Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review: White Horse Blended Scotch Whisky

I like blended scotch whisky.

I keep good company because most of you reading this post also share my affection.  Blended scotch whisky makes up about 85-90% of single malt sales.  Comparatively, the market for single malts is much smaller.  You wouldn't know it if you surf the web and search "scotch reviews."

Anyhow, I like blends because they like are an old pair of shoes: comfortable and familiar.  Yeah, yeah single malts are typically more complex and therefore more impressive, but there are times when I just want to chill.  I am not looking for challenge.  I spent all day slaying dragons (albeit mostly paper ones) and now it's night time.  I am mentally spent and I just wanna listen to my eclectic line-up of music like Iggy Pop's Search and Destroy, Urge Overkill's most excellent rendition of that Neil Diamond classic Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon followed by maybe Nancy Sinatra's Bang Bang and sip a familiar blend.  Comfort scotch if you will.

Three Great Blended Scotch Whiskies
There are three truly great economy blends that you must become familiar with in this life of yours: (1)  Teacher's Highland Cream; (2) Black Bottle; and (3)  White Horse.

The first two, I have written about plenty, but the third, not so much.  White Horse is a very old brand.  Been around a real long time.  Occupied space in many grandads, and dads liquor cabinets.  And for good reason.  It's cheap.

White Horse retails for $18 in North Carolina.  Elsewhere in the US, it may be a couple of bucks more, but it is still very affordable.  Amongst the cheapest blends on the market.  The question that immediately comes to mind: "Is it any good?"  The perpetual question eh?  Okay, my budding Siddhartha, let's find out.

Nose (undiluted)
A touch of sherry, prunes and the citrus notes of over-ripe blood oranges.  Maybe a hint of salt laden sea air too.  Not the most impressive of aromas to ever float heavenward from a glass.  Matter of fact, pretty bland.  But, at this price point, the noteworthy attribute is that it is not offensive.

Palate (undiluted)
Smooth, viscous, mouth-coating, creamy body.

Blood oranges, buttery shortbread cookies, slight sherry, counter balanced by wild honey, lemon zest and very subtle peat and smoke.  There is some see-saw action going on between the fruity orange/honey flavors of Speyside at the forefront and the very restrained Islay/Islands smoke/peat at mid-palate.

Finish (undiluted)
This is where Islay and the Islands (ie. Skye) come through.  Lagavulin, Cao Ila, Talisker make an appearance.  Nice smokey finish with great malt notes.  Hmm!  Ginger and salty pretzel too.

General Impressions
White Horse delivers sweet, buttery soft flavors of oranges, honey, some limes and finally a nice puff of smoke from a menthol cigarette and a little peat.

It is the "finish" that is impressive. Breathe through your mouth after sipping this blend and you can taste the smoke much more clearly.  It becomes far more pronounced.

Smooth, totally inoffensive with nice briar patch fire smoke and salty tang on the finish.

Complex?  Ahh no.  But, remember, this scotch retails for $18!  Enjoyable?  Ahh yes!

Claim to Fame?
White Horse is famous for having Lagavulin as one of the principal single malts composing this blend.  It seems that every review I read makes mention of this fact.

In all honesty, I can't say that I taste Lagavulin in this blend.  It is stated so on the back label, but again, I am not tasting much of it.

I taste Talisker on the mid-palate to finish.  Caol Ila is another malt in this blend.  The smokey finish tastes of that fine malt.

There are 40 whiskies making up this blend.  Some grain and some malt.  The grain whiskies are well integrated and taste crisp.  Malt whiskies make up 40% of the blend, which may explain the lack of a grainy character.

At $18 a bottle, it is hard to criticize this blend.  If I had to make one, I guess I do find it extremely smooth and consequently very drinkable.  I mean $18!  Dude, can you have breakfast for two less than that?

Anyway, it is very smooth.  I would, in a  perfect world like it to be a little more vibrant, but this is just an observation and not really valid at this price point.

Sweetness is another concern.  This blend like the vast majority of bottom shelf scotch tend to be very sweet.  White Horse succeeds where others (ie. J&B, Ballantine's, etc.) fail.  While White Horse is sweet, it is not cloyingly so, and more importantly, by the time of the finish, it is no longer sweet but rather smokey with some peat giving a drying affect.  So, while I had many reservations upon initially sipping it, my concerns washed away, literally, by the time of the finish.

Highly quaffable and highly recommended when one is on a budget or just wants a friendly blend to keep them company and not make any pesky demands.

Special Thanks
A reader went to great lengths to have this bottle delivered to me.  Thanks a lot Will!

