Monday, May 17, 2010

Whyte & Mackay "Special" Blended Scotch Whisky

On a wickedly cold February night, in my hometown, somewhere in Canada, I went to a scotch tasting.  After sampling many fine and some not so fine single malts, the bar owner tossed an inebriated me and my friend, George, tiny 50ml bottles of Whyte & Mackay Special Blended Scotch Whisky.  Now you thought the previous sentence would end differently like: "the bar owner tossed an inebriated me and my friend, George, on to the street."  Not! 

As I was saying, we sampled quite a few drams and by the time the Whyte & Mackay was proffered we were well on our way.  We drank the tiny bottles (ya know, those airplane minis) and thought they were very good.  Matter of fact, I scribbled a tasting note and made a mental note to investigate this blend further when I had some semblance of sobriety.

I am now returning to Whyte & Mackay with a clearer head and can now provide you with a tasting note that has not been clouded by a steady succession of other malts traversing my palate and besotted brain.

Nose
Strong whiff of sherry and nutmeg.  Very malty too.  Smells cheap and simple.

Palate
The body is rounded but not in a good way . . . kinda like Roseanne Barr in a thong.  Plenty of sherry to start.  This is sweet though it tapers off a little, but not to the point of drying.

Finish
Cocoa turning a little green to the point of ginger; over ripe tangerine sherry oakiness with black pepper linger like a stray cat on your doorstep.

General Impressions
I was not expecting this to be incredible.  I mean this is bottom shelf blended scotch whisky.  However, I did expect more.  Big disappointment is what this is.  This blend is totally devoid of peat and what the distiller calls "smoke" is actually (in my opinion) poor quality whisky that has spent too much time in refill sherry casks.  In the same price point, Teacher's Highland Cream is clearly superior to Whyte and Mackay.













What astonishes me is that if you visit the International Wine and Spirit Competition website and do a search of Whyte & Mackay Special (just use the search term "Whyte") it scored a silver medal in the no age stated blended scotch category.  How?  If they are giving silver for this, then I would imagine Hawkeye Pierce from MASH would get a bronze for his enema bag distillate in his musty army tent.  Such a ranking draws into question the reliability of the International Wine and Spirit Competition ratings.  From my visit to the site and Wikipedia's write-up on it (click here), it appears to be an organization populated by whisky industry types.  Much is made of blind tastings but doesn't seem to translate into accurate reviews.  In fact they handed out ten (10) silver medals in the no age statement blended scotch category!  What kind of a competition has ten second place winners other than in kindergarden?  Don't believe me?  Click here.  Anyway, the problems with the IWSC is a subject for another discussion or rant in the learned tradition of Dennis Miller.

Now what can I say about Whyte & Mackay Special that is positive?  Well, if I really stretch the bounds of my imagination and abandon my personal moral compass I could point out possible attributes that some scotch novices might find attractive:  (1)  There is no bite.  (2)  For those who dislike peaty or smoke flavors, this blended scotch will get points.  (3)  You will taste smooth sherry and a maltiness that is ok.  (4)  It's simple but that's ok I suppose if you just want to put your mind in neutral and watch TV.  (5)  Not offensive but that spoiled tangerine flavor on the finish does border on the repulsive.  (6)  It is very cheap and I would imagine would make a good ingredient in a mixed drink that called for blended scotch.

Bottom Line
Would I buy this again?  No.  Never.  Under no circumstances could I, in good conscience, recommend it.  When I am shopping for a bargain basement blended scotch, I would first reach for Teacher's Highland Cream or Johnnie Walker Red Label.  Stay away from Whyte & Mackay "Special" Blended Scotch Whisky because there is nothing 'special' about it.

Cheers!

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.

26 comments:

  1. Jason

    I think your comments arounf the W&M Special Reserve are not only harsh but also uninformed.

    I will however admit some bias as i am an employee of W&M !!

    Our blended whisky is renound all over the globe but i guess one mans poison is another mans pleasure !

    Can i perhaps guide you towards our aged blended range - starting with our 13yo, progressing to our 19yo and then to the recently awards "Best Blended Whisky in the World" - our Blended 30 year old

    Warm regards from Sunny Scotland

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  2. Hello JK!

    I am sure your more aged blends are better. I have heard the 30 year old in particular is stellar. Unfortunately, where I am located the only bottling available is the standard no age stated 'special.'

    I suppose my comments can be over-the-top at times but they are merely my opinions. Certainly everyone should try this in a bar and judge for themselves.

    Cheers!

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  3. I generally avoid W&M as its just inferior to so may other distilleries. So I'm not surprised by your summary and taste notes.

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  4. Jason, sorry it wasn't to your liking. Whisky, like many of the best things in life, is an individual thing. What didn't work for you works for others (and vice-versa I'm sure you'll agree).

    I did a video last year with some tasting notes for the Special Blend at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TX3F03D3cYM and some people might find the contrast interesting.

