Oof it’s been a month. Nobody wants to read about a blogger’s personal life outside of the topic of interest, so I won’t bore you, but lately Saturday mornings (when I write) have been… unavailable. Apologies for that.
I want to write about blended scotch in the same way that people want to pick at a hangnail until it inevitably bleeds. I want there to be excellent, affordable, widely-available blended scotch for everyday drinking, and I want to be the one that finds it and tells the
world tiny corner of the Internet that I inhabit about it. So, every time I see a blended scotch (preferably with an age statement) under forty bucks or so, I grab it, hoping to uncover said gem. This is my hangnail.
What’s this metaphorical bleeding about? Why am I being hyperbolic? It’s because I just… don’t like the taste of blended scotch. No matter how many bottles I sample, they always taste to me like single malt that has been mixed with vodka. Because that’s kind-of what they are. The thing is, I’m historically pretty good at “acquiring” tastes. I started out thinking bourbon tasted too much like engine oil and now I can’t get enough of it to the point that I’m out here recommending Jim Beam of all things. I just haven’t been able to shake my inherent distaste for blends. Ice doesn’t help, water doesn’t help, and closing my eyes and pretending it’s Balvenie doesn’t help.
Yes, there are exceptions. Great King Street is very good, but costs more than your average entry-level single malt. Bank Note 5-year (NOT the peated one) is decent, but quality has been sliding and availability has been dismal. I once had a 17 year-old Ballantine’s that was excellent, but $100 is not exactly in everyday drinking territory.
Anyway, I’m here today to pick at the nail some more. Granndach is a blended scotch brand created for an American grocery chain that cancelled the order due to Covid and left the bottler with a lot of inventory to get rid of. Read the full(er) story here. It’s largely 12 year-old Tullibardine, assorted other malts, and 12 year-old grain whisky. It’s baseline 40% ABV but it’s very cheap as 12 year-old blends go and it came highly recommended.
Nose: Light caramel, toffee, nougat. A twinge of paint thinner, but it’s in the background. Deeper in the glass there’s a bit of marzipan and faint orchard fruits (peach). There’s also just the faintest suggestion of peat but in a fungal, earthy way, not smoke. Pleasant and inoffensive if you ignore the lingering whiff of paint thinner.
Palate: Syrupy body. Sweet up front, with those same caramel and nougat notes. Minimal tongue burn. Soft and sweet. Very easy-drinking, although that paint thinner creeps in again on the back of the palate.
Finish: On the short side. Warming, with a consistent array of sweet flavors and a bare minimum of bitter tannins and charcoal. Fades quickly without evolving.
With Water: A few drops of water increase the nose tickle, but don’t seem to add anything to the aroma. The palate seems drier, oddly, but the finish is livelier and now has some of the orchard fruits from the aroma. Water doesn’t hurt here.
Overall: The epitome of cheap, inoffensive, forgettable blended scotch. It reminds me of Bank Note 5 year, but with a bit more of that unfortunate “paint thinner” note, and with more-elegant flavors (orchard fruit and nougat instead of brown sugar and oak). The price is dead-on, though, indeed if it’s still $15 I’d call that a great deal. It’s way more consistent from aroma to finish than a lot of the big names in blended scotch (Dewars, Cutty Sark, Johnnie Walker, etc.) and scratches exactly the same itch.
I’m not going to outright recommend it, because I still think you’re better off buying a cheap single malt like Glenlivet 12 or Glenfiddich 12 for a bit more money. That said if you have a penchant for cheap blends – and you don’t have my same hangups – this isn’t a bad choice.
I’m with you on the blended scotch, even though I owe my love of single malt to a bottle of Johnnie Walker Green someone gave me 20 years ago (I know it’s a blended malt…). I read the description, tried Talisker, and immediately wanted to try ever malt I could get my hands on. The only way I can drink blended scotch now is mixed with soda when I’m out with friends, and not paying any attention to what I’m drinking. In other words getting drunk. I really tried to develop a love for bourbon, but it just never happened for me. Out of curiosity have you found that with current prices that your opinion has changed on what constitutes a good splurge purchase as opposed to say six years ago?