Now, I must get back to that rather eclectic music collection of mine . . . Hole performing "Doll Parts."


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.

P.S.  Will is not a brand ambassador for White Horse or Diageo.  By the way, I reimbursed him for the cost of the bottle of White Horse.  Money well spent!


  1. Excellent review. You put words to some very subtle aspects of the flavor profile that are very hard to put words to. I've always really liked White Horse - definitely my favorite of the old cheap blends. We're not alone. Paul Pacult gives it 4 stars and says it is "head and shoulders" above similarly priced blends and that "the dictionary description of 'blended scotch whisky' should have a picture of a white horse next to it".

    That being said, it's been a while since I've had it. Last time was at an airport bar and I was disappointed. Sometimes at a bar you get an oxidized bottle or an unclean glass, however. As you say - it's subtle, not rich.

    I've heard that the flavor profile was richer and more assertive many decades ago. Antiques are, reputed to be worth seeking out.

    1. Yes, Josh, the older bottlings of White Horse are supposed to be better. The reason is the heavier weighting of Lagavulin in the blend. More recently, online chatter states the Lagavulin has lessened somewhat.

      I definitely think White Horse is a blend that would be very susceptible to oxidization. I have no doubt about that.

      Thanks for your insightful comments.

  2. Jason,

    I'm glad you finally got ahold of a bottle of this, I have read several comments on the internet to the effect that Teacher's and White Horse are hard to find in some areas, I guess we are lucky to have them readily available here in NC - if only we could get Black Bottle.

    I hadn't thought of shipping you a bottle, a little nervous about sending such packages across the border.

    1. Hi Scott,

      Hard to believe nowhere in the State do they not sell Black Bottle. Great stuff that edges out White Horse by a bit.

  3. Jason, Our tasting group member (and California Diageo rep) indicates that Diageo continues to do say "no comment" asto the appearance of Lagavulin within the content of recent White Horse blends. We gauge from that that a barrel or two per year at the most might still be allocated each year from Lagavulin's meager production. Nothing essentially, as Diageo is nothing if not financially sharp (Lagavulin 16 lists for $65 US here). Fair to expect that young (3 yr, 4 yr) Caol Ila is the smoke source these days. JK

    1. I do not doubt what your Diageo rep states, but my thoughts are that if Lagavulin is in such minuscule quantities in this blend, then they should update the label on the back of the bottle to say Caol Ila instead of Lagavulin. But, Diageo may leave the label unchanged because Lagavulin has great prestige/brand recognition than the other malt.

      Thanks for your input on this point.

  4. I noticed on one of the pics the words "White Horse Distillers", which struck me a bit funny. What is actually distilled by them?

    1. Excellent powers of observation you have! And directly above those words appears "Blended Scotch", so what gives?

      I have no answers other than to say, to my knowledge, there is no "White Horse Distillery" as they are admittedly a blender. Hard to explain that on the label. Maybe a Diageo rep who reads this blog might anonymously chime in . . .

  5. Excellent review. One of my favorite blogs to read. Cheers!

  6. Some malt lovers will recall the international fracas that resulted from Diageo's attempts to move to a Cardhu "Pure Malt" product. I sure couldn't argue long with anyone who suggested that Diageo might well practice as loose an interpretation of labeling governance as they ever did. JK

  7. Living in Brooklyn, Booze are quite costly and I so I buy White Horse once in a while (until I found a spot selling Black Bottle for even less) because at the very least it is interesting. I find the nose to not really exist. There are whiffs of smoke and thats it. The palate is syrupy and cheaply oily. Fry Grease. There is a savory blast along the way that perks me up. Smokey bacon. Followed by a corn syrup sweetness that is revolting. I still prefer it to Dewars or Famous Grouse, but in the end it just makes me depressed that there is such a great divide between cheap scotch and the more pricey stuff. Black Bottle is far nicer though still cheap and grainy. I am looking forward to trying Teacher's but have yet to find a spot in the NYC area to purchase it.

  8. Thank you Jason for this nice review, indeed White Horse is an old brand and you wrote it up very well here. Something to remember if I want something affordable, in retirement I will not be able to afford Talisker or Balvenie every week.

  9. Jason, I thank you kindly for your review of this great blend. I recently bought a bottle of MacCallan as a gift for a friend and was purusing the shelves of my local store when I spotted White Horse on the bottom shelf (they unfortunately don't stock Teachers or Black Bottle, so I will have to look further afield). It was only $14 US and for my taste better than JW Green or Glenlivet single malt.

