Monday, August 17, 2009

Ballantines Finest - Blended Scotch Whisky


A Little History
Ballantines Finest is the oldest in the product line of this Scottish blender of whisky. It all started back in 1827, where an enterprising gentleman, George Ballantine, opened up a grocery store and started selling some whisky (not his creation). Eventually, he let his son take over while he set up an establishment in Glasgow that did feature his own blends. Within his lifetime he was supplying the Royal Family. Ballantines Finest that you can drink today is based on a blending recipe from those days.Today, Ballantines is very popular in Europe and Asia. In addition, Ballantines Finest has won some awards. In the International Spirits Challenge: 2006 Gold; 2005 Silver; and in the International Wine and Spirit Competition: 2006 Silver; 2005 Bronze. That said, generally, serious connosieurs of scotch do not like this blend because they consider it rather uninteresting, boring, bland. More about such observations later.

Suggested Serving
This blended whisky is so gentle and sweet that the addition of ice, in order to mellow out any roughness or burn that is common with cheaply priced whiskies, is not necessary. However, if you like a little ice, I would suggest a single ice cube.

Nose (undiluted)
Cheap and malty. No peat whatsoever.

Palate (undiluted)
Very sweet like a bowl full of Splenda or NutraSweet mixed with grain alcohol.  Terribly grainy.     

Finish (undiluted)
Smooth. No rough edges here. No burn or excess heat. Just horribly sweet, with bad malty flavors that fortunately disappear from the palate quickly but not quick enough from one's memory.

Add Water!
Tasted neat, this blended scotch whisky is too sweet and grainy.  Add a teaspoon of water and it will greatly reduce that grainy character and add a nice malty note to the flavor profile.  How much water?  Try a teaspoon to a 1 and half ounce shot.

General Impressions
On a hot summer day, this will work very well as a key ingredient in a mixed drink.  Alternatively, over ice it will prove to be barely tolerable.

This is bottom shelf blended scotch.  In that price range Ballantines Finest is a step above the likes of Whyte & Mackay, J&B or Jameson (no age statement). But that's not saying much.  This is nowhere near the best economy blend.  In the category of blended scotch (no age statement) Teacher's Highland Cream and Johnnie Walker Red are better buys. 

The chief defect that prevent this blend from being a decent one is due to a flavour profile that is far too sweet to the point of being like corn syrup and overall the flavour profile (very grainy at times), while interesting initially, soon can become boring for someone seeking intriguing flavours. For those who like a lot of peat notes in their scotch, Ballantines Finest will disappoint.  What it does offer is an inoffensive, very sweet/grainy dram that will serve as a gateway to great blended scotch.  If you are new to scotch, this may be pleasing to you.  Drink it, make notes and then move on to better stuff.  When you progress to superior blends (ie.  Teacher's, White Horse, Chivas 12, etc.) refer to your notes and you will soon realize how dreadful Ballantines Finest is.
Cheers!


© Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.

33 comments:

  1. So true, mine hasn't moved an inch for the past year. You buy it thinking it will be something like a Black Label, an established, complex blend, but it's so utterly unspectacular and sweet.

    Cheerz,

    Boris

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  2. Boris, Johnnie Walker Black Label is light years superior to Ballantines as I am sure you are aware.

    If you visit the website for Ballantine's Finest, it is targeting a bar hopping 20yr olds looking for great party drink mix.

    On its own, its not tolerable to my palate. Never had it in a mixed drink. Maybe that is what it is best suited for.

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  3. Huh. Thought I posted a comment here a few weeks back.

    Anyway, my recommendation for anyone curious about Ballantine's is to go straight to their 12-year-old blend. It's only a few dollars more but much better than the "Finest", with a flavor profile very similar to JW Black, and perhaps even less sweet than the JW.

    Paul M.

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  4. Thanks for the suggestion Paul. I hear that the Ballantine's 17 years is phenomenal and actually one of the best blended scotch whiskies available on the market. The problem is to locate a bottle. Ballantines 17 is generally only available at Duty Free shops in airports. Anyway, I will keep on searchin'.

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  5. Does this just make your headspin? Can someone recommended something in nice bottle I can put my mouth too in cheap whisky and drink ain 2 days purely for tastiness? I want this as it sounds THICKER and JUICY and Barley Suger. I fine walker black boring now and too delicate. Teachers limited to small amount you can drink. I love thick tasty cough syrupt and aproit brandy and CHEW tobacco and FIGS and refined. Dont like Liquers nor FIRMNESS. Hey are there any Scotches with a YELLOW LABEL?

