Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: Buchanan's "Finest Deluxe" 12 year old Blended Scotch Whisky

(please double click on the screen above for full size video)

I am always on the look out for an affordable blended Scotch whisky.  So, I thought I would try Buchanan's 12 year old.  This blend has tough competition with Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 yrs and Chivas Regal 12 yrs, so let's see how Buchanan's fairs:

"Nose" (undiluted)
Initially, I am confronted by a whiff of strong alcohol, so I push the glass away, catch my breath and make another eye-watering attempt.  This time I note some sweet grain, dandelion, malty notes too.  Not an impressive aroma coming from the glass, but given the price point I was not expecting much either.  It could still be a delight.

"Palate" (undiluted)
Sweet grains, malty, grapefruit, flat 7-Up, day old Alpenweiss wine, stale oak, before the once sweet grains take on the taste of caramelized onions, a taste that belongs in a frying pan with a steak, not in my Glencairn glass!

"Finish" (undiluted)
Stale, acrid cigarette smoke, extremely grainy lemon-lime flavored Fresca like flavors, and other over ripe citrus notes emerge.

General Impressions
Bleh!  Car sickness comes to mind or how I feel when I reach for an air sickness bag on a long air flight with lots of turbulence.

What really bothers me is the number of gold and silver medals this blend was awarded at past San Francisco World Spirits Competitions, which frankly draws into question that malt whisky arms race.  Consider how Buchanan's 12 scored in the 12 year old blended Scotch category:

2013 - Gold medal
2012 - Gold medal
2011 - Silver medal
2010 - Gold medal

If this blend can get those medals then I think I will whip up my own concoction of 7-Up, discount boxed allegedly German wine, mix with windshield washer fluid and I should be in the running too!  I mean really, this is why I started blogging about Scotch whisky in the first place.  I live to expose absurd awards for truly mediocre and subpar whiskies touted as the Second Coming in the malt world.  That, my friend is my raison d'etre!

Ridiculous Packaging Claims
I really get ticked off when I read the packaging this embalming fluid came in.

Buchanan's spiritual home is Dalwhinnie Distillery in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, the highest distillery in Scotland.  Dalwhinnie Distillery produces a gentle highland malt whisky.

The Buchanan's name and packaging stand for authenticity, quality, integrity and tradition.  The original red seal on the bottle is a guarantee of absolute quality.

Let's start with the first paragraph.  What is actually being said?  "Buchanan's spiritual home is Dalwhinnie Distillery . . ."  What defines a spiritual homeland?  I think of immigrants coming to a strange new country who end up spending a lifetime there, but in there hearts they are still deeply attached to a village outside Prague, Beijing, Mexico City, Dublin, etc.

Can a whisky have a spiritual homeland?  I suppose if the blend pays serious homage to one of the core malts that make it up, as would be the case with say Teacher's Highland Cream and say Ardmore single malt.  But, does Dalwhinnie even constitute one of the many malts that are blended with grain whiskies to make Buchanan's?  I couldn't find any evidence on the net or in many of my whiskies books stating that Dalwhinnie is in this blend.  Moreover, I cannot detect a scintilla of the signature Dalwhinnie flavor profile and character in this cheap bath water blend that could easily double as rubbing alcohol for skid row junkies at their local injection site.

So, what is the connection between Dalwhinnie and Buchanan's?  The only fact linking the two is James Buchanan was an owner of Dalwhinnie at one point.  This single malt was used in a blend he marketed "Black and White" (still available today).  Again, no mention of it in his 12 year old blend.  Spiritual home?  I guess a bad blend can aspire to taste as good as a brilliant single malt.  In short, disregard the packaging and judge the whisky by its taste, a taste that is truly unexceptional and bordering on bad, at least judging from my gag reflex.  However, it is really appropriate to consume on Halloween if you are seeking a good fright.

Jason Debly


  1. Another enjoyable video review, Jason.

    "This is the drink of hobos" made me laugh out loud.