    1. $14 for White Horse!!!!!!! Gadzooks!!! I'd fill a shopping cart full of it at that price.

      Black Bottle is very similar, might be slightly better, but only slighter.

      Teacher's is a different animal that I enjoy, but is an acquired taste for some. You must check it out sometime.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Most appreciated!

  10. I just found a bottle behind a wall in my home...has to be 30 plus years old....does whiskey get better with age?

  11. White Horse is what Albert Finney is seen drinking in the film Under the Volcano, which is what got me intrigued. Haven't had it in a long time though. A friend gave me a 40 year old bottle of Black and White a couple of years ago. Tasted pretty much like any other bottle of Black and White I've had. I don't think it changes at all once in the sealed bottle.

    1. You are correct that Scotch whisky does not improve or change in taste once bottled. Some wines (ie. barolo, bordeaux) have the ability to improve once bottled, but they are at a much lower ABV, which is part of the reason why.

      The reason your 40 year old bottle of Black & White tastes similar is because the same recipe is probably being used with slight alteration as blends typically can have thirty grain and malt whiskies. The master blender of today is probably not using all the same grain and malt whiskies that his counterpart of 40 yrs ago did. Moreover, the master blenders may make other decisions like the proportion of malt to grain, and certain distilleries used more heavily now than in the past or vice versa that can make for changes between the bottles of today vesrus those of 40yrs ago.

      I think it would be a fun tasting experience to take your old bottle of Black and White and taste it, then compare to a new bottle today.


  12. Hi Jason, I enjoyed your review of White Horse Scotch. I spent two years in Iceland as a 15/16 yr. old teenager. My buddies and I would catch a bus to Reykjavik and would find the closest liquor store, buy a pint of White Horse Scotch and proceed to get hammered. Good times! Anyway I don't condone drinking by minors but living in Iceland in the 60's there wasn't a whole lot to do so we occupied ourselves as best we could!


    Vic Robinson
    Danville, VA

  13. Got really curious after reading this review and went out and got some. My go to everyday is Cutty Sark and if money wasn't an issue, I'd be drinking Laphroaig Triple Wood everyday. Yes, two ends of the spectrum in regards to palate, but Cutty is the refresher on the rocks and Laphroaig is neat usually with a cigar. Very nice for a mid-low shelf blended scotch. The smokiness and peat do come through but is not over powering. This is a great buy at $31.99 USD for the 1.75 if you are on a budget and want a stronger flavored scotch. I agree that this could be an excellent everyday, heavy flavored scotch. It is for me now.

    1. As you probably surmised from my review, I really like White Horse. I think if people would over look the low price, put their prejudice aside that at such a low price it cant be good, they too would stumble upon this gem and be equally enthusiastic.

  14. Great blog and review ! I do like Black Bottle for everyday drinking, but have never tried White Horse. Here in Germany it's hard fining a bottle of White Horse. Keep on writing Jason !

  15. You may not believe it but here in Argentina I´ve just bought a bottle for AR $97. That´s around U$S 10. I´ll surely try it!

  16. Thanks to you, I tried White Horse; if not for your review I probably wouldn't have. Great whisky!!!!

    Here's a paradox for you: Ballantines sells for 17 dollars a bottle and White Horse for 14 dollars a bottle. Explain that one! Oh well, if they want to sell more for less, it's all good by me :-)

    Great review, hope you and the missus and kids are doing well; stay safe and take care!

    1. Officer Starling, the Ballantines / White Horse price paradox is unfathomable, but let's not tell anyone, and let the masses flock to the ballantines while we pick up the White Horse!

      P.S. Black Bottle is another low priced Islay style malt I think you will also enjoy.

  17. Jason, It's worth a couple minutes to have a little fun with tasting notes from Serge (at He offers some thoughts prompted from recent and some old releases. Vewwy intewestink. Cheers. JK

  18. Here in bourbon country, stores don't make much shelf space for blended Scotch. I had to ask mine to stock it. It is my preferred ordinary Scotch.

    I am one of those horrible Americans who prefer blended Scotch. Something like Caol Ila and the Islay and Island malts are a bit too intense for me; they aren't good tasting whisky, they're an ingredient from which good tasting whisky is made. I know this is heresy.

    My other mainstay blended Scotch is Ballantine's Finest, which I like a bit better than you. And it, too, is hard to find sometimes in these parts. You can always find Clan MacGregor. Never mind....

    1. There is nothing "horrible" about enjoying blended Scotch, no matter what the brand, so long as it accords with your personal taste!

      Thanks for commenting!