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  6. Yep the NutraSweet mixed with grain alcohol I just bought lacks any smoke or a nice grainness but it is not nothing bad- just boring. I had this in a 60's bottle and is was it has a wonderfull WOODY smoke hint, very present grainy kernals i like, and a little layer of creme very soft lemon citrus.The one I had 15y ago had some smokeness but the alcohel bite put be off. I also had a RED 60's its so good. grains hold it together and the spice + sherry great. Anyone wanting a smoke hint and not boring in the ballintines just get the 12 or 17.

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  7. I have heard that 1960's and 70's bottlings of cheap blends were sometimes better than the one's today on the market. Hard to say.

    On the one hand, a world renowned whisky expert told me that Johnnie Red could be quite enjoyable as there was a fair bit of Talisker in it, but that had to be tempered by the fact that quality control issues were a problem.

    I have noticed the Whisky Exchange sells from time to time old bottles of cheap blends like Teachers from the 1950's etc. Not cheap but it would be exciting to try.

    Blends can succeed where the grain whisky is of reasonable age and has been aged in good casks. Quality of wood is so very important.

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  8. I just can't seem to be able to open this bottle. I think it is sealed with some sort of plastic cork. Any tips on how I can go about uncorking it?

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  9. Where I live, it is a metal screw-off cap on the bottle. I'd return it from where you bought it. If you can't do that, I'd throw it away. No great loss. Trust me!

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  10. I was shopping for bottom shelf whisky and this jumped out at me...as my father used to drink it occasionally in the '70s. My first impression is that it tasted like a really cheap Bourbon...thin, bad mouth feel, and terribly sweet. I might keep it around for mixed drinks or to clean wounds.

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  11. Hello Jason,

    Great that you know and visited Sao Paulo. It's really a big city with all the related problems such as pollution , traffic and crime, But also great because everything you can think of is available and that 24/7. It is becoming a really expensive city though!, Just to give you an idea. The shops would charge USD 180,-- for a Glenmorangie Nectar d' Or! So I really only buy in Free Shops when I travel.
    I'm actually Dutch but live and work in Sao Paulo for more than 17 years. My wife is Brazilian and my son was born over here.
    I started writing reviews because of the apparent lack of objective information. All whiskeys are great etc. Yeah Sure. This year I bought Jim Murrays Whisky Bible 2011 and it amazed me to read that he gave high notes for such crap as Grant's Family Reserve and this one , the Ballantine's Finest. I'm glad to find out that I'm not the only one around thinking differently!
    Below I will share my review on this one. I do welcome any comments.
    Saude
    Jan

    Country : Scotland
    Brand: Ballantine’s Finest
    Type: Blended Whisky
    Age: Unspecified
    Alcohol: 40%
    Colour: Light Gold
    Nose: Lots of Malt and Sweet Grain . It’s a bit like corn flakes with a tiny bit of honey. Biscuits as well or maybe even pizza dough. No Fruit and hardly any Wood. Sharp alcohol notes are popping up from time to time
    Taste: Malt, Sweet Grain. Some pepper . Quite disappointing really.
    Finish: Short, Dry.
    Rating: 71 (out of a 100) (Blend Mark)
    Nose 18 – Taste 18– Finish 17 – Overall 18
    General Remarks: First of all I had trouble with nosing as sharp alcohol notes kept coming back. But not to worry because there’s not much to sniff at anyway. Malt and Grain are dominating and I miss balance. Miltonduff and Glenburgie are the main Single Malts for this blend but there are said to be as many as 50 whiskys in all present here, aged for at least 3 years! Where are they for peat’s sake?? Or is there a high percentage of young grain whiskys?
    Or maybe I should go back and review milk!
    In any case the young components account for the lack of wood and vanilla tones that would really help to bring more balance to this blend as would some more contact with European Oak sherry casks. I added a few drops of water and it enhances the Malt in the nose. Tastewise it doesn’t do any good so I suggest not to add water or a couple of drops at the most.
    Drinking Experience Neat : Average
    Conclusion:
    Given the very positive notes in the press I was really looking forward to this one. All considering, this blend is not bad but it’s boring and I can’t see what the fuss is all about! Or do we get different bottles here in Brazil? That would be even worse!
    As it is, I consider Ballantine’s Finest to be completely dominated by Grains and lacking diversity.
    It’s the perfect breakfast whisky!
    Jan van den Ende

