11 Super-Smooth Blended Whiskeys
How to describe blended whiskeys in one word? Consistent.
Sure, they can be other things, too. Smooth is frequently used to describe blends. So are flavorful, smoky, fruity and rich. But whatever adjective is applied to that bottle, you can count on the same description year after year. That consistency is deliberate—and it’s with good reason that whiskey-lovers call for their favorite blends by name.
People may know how to order their favorites, but there’s some confusion about how to spell them—whiskey vs. whisky. A good way to remember: Countries with “e” in their name—like the United States and Ireland—spell it whiskey/whiskeys. Countries without the “e” (including Scotland, Canada and Japan) use whisky/whiskies.
When it comes to making whisk(e)y, distillation is a science—the calculation of the mash bill, the fermentation that converts sugars to alcohol, the shiny stills that create and condense vapors into white dog. But blending is an art: Master blenders can mix any number of different whiskeys into the house recipe, tweaking it batch after batch in the name of uniformity.
No wonder Dr. Nick Morgan, head of whisky outreach for Diageo, declares that “blending is the most special skill.” The company’s portfolio includes a wide range of storied, big-personality single malts such as Lagavulin, Talisker and Oban, but it’s perhaps best known for its more accessible blended Scotch—namely, Johnnie Walker.
Yet, Dr. Morgan laments, “No one wants to talk about blends because they’re boring.” Consistent? Yes. But blends surely don’t have to be boring.
Of course, Scotch isn’t the only blended whiskey out there—and “consistent” doesn’t mean homogeneous. Indeed, the provenance of blendeds is quite diverse. Among American whiskeys, we love to sing the praises of our favorite single-barrel bottlings, but a great many Bourbons and more are made by blending the liquid from those barrels together. See, too, the blended beauties hailing from Canada, Ireland and Japan—even a French whisky is included in this month’s crop of reviews.
98 Points (Scotland; Spirit Imports, Sunrise, FL). Distilled in 1972 and bottled in 2012, this 40-year-old blended Scotch is special. The nut-brown hue and rich aromas of sweet spice and brown sugar hint at what’s to come. It delivers bold, complex flavor: rounded toffee, allspice, leather, tea and oak, with a mouthwatering saline note and a long but gentle finish.
abv: 43% Price: $400
96 points (Scotland; Pernod Ricard, New York, NY). Amber and bright in the glass, this 18-year-old blended whisky melds vanilla, cigar wrapper and chamomile tea notes with nutmeg and cinnamon spice, plus a delicate puff of sweet smoke. Feels light and silky, finishes long and gently.
abv: 40% Price: $75
96 points (Scotland; Bacardi USA, Coral Gables, FL). This golden blended Scotch is remarkably complex, showing creamy vanilla, crème brûlée and almond before tapering to dry, warm notes of cedar, sandalwood and clove. Finishes long and feather-light, with just a trace of smokiness.
abv: 40% Price: $80
95 points (Japan; Anchor Distilling, San Francisco, CA). Scented with honey and dried apricots, this blended Japanese whisky is remarkably soft for a 21-year-old bottling, with just the evidence of oak tannins as a reminder of age. Complex flavors included mellow, rounded vanilla and caramel, peach and apricot, orange peel, plus a light cover of smoke fading to toffee and citrus on the long finish.
abv: 43% Price: $180
94 points (Canada; Diageo, Norwalk, CT). A limited-edition bottling to commemorate the brand’s 75th anniversary, this luscious, full-bodied whisky mixes creamy mouth-coating vanilla, baked apple, crème brûlée and butterscotch, finishing long, warm and spiced. Consider this mellow, balanced whisky for a dessert pairing or post-prandial sipper.
abv: 40% Price: $75
94 points (Scotland; Diageo, Norwalk, CT). Aged 18 years, this “private blend,” added to the line-up in 2013, is supple and smooth. It has a vibrant topaz tint and bold orange peel and honey notes underpinned by light smokiness. The smoky notes gently crest with each additional sip.
abv: 40% Price: $110
93 (Scotland; William Grant & Sons, New York, NY). Intended for mixing, so bring on the whisky sours and the Blood & Sands. Or drink this blended Scotch straight if you choose, to enjoy mouthwatering butterscotch and juicy orange, balanced by oaky tannins into the finish. Best Buy.
abv: 43% Price: $32
92 points (Scotland; International Spirits & Wines, Mt. Kisco, NY). The name says it all: this Scotch is blended from “a shovelful” of Islay single malts, including Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and Port Ellen—producers of some of the peatiest Scotches around. The bold iodine aroma is like breathing salt air at the seashore, and is just subtly smoky. On the palate, expect fleeting vanilla sweetness followed by a huge rush of peat smoke, which pulls back to finish with campfire s’mores and bitter chocolate notes.
abv: 46% Price: $60
92 points (Scotland; International Spirits & Wines, Mt. Kisco, NY). As the name and Scottish fox terrier on the whimsical label suggest, this is a playful Scotch, blended from Speyside malts matured in former Sherry and Bourbon casks. The fresh scent mingles apple and vanilla. Flavors seem to tumble over one another. Smokiness leads on the palate, followed by richer notes of vanilla, rounded caramel, nutmeg, a touch of lemon cream, then campfire smoke again on the exit.
abv: 46% Price: $65
92 points (Ireland; Palm Bay International, Port Washington, NY). Light and easy-drinking, this blended Irish whiskey features aromas of apples, pears and fresh-cut grass. On the palate, look for vanilla and salted caramel, with a moderately spiced finish showing allspice and clove. Best Buy.
abv: 40% Price: $30
91 points (France; Palm Bay International, Port Washington, NY). Aged five to seven years in French oak, this smooth, elegant whisky offers bold, fruity aromatics, with just the faintest suggestion of smoke. On the palate, smoke is evident from the first sip, gentle but persistent, floating over vanilla and almond flavors. That long exhale of smoke continues into the fade, alongside a burst of dry cigar box spice and burnt orange peel. Best Buy.
abv: 40% Price: $30
- 1The Classic Cask Rare Scotch Whisky Single Batch 40
- 2Chivas Regal 18 Years
- 3Dewar’s 18
- 4Taketsuru Pure Malt 21 Year Old
- 5Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary Blend
- 6Johnnie Walker Platinum Label
- 7Monkey Shoulder
- 8Big Peat
- 9Sweet Wee Scallywag
- 10The Irishman Founder’s Reserve Small Batch Irish Whiskey
- 11Bastille 1789 Blended Whisky