers. The silky, delicate palate echoes that grainy note, alongside oatmeal and a flicker of gingery spice. Mouthwatering sea salt trails off into the long finish. Best Buy.

Islay Mist 8-Year Scotch; $26, 90 points. Made at Laphroaig, the Islay distillery famed turning out uber-peaty single malts, this blended Scotch offers a more moderate approach to peat. Look for a wispy peated aroma and mild, pleasant smokiness on the palate mixed with almond sweetness. Best Buy.

Murray McDavid 2010 Peatside 6 Year Old Scotch; $65, 90 points. This limited edition is a teaspooned Scotch, meaning what’s in the bottle is 99.9% single malt from one distillery, plus a small amount of whisky from another distillery, just enough to call it a blend. Sweet smoke aromas entice the nose. The palate echoes that note, reading as cigar wrapper and cigar smoke, honey and stewed fruit. Peppery spice and alcohol heat make for a drying, somewhat numbing sip. Adding water unfurls a smokier note.

We Recommend:

Wemyss Malts Spice King Scotch; $55, 88 points. Concentrated vanilla frames the nose and palate. The first sips also reveal mellow cinnamon and cocoa, rounding into a baked apple note on the warming finish.

Syndicate 58/6 Blended Scotch Whisky; $64, 87 points. Made with a blend of malt and grain whiskies, this blended Scotch is finished in a solera system. It drinks like a relatively young whisky, however. Soft floral aromas are at odds with the otherwise herbaceous profile of this Scotch. It opens brisk, tingly and slightly mentholated, with hints of hops, espresso and bitter orange peel. The finish is long and medicinal, with a final citrusy astringency and burst of alcohol heat.

Published on December 11, 2020
Topics: Spirits