The holiday season is now in full swing, crowds fill stores, people are smiling, children are giddy with anticipation of Santa, and well you . . . if you are a guy . . . probably haven't bought a gift yet. Maybe you have to buy the father-in-law a whisky, then again it might be the mother-in-law. The boss? You need advice. You need an opinionated blogger. You need me.
Bottom Shelf Blended Scotch Whisky
Where do you start? Blends, vatted malts or single malts? Do you buy the high end spirit or take a deep breath and grab some bottom shelf fire water? Lets start with the bottom shelf and progress from there.
The great appeal of bargain priced blended scotch whisky is that it is very affordable. These are tough times. The economy is not very nice to the hard working people of this world. Not everyone is a Wall Street stock broker, financier or hedge fund operator. Most of us have an honest job that pays just enough for us to make it from one pay check to the next. And there is no shame in that. Honest work is admirable, no matter what it is. If you can only afford the lowest priced blends on the market, have no fear, there are some great blends available. I cannot survey all of them, but I will point you in the direction of a good one, and suggest two terrible bottles to avoid.
Three of the cheapest blended scotch whiskies that come to mind are Bell's Blended Scotch Whisky, Grant's Family Reserve and Teacher's Highland Cream.
Grant's Family Reserve
This blend is sweet, thin in flavor, a flavor profile that consists of cinammon stick, stale cloves, nutmeg and grainy as the Zapruder film of the late President Kennedy. As attractive as the triangular bottle may be, don't cave into the urge to heft it and think "this is alright." No, don't do it.
Bell's Blended Scotch Whisky
This is another cheapie to stay away from. The nose is malty, peppery and reminiscent of thyme. The flavor profile is very sweet malt, green onion grainy, maybe a little lemon grass and lentils that belong in a Middle Eastern soup. Cloyingly sweet brother. The finish is malty again, moving to pepper and ending with grain that tries in vain to be smokey. Drop the bottle! Who cares if it falls to the floor and shatters. You just saved a fellow whisky drinker the pain, suffering and disappointment, much like what poor Liza Minnelli experienced everytime one of her marriages crashed and burned.
Teacher's Highland Cream
This is also probably the lowest priced scotch in the store. The label is ancient and needs to be updated (which apparently will be rolled out shortly). You read the back of it.
"All blended scotch whiskies are made of two kinds of whisky - malt and grain. But Teacher's Highland Cream has an exceptionally high malt content - at least 45%. A feature which contributes to its unique character and flavour."
It is true that most blended scotch whiskies have a much lower malt whisky content, but does it make a difference? The experts say yes. All I know is the flavor is there. What separates Teacher's from Grant's and Bell's is that there is 'flavor' as suggested in the following old ad:
Grant's is especially thin in terms of flavor, requiring you to suck it back like a Cherry Coke. Bell's too, but with Teacher's there is a punch of bacon, sea salt, a little iodine and a big malty background that fills the palate. While the nose of this scotch is close to petrol, the taste is not. Take little sips if served neat. I prefer a teaspoon of water to a double measure. It works with ice too.
As a gift, I think this is good quality for your dollar. If the person receiving your token of generosity is a scotch enthusiast, s/he will know and respect this spirit. If s/he isn't very knowledgeable on the topic of spirits, well, a surprise is about to be sprung.
Premium Blended Scotch Whisky
You can afford more than the economy blended scotch category? Ok. This will be simple.
I have two suggestions. Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 years and Chivas Regal 12 years old. You can't go wrong with either suggestion.
Ultra Premium Blended Scotch Whisky
Royal Salute 21 years. That's all you need to know. Never mind Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Ballantine's 17 year old.
Blended Malt - Pure Malt - Vatted Malt
Or whatever you wanna call it, all you need to reach for is Johnnie Walker Green Label. Middle of the road, honeyed with a flourish of peat to please the more sophisticated palate that wants complexity.
A Holiday Single Malt?
A Christmas single malt for me is one that is powerful and at the same time has a very rich, velvety flavor that is comparable to a great fruit cake in a bottle. For the Christmas season, I have a couple of suggestions: Highland Park 15, Highland Park 18, 25 years and Clynelish Distiller's Edition 1992. All are rich and luxuriant treatments of sherry, toffee and heather. A delight to the serious whisky lover.
I'm gonna go now, but I want to leave you with a song. Please contemplate its message over the holidays. Have a safe holiday, and I'll be in touch in the new year!
Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year!
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved. Poster owns no copyright to music or video, which is posted for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment.