Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday Scotch Whisky Suggestions!

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 WhiskyGrant'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 15Highland 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.

Final Thought
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!

Jason Debly

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.


  1. Jason "Deck the Halls" Debly,

    Very solid recommendations...although I was not expecting anything but! People who don't know much about whisk(e)y who want to impress a boss, father-in-law, etc with a luxurious spirit will no doubt be thinking of reaching for the Johnnie Walker Blues and so on. People need to know whisky doesn't need to be so mystified, or even so daunting! I am very pleased to see your Teacher's Highland Cream recommendation- truely a steal. A curiosity while I am thinking about it: Do you have any intention of reviewing the Ardmore, that chief single malt in Teacher's? Indeed, a curious malt it is (a thoroughly peated Speysider, with a strong Highland tinge!)

  2. Hello! Yochanan. Ardmore is on the 'list.' The list is very long though, so not sure when I will get to it. I have had it many times and it does not disappoint. Fascinating the peat level it has for a Speysider as you have pointed out.

    Happy Holidays! I'll toast your good fortune with my next dram!

  3. Hi Jason, I agree with your recommendations, especially Bell's. A few years ago Bell's was my favourite cheap blend.

    Then this happened -

    I don't know for sure what the official story was, but I can guess. As the story in the link mentions, with the boom in sales worldwide, it must have been financially impossible for Diageo to maintain their margins with this product. In order to carry an age statement, every whisky in the blend must be at least the minimum age on the label. Even the grain whisky in the old blend had to be at least 8 years old. They couldn’t afford to make it and sell it where they had it positioned in the marketplace. It was a shame to lose it. The new mix is only drinkable with a pile of ice or drowned with mixer. The rawness of the spirit will strip off the back of your throat after it has finished burning away your taste buds. I really think it should not be offered for sale in the present formulation.

    OK; enough bad news. I realize that the time to give someone else a present has passed for the year. However there is a whole new year coming for you to treat yourself. Here’s my suggestion. It can’t be called Scotch, but the Nikka “Whisky From the Barrel” will put most single malts to shame. If you can find it in your area, do not pass it up. I sincerely believe that it isn’t only a fantastic blend, it may vary well be absolutely one of the finest whiskys on this planet. It is bottled at close to cask strength so even though it only comes in a 500ml size, a bottle should last as long as a regular sized offering. However, your mileage may vary. This whisky offers such a rich experience that it is very difficult put it away. As it takes all the willpower I have to stop at one, I now have it only as a treat. Santa knows I was not good enough last year to deserve any more. Happy holidays everyone.

  4. Unfortunately, the "Nikka" is not available where I live. A Japanese whisky I presume.

    I had some Hibiki 17yrs this holiday season, and I forgot it was a blended whisky. It really tastes like a single malt, and an incredible one at that. I am not hung up on country of origin, just the flavor profile, and the Japanese whisky I have had to date has been outstanding.


  5. Beter late than never: Black Bottle 10 year old is great value for money in my opinion.

    Spurred on by the revue of the Nikka above, along with the reasonable asking price (22 euro) i purchased a bottle. It's definitely special, but I would sooner call it a bourbon than a whisky. Reminds me very much of Makers Mark.
    Makes me wonder how the malt whisky's from Japan taste, so will have to try one soon for comparison.

    Happy new year and cheerz everyone, Boris.

  6. Glad to hear you enjoyed the Nikka. I understand why you would compare it with Bourbon, it has that same mouth filling sensation. Big flavours. It is all malt though, a blend of 2.

    Sure would love to get my hands on the Black Bottle. Not available in BC where I live, or in Alberta or Washington where I could go as well. Pity. How does it compare to the Black Grouse?

  7. Hi Howard,

    Couldn't say as I haven't tried it.
    Black Bottle is an affordable blend, like Teachers or BNJ, very good for the price and great as a gift in my opinion. No malt beater, just a great introduction to Isla Whisky.

    Is the Nikka made up of Just two malts? I could not find the info and the label just says it's a blended Whisky. A very nice one though and great value for money. Just a shame about the stupid bottle which is almost impossible to pour from without spilling.


  8. Hi Boris (Hi Jason too!) not sure where I thought I saw that it was two malts. Might have been here

    Agree with the difficulty pouring, but once the level starts going down - boo - it gets much easier. Maybe the Japanese have a nifty pouring trick. Sure is different though.