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  12. Hi Jason,

    One of the reasons I wanted to review this whisky was the praise it got from Jim Murray. Well, was I disappointed!! Here is my verdict:

    Nose: Lots of Malt and Sweet Grain . It’s a bit like corn flakes with a tiny bit of honey. Biscuits as well or maybe even pizza dough. No Fruit and hardly any Wood. Sharp alcohol notes are popping up from time to time
    Taste: Malt, Sweet Grain. Some pepper . Quite disappointing really.
    Finish: Short, Dry.
    General Remarks: First of all I had trouble with nosing as sharp alcohol notes kept coming back. But not to worry because there’s not much to sniff at. Malt and Grain are dominating and I miss balance. Miltonduff and Glenburgie are the main Single Malts for this blend but there are said to be as many as 50 whiskys in all present here, aged for at least 3 years! Where are they for peat’s sake?? Or is there a high percentage of young grain whiskys?
    Or maybe I should go back and review milk!
    In any case the young components account for the lack of wood and vanilla tones that would really help to bring more balance to this blend as would some more contact with European Oak sherry casks. I added a few drops of water and it enhances the Malt in the nose. Tastewise it doesn’t do any good so I suggest not to add water or a couple of drops at the most.

    Conclusion:
    Given the very positive notes in the press I was really looking forward to this one. All considering, this blend is not bad but it’s boring and I can’t see what the fuss is all about! Or do we get different bottles here in Brazil? That would be even worse!
    As it is, I consider Ballantine’s Finest to be completely dominated by Grains and lacking diversity.
    There so much grain it’s the perfect breakfast whisky!

    Saude

    Jan

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  13. Jan, I like your tasting note, but I gotta say, I think you are being way to charitable to this terrible blended scotch.

    I certainly think the Ballantines Finest you enjoy in Brazil is the same here in Canada.

    I definitely think this is heavy in grain whisky that contributes the sweetness, the grainy quality, and as for the single malts supposedly in this blend, they are young and terrible.

    Cheers!

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  14. Jason,
    Had the opportunity to sample over the weekend. Was aware what you and others said it has become like, but I had the opportunity and thought I would sample. It was indeed Very bad. As unfavorable as you display it in your review, mine seemed especially gut wretching. Only picked up some faint malt notes on the nose, most of the rest of the general character of the dram screamed young grain whisky, with perhaps slight bourbon smoke on the finish. I found it only the slighest bit better than the Lauder's I tried. I'd imagine this blend was more tolerable, perhaps even solid, in older days. Be interested to compare an old, still sealed bottle and the current. Cheers!
    -Yochanan

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    Replies
    1. Lately, Ballantine's has really been very poor. I do remember many years ago it was better, but then again, at that point, I did not know what was good scotch.

      Nice to hear from you.

      Cheers!

      Delete
  15. Used to love single malts but recently tried a Ballentine 30 years.......
    Ever since then nothing compares to it...Gosh! the taste man! and its one of the finest we have ever had...
    Bad snag is ...the exclusive pricing....

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    Replies
    1. I really have to try some high end blends with age statements beyond twenty years. I would imagine they are very good.

      All I have had has been Royal Salute 21yrs and blends up to 18. The only exception was a Famous Grouse 30yrs that was among the finest whisky I ever had.

      Whyte & Mackay make some bottlings with age statements in excess of 20yrs, but I cannot get them where I live.

      So, I would well imagine Ballantine's 30 would be excellent.

      Delete
  16. I don't often try anything within its price arena, but at a wedding Saturday, I had few choices on a cool, breezy coastal afternoon. Ballantine's standard bottling proved OK over the course of an evening, that is, completely competent in its element. It was good mixed with soda and lemon, mixed with water and orange rind, or mixed with ginger ale on ice. I think folks are kidding themselves a bit much if they expect satisfaction from a sipped $12 blend on its own, or even if it is poured on the rocks. That's just not its intended use. I would have to go ten more bucks a bottle - minimum - to reach the bottom shelf product I'd be willing to sip.