Yes, sort of. Six years ago I would say $80 – $100 was a splurge. Now that I’m seeing old favorites like Lagavulin 16 entering that range, I’ve had to re-evaluate. I still primarily drink in the $40 – $60 range, but perhaps the overall quality of my daily drams has decreased in order to stay in that range. If I really want to splurge, now, I recognize that $100 is probably not going to cut it and I look closer to $150. This does mean that some things (I’m looking at you, Macallan 18) have permanently left my zone of affordability. So be it. It also means I drink more bourbon and rye, which are far more palatable on the “lower end” than scotch tends to be. Cheers!
My go to blended scotch is still Great King Street Glasgow Blend. Unfortunately, I can’t get it in Pennsylvania (ACB!) but get visitors from Massachusetts and Virginia to smuggle it in for me
I’ve never seen this one, but I’ve had the misfortune of tasting similar “whisky”.
That being said, in addition to the Blends you mentioned, I’d add Gordon Graham’s Black Bottle @43% which can still found for under $20. There’s a bit of batch variation, but when it’s good, it’s very good.
Speaking of splurges, could you recommend something special in the $100-$200ish range? I’m looking for two bottles, one peated, the other sherried or finished in some other wine cask, or combination thereof. My favorite peated whiskies, in descending order of preference: lagavulin 16, talisker 10, ardbeg 10, kilchoman machir bay (I’m not a fan of Laphroaig 10, peat monster or highland park 12). For sherried: glendronach 15, glenallachie 12, glendronach 12 (I didn’t enjoy aberlour abunadh, glenallachie 10 cask strength, glenallachie 15, great king street glasgow, or story of the spaniard). Other favorites in no particular order: Glen Scotia double cask, clynelish 14, balvenie doublewood 12, Oban 14, great king street artist blend, spice tree (is it painfully obvious yet how much my taste is informed by your blog?). Two things on my permanent shelf (and which im kind of ashamed to admit): glenlivet 12 and johnny walker black. The only real caveat I have is I’m not a fan of cask strength whiskey. Single malts or blended malts welcome. Given that I haven’t purchased anything over $100 before, any guidance or recommendations would be greatly appreciated!
I’m not Nathan, nor did I play him on TV, but may I suggest Ledaig 18 and Bunnahabhain 12 Cask Strength. Both are about $100 and are at or near the top of their respective categories IMO.
Hi Jared. My favorite splurge peated scotch is Ardbed Corryvreckan – it’s cask strength so it packs a punch, but it’s got something special that I don’t find in the “regular” Ardbegs. You said you don’t like cask strength, though, so outside of that, any special edition (Distiller’s Edition or 18 year) from the peated Diageos is a safe bet – Caol Ila, Talisker, Lagavulin, etc.). “Old” peat doesn’t really translate so most of the splurge bottles are going to be high-proof or finished, which can be risky with peat. If you can find the Glen Scotia festival bottlings from any year, those are quite good. For a sherried choice, there are many options, especially as the “sherry premium” has pushed otherwise everyday bottles into the splurge price range. I’ve liked every Glenallachie I’ve tried, as well as every Tamdhu. Balvenies are usually safe bets, although you are paying a lot for name, and they will be subtle, not bold. I wish I could give you a more specific answer, but I’ve been drinking in the “lower ranges” lately due to price increases. Cheers!
This is a tough one. I find that just about all of my splurge purchases are now cask strength with current prices. Most of the older (15-18yr.) bottles I used to splurge on are now approaching $200, which is just not worth it to me. I’ve never been big on “special occasion”bottles. Fortunately I love cask strength whisky and I have had some great ones lately. One thing I don’t love is that as you pointed out most sherried whiskies are now approaching or at splurge level.
I haven’t had great experiences with blends either, but single malt prices continue to leave me behind. Glenfiddich 12 has a hard time justifying its price anymore, let alone Balvenie 12. I’m seeing it my liquor stores too … the scotch gathers dust while bourbons and ryes continue to move. So thanks for continuing with the blends.