    Thanks for taking the time to review it though - and I hope at some point you get the chance to try some of the rest of the range.

    Slainte,

    Richard Paterson
    Master Blender

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  5. Raith Rover - it's all a matter of individual taste - what whiskies have you tried from us?

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  6. Readers should be aware that though I do not like the standard bottling of Whyte & Mackay that is no indication of the quality of their aged blends. Give it a try. I suspect their higher end blends are better.

    I encountered this phenomenon with Jameson. In my opinion, the standard bottling (no age statement) is dreadful, but move up to the 12 yrs and 18yrs and you have a most enjoyable whisky.

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  7. Wow, Richard Paterson himself. Now that is neat.

    (Not that I will by the Special, but really like Isle of Jura which is owned by W&M, so I guess that would fall under his responsibility as Master blender?).

    Boris

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  8. Boris, I think he is in charge of Isle of Jura. I was surprised when he posted. As much as I respect him, I couldn't change my opinion of Whyte & Mackay Special.

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  9. maybe most stater blends are just crap today.
    The 1950's ones i drunk were all just lovely.
    I've seen WM it in a cola can.

    I guessing this dont apply to 12y or up. Maybe I'm wrong.

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  10. Just bought a half bottle of special for something different to try. Bells and teachers was £7 for the half bottle and this was £12 at my local Tesco so I though it was going to be good. Completely disappointed, no punch and no smoke. Will not be buying again. Should of picked up the Grants £8.

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  11. Hello Anonymous,

    Yes, it is pretty dreadful.

    Fortunately, it was not an expensive mistake!

    Cheers!

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  12. I must say that it is neat to see Richard Paterson comment on here, as it was him and ALL of his youtube videos that prepared me mentally and educated me to begin my Scotch whiskey adventure. And although I will pass on this particular bottle I hope to one day taste some of the older blends Whyte & Mackay offer.

    And Jason, thank you for all the information you have put forth. I have read your blog almost top to bottom and I have a feeling that you will have saved me a lot of money since purchasing a bottle of Scotch can potentially be an expensive mistake if you don't like what you've bought. Your descriptions make it easy to tell whether or not I have the taste for whatever you are reviewing.

    Cheers!!

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  13. Matt N, I'm glad that you find the reviews on here helpful. I aim to give you a layman's non-techinical summary of what a given whisky is like.

    As for Mr. Patterson, he is a legend in the business and I am surprised that he is even aware of this blog, but it goes to show that he is keeping up on what the online chatter is about his whiskies. While Whyte & Mackay is to be avoided, I am sure he is responsible for truly great malts.

    Cheers!

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  14. Hi guys dont knw it all depends on individuals ive tried alot of things fm vodka to irish cream. But i kinda like its taste felt smoth and very enjoyable. Again depends on individuals i might be buying again anyhow have fun peace.

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  15. I love whyte and mackay special I think it's the best whiskey I've ever had its people who complain about this that are the reason they no longer sell the with cola cans and it sucks please bring it back and put it in all liqueur places in Traralgon Victoria because I can no longer find it at all :(

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  16. Jason, did you you finish the bottle, or was it THAT bad?

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    Replies
    1. No. I gave it away to a guy in the office where I work. He tends to mix coke with his scotch, so I thought this would be a fitting candidate.

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  17. Having been tempted to try it when it was being knocked out at the bargain price of £15/litre, W&M has become my go-to blend. As far as I am concerned it is is one of the best of the cheap blends. I've stocked up at that price. I love it.

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    1. I only bought one bottle that was the subject of this post and as you probably surmised, it was a huge disappointment. Sometime, I will pick up another bottle to see if it has improved at all.

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  18. I'm looking for the value of W&m collection that I have. Thank you

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  19. It's a bit odd to criticize a blend that makes no claim to be peaty for its lack of peat.

    I think the most you can ask from a whisky at this price point is that it should either be easy drinking (for those who can't handle anything else) or a characterful but rather "wild" mouthful.
    W&M Special is of the latter variety. It's a blend that I think has great heart, not much in the way of subtlety - but definitely a flavourful dram.
    Bottlings are notoriously variable with this blend, but at its best there are some unexpected twists - and it's got guts and heart.

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  20. Hold on there, I think you're being a little unfair on the W and M Special Jason. While it is a bit of a rough ride, it's a whisky with a lot of soul and there aren't that many blends around that have half the character that this has. You don't always want a subtle supper, sometimes only a gutsy drink like this does the job.

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  21. Picked up a bottle of WM Special as they were giving away FREE WM umbrellas with purchase. The whisky ain't half bad for a blend. I'll finish the bottle myself, thanks--and enjoy it. Would like to try other WM offerings (13 yr?) if available through BC liquor stores. Umbrella's handy also!

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  22. Well, is anyone able to explain what the difference is between W&M Special Blended Whisky and W&M Blended Whisky (without Special on the label)?

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