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    Replies
    1. I can understand that if you take Ballantine's and use it as the base of a cocktail (ie. mix soda & Lemon with ice), yeah, it would be palatable.

      But, on it's own, its pretty bad.

      Delete
  17. Jason,

    First of all, you have a great review and some great whiskey drinkers commenting on this review as well!

    I smuggled a bottle of Ballentine's back from my recent trip to the Dominican Republic because the resort I stayed at places this brand of whiskey in the "regular" rooms as a courtesy, which pretty much explains the reviews that I read above. Anyway, this scotch is tolerable with Coca-Cola so I decided to keep it and sip on it at my leisure back here in the States until I drink it up. Then it's on to something else.

    My comment isn't really about Ballantine's - it's actually a question. I have been drinking brandy and whiskey for about 15 years now. I have always mixed it with Coca-Cola (starting with E&J VSOP and XO, moving through the Paul Masson and other brandies, and eventually landing with the bourbons such as Jim Beam and an American Bourbon called Jesse James that I discovered recently). I have recently tried to gravitate towards drinking whiskey straight, on the rocks, but I'm having trouble finding a bourbon or scotch that is smooth enough to drink without a terrible bite. I know that whiskey will always have a "kick" no matter what kind it is, but can you recommend an affordable whiskey (bourbon or scotch, or both) that I can start drinking "straight up", and them move on to better & more expensive blends when I'm ready?

    Thanks, and I recommend comments from other readers as well.

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  18. Floyd! Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    I can certainly recommend whiskies for a person interested in sipping them straight. But, before I provide you with a list of suggestions, I would give you a simple bit of advice on sipping straight or 'neat' as the high brow critics say. Pour your self a dram and imagine a 1/4 of a teaspoon of volume. That is the amount of whisky I want you to take a sip of. Just 1/4 of a single teaspoon. Sip that, hold it, and then swallow. If you follow those simple steps, you will open a new window for yourself in your whisky adventure.

    So, having said that, let's move onto a list that work very well straight:

    (1) Cutty Sark Blended Scotch - This is very gentle. Incredibly smooth, no bite whatsoever. What you will taste is sweet malt, fruit cocktail, and apple. If there ever was a blended scotch whisky that could be enjoyed neat, this is the one. And as a bonus feature, it is very affordable, like $20 a bottle.

    (2) White Horse Blended Scotch Whisky - If you enjoy smoke and peat, but without bitterness or bite, White Horse is a must. Incredibly cheap in price but not in quality of taste. This is a blend of Islay malts and grain whiskies producing the softest of introductions to smoke and peat in scotch. Highly recommended for the smoke and peat novice!

    (3) Cragganmore 12 years - This is one of my all time favorite single malts! This malt is sweet, but transitions on the palate midway becoming dry. Honeyed, waxy, with a Coffee Crisp chocolate bar in there. It exhibits tremendous complexity too. You must buy this after Cutty Sark!

    (4) Balvenie Doublewood 12yrs - Do you like the taste of sherry in scotch? Or are you unsure what sherry tastes like in scotch? Well, then here is your answer: Balvenie Doublewood 12. Super smooth with a few twists and turns.

    (5) Jim Beam Black 8yrs - How about a bourbon? If you live in the United States this is an incredible value play. You can get a bottle for $22 in some places and it delivers licorice, spice and all sorts of goodness. A little more robust than my other recommendations, but if you sip carefully, it will reward you!

    Good luck and let I and the readers know how it turns out for you.

    Cheers!

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  19. Jason, Our newest group member hosted his inaugural tasting last evening, in what he called "a cheap crap throw-down". The table included Cutty Sark regular, Chivas Regal 12, and JW Black among others, all of which were true to past form. But in this group, Ballantine's Finest actually showed very nicely, better than my similarly-styled offering (Bank Note 5y). Being much of the toffee influence camp, this one pushed some delicate peat, fresh oak and balanced malty fruit too. Frankly, it was nice. Maybe it takes group settings like this to slap old sensibilities silly, as this one did. Sure produced results no one expected, the night's favorite for two members. JK

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  20. I am surprised. I was at a barbecue and the only scotch available was Ballantine's. Freshly opened bottle and it was as disappointing as ever. Reinforced my feelings of dislike. Horribly sweet and grainy.

    Maybe your Ballantine's was paired with food that complimented it. I dunno.