    - Josh

  2. Jason, I'm shocked and surprised. Aside from the commonality of a whiff of dandelions, what you reviewed bears no resemblance to what we enjoy from this label regulalry. Hard to write it off as a difference in perception. But there it is. Cheers. JK

    1. I know that you have enjoyed this in the past and so I thought I would pick up a bottle. I also have a bottle of Buchanan's 18 year old. I trust it will be better than this 12 and more in keeping with your positive experience.

    2. JK, I understand that you have tried this blend as part of a number of other whiskies at tastings. Try it on its own and I think the shine will wear off this dull gemstone.

    3. Jason, The Bog Crawlers prepared to take one for the team this weekend. We threw down $31 for a fresh bottle, expecting the worst at our first post-Summer get together ob Saturday. Pour next to my preferred cheapies (Bank Note 5y and Finlaggan), and alongside our anchor malt (JW Green Label 15y) and JW Red and Black. The Buchanan 12y stood in well both stylistically and with respect to its price point. Group thumbs up for using it for cocktails, with soda or ginger ale or tonic, and on ice alone, with lemon or lime or bitters. On its own, it's sweeter than I remember on entry, but it still had the finishing bitterness that cleans up the palate nicely. That's about it for what's available from Scotland these days for this money, but then again, I always preferred this to JW Black. Neither was ever a dram to chat about, merely something to warm up the taster for a malt session. Still works fine for me in home rotation for the cabinet, generally for (well, generally older guests) who want such an animal when they come by here, and well, they do come by often. Cheers. JK

    4. Hi JK!

      I guess for me, one of the biggest problems I have with Buchanan's 12 year old is that for a 12 year age statement I am expecting a much better drink than I am getting. I always regard Black Label as the best of the 12 year blends and when I compare Buchanan's it just comes up short. But judging by the views of the Bog Crawlers, Buchanan's has many fans.

      Thank you for chiming in!

  3. I have had this several times and enjoyed it despite the flaws of high alcohol burn and grain flavor. I like the tobacco and smoke along with the typical highland flavor. the last bottle I had was terrible and not indicative of the drink I remember. So, I agree with your review of this...not good. I'm more of an Islay fan anyway. -Mark

    1. Maybe Buchanan's 12 was a good blend at one time, and maybe the owners have tinkered with this blend, adding in more young grain whiskies to increase profit which in turn impacts negatively the taste. Other blends have lately had their recipes tinkered with and not for the better. Teachers and Black Bottle come to mind. In the bourbon world, Jim Beam Black is losing its 8 year age statement too. A disturbing trend in the spirits world.

  4. Love the video thing you are adding to your blog. I am once again transitioning to my "winter" drinks. This summer has been perfecting my mai tai/gin and tonic season. But colder wetter pacific northwest weather is perfect for scotch. I still have one bottle of green label (insert sad face.. I miss it...) and one of HP15 for the good nights, but I do need an everyday dump in a rocks glass brand. I usually get black label, but as you mentioned, the price has been creeping up here as well to the point where I would rather shell out an extra 10 or so for a really good single malt. The perception I have is that the big players are stifling the scotch world right now. And you will wind up with mediocre blends and the "good stuff" at a new higher price. With the rise in whiskey popularity it seems everyone wants to get as much out there as quickly as possible.

  5. Thanks for the observations on the whisky industry.

    As for the videos, I just try to accommodate some readers who want video while others just want a written post.

  6. I couldnt agree more with your views on Buchanans 12, being one of the most popular blends in my country, Mexico, I've had the "privilege" of tasting it several times when going out with friends who only drink this and I've always felt it was so inferior to JW Black and extremely overpriced. This thing costs the same as Black, which as every other spirit over here has jacked up prices with respect to the States, so you end up paying 45 bucks for this piece of crap, the same price entry level malts (Glenffidich and Glenlivet). To compare, two blends I consider inferior to JW Black but massively better than Buchanans like Ballantines 12 and Chivas Regal 12 cost 30 and 35 usd each, which I consider a good price for a "drink-in-one-night" bottle as I usually put JW Black in the "sip-n-enjoy" category with my current selection of single malts.