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  21. Jason, It was probably not the food, as we had only bagels and cream cheese at the table. The Ballantine's we sampled showed just enough finishing peat and salinity element to make its overt sweetness sing better overall than what was found in the one-note trumpet blat of sugary malt and vanillan from, say - the Chivas Regal 12. I doubt production variation could account for enough batch and bottle variation to account for our different reactions to the same blend. It's probably just preference.

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  22. This is an award winning Scotch. It is Jim Murray's Blended Scotch of the Year 2013 (NAS) so I'm really surprised by this review.

    I will buy a bottle tomorrow and post my thoughts.

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    Replies
    1. Tom, it's crap. I mean it. I tried a new bottle recently and found no improvement.

      Jim Murray baffles me with some of his declarations as to what are the great whiskies. For example, a couple years ago he declared that Ballantine's 17 was the best of all whiskies in the world. Better than all single malts, better than all Japanese. I reviewed it here:

      http://jason-scotchreviews.blogspot.ca/2010/12/review-ballantines-17-years-old-blended.html

      I pride myself on having an open mind but Ballantine's Finest is one of the most disappointing blended scotch whiskies in the market place.

      Please taste for yourself and let me know what you think by posting a comment here so other readers can have your point of view.

      Cheers!

      Delete
    2. Thanks for your response Jason.

      I must admit I have found many of Murray's opinions at odds with my own in the past but it just seemed a odd that your respective opinions were polar opposites and not just slightly different. Even taking into account individual tastes and preferences, one would expect the experts to agree at least to some extent on the universal qualities of a whisky.

      I have ordered a bottle from TWE, it should be here tomorrow. I am by no means an expert but I will be sure to post my (unqualified) opinion for interest :)

      Kind regards,
      Tom.

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    3. Hello again Jason.

      Well I tried Ballentine's finest and am posting my thoughts as promised :)

      I actually find this blended scotch to be ok. I agree it is sweet and simplistic and the finish is almost non-existent for me. However, I am not generally a fan of blended scotch but I find this tolerable as it is so smooth. Don't get me wrong, to me this is by no means a good whisky but I don't find it as unpleasant as some blends I have tried (Grants, White & Mackay Special, Bells etc). As I mentioned I am by no means an expert so please feel free to shoot me down for my uniformed observations if necessary :)

      Out of curiosity, what blended Scotch would you recommend? My favourite is Islay Mist. I am a big fan of Laphroaig which may explain this as I believe this is the primary malt used in the blend? I also like Teachers Highland cream mainly due to the malty character and the smoke and peat notes I detect (again I may be talking uninformed nonsense here!) I actually find most blends to be too grainy for my tastes.

      Kind regards,
      Tom.

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    4. Hi Tom!

      Thanks for posting your comments on Ballantine's. Appreciate it and it is another point of view for other readers to consider. As much as I dislike it, you and many others do.

      Anyway, as to your question as to what blends I recommend, they are:

      (1) Black Bottle - Seek it out my friend, as you are obviously an Islay fan, judging by your affection for Laphroaig;

      (2) White Horse - Another Islay influenced blend with some Lagavulin in it. Great price too around $20.

      (3) Teacher's Highland Cream - Love it, and always have it in the cabinet.

      (4) Te Bheag - hard to find but a great blend. A little pricier but well worth it.

      (5) Jim Beam Black - It's not scotch, but rather bourbon, and it is incredible at any price, let alone the current price of around $24. Highly recommended. It is an 8yr old bourbon if you buy it in the US.

      Cheers!

      Jason

      P.S. Comment any time!

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    5. Thanks for your suggestions Jason. I really appreciate it. I will be trying them all!

      Black bottle is next on my list :)

      Delete
  23. I don't like Jim Beam Black and Ballentines is much better than other more expensive crap.

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    Replies
    1. As you know, Jim Beam Black is an 8 year old bourbon and Ballantines is a blended Scotch whisky. The two are very different animals. Accordingly, it is understanding you may not like one of them.

      Since you like Ballantine's maybe try Cutty Sark and Bell's. Both are around the same price and quite sweet.

      Delete
  24. Currently living in Lusaka Zambia and found a bottle of Ballentine's, which I had never had, for ~$14 USD. Man, I wish I had read your blog beforehand. It is way too sweet and not so good without ice, and in my opinion, a lot more than one cube. Killer blog--I will follow. Cheers.

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