    After reading almost all your reviews Ive realized my tastes align with you nicely, much more than with other bloggers, the first whisky I bought on your recommendation was the Dalwhinnie 15, and so far its the first bottle I've purchased twice to have one closed and ready for whenever I want it. The Talisker 10 is another malt that Has earned a second bottle on my cabinet, I purchased it a month ago and it has became a staple for me, even if none of my friends have liked it so far. When I first tried it, it automatically made Glenffidich and Glenlivet 12 boring for me, so I reserved those bottles for friends who seem to find them much more appealing.

    What I plan to do is taste different single malts and blends until I can have a maybe 10 bottle selection of must have's always on my cabinet, and maybe 3 to 5 bottles on rotation, to try new or different stuff.

    Right now I have these bottles opened:
    Talisker 10 (love it)
    JWBlack (love it)
    Glenffidich & Glenlivet 12 ( put them together because they taste quite similar for me, both are super smooth and drinkable, perhaps too smooth?)
    Hakushu 12 (very good, but not yet know if this is going to be the de facto japanese whisky in my collection as Im dying to taste Hibiki blended and Yamazaki)
    Dalwhinnie 15 (love it)
    Glenffidich 18 (good, super smooth and drinkable, but it costs 120 usd here which makes it severely overpriced in my opinion)

    I've also tried this cheaper blended scotches:
    Ballantines Finest (too much alcohol and grain smell for my taste)
    JW Red (nice surprise as I found it much better than what I remember from my college days)
    Black & white (nothing special to write about but quite drinkable for such a cheap blend)
    Teachers Highland Cream (bought by your recomendation, liked very much, doesnt taste anywhere as cheap as it actually is, none of my friends liked it too much though, one of them said it got a diesel fuel taste on it)

    Finally I have an unopened bottle of Clynelish 14 years which I've read good things about. So if you have any recommendations they will be well recieved.

    Sorry for the wall of text and any bits of broken english you find, thanks again for the great reviews, I really appreciate having unbiased opinions on everyday whiskys, many reviewers focus to damn much on bottles I cant never hope to find or afford, its refreshing to see whisky reviewing withouth the inherent snobbiness that makes most automatically dismiss every blended scotch.

    Congratulations and keep up the good work.


    1. Hi, I'm from Mexico too and couldn't agree more that in here you'll see a Buchanna's like a very very very(I'm not overreacting) whisky, perhaps for the price or because not much people know other brands.

      I don't agree with the fact that JC Black is better than this, I don't like the alcohol-woody-smoky flavor in it, I can't even drink it undiluted now. At one time I think they were both great, but it seems that over the years they're becoming more on the profit side and less in the flavor/taste. As a matter of fact, I've had terrible headaches the next morning with both of them.

      In the JW department I like Double Black better, a little more expensive but way better than Regular Black.

      Also I could recomend you:

      Cahrdu 12
      Macallan 12
      Macallan 12 sherry Oak
      Macallan 18
      Glenlivet 15

      A lot of Macallan I know haha but I love the taste of it heehe

      Also cause I saw you liked Talisker 10, I'll recommend you Talisker Storm (very smokey in fact, so be aware)

      Cheers Everyone!

    2. Hi Juan! Thank you for your comments. The last time i was in Mexico I found Johnnie Walker Black was not very pleasant with the very warm weather. I can see how one might like to add some ice or go with a more refreshing libation.

      I was in Playa del Carman, lovely spot.


  7. Picked this up yesterday and wish I could have read your review before doing so as I heartily agree with your assessment of this over-rated blend. Ralfy had given this a very respectable score of 85 but I now believe he must have been sampling a much older superior release. Anyway the graininess indicative of a cheap blend comes through as well as a smoky (some peat I expect) note that I find unwelcome although I do occasionally prefer a good Islay single malt (e.g., Laphroaig Quarter Cask). So far, the only inexpensive blends that I have enjoyed when taking a break from single malts are Old Parr 12 (quite good), Ballantine's 12 and Dewar's 12. I'm not especially enamored with JW Black, Teacher's, Black Grouse, Islay Mist 8, Pig's Nose or Chivas 12.

  8. a brief visit to the SF Spirits Competition website ( proved very interesting.
    this year's competition saw 1474 entrants, of which 1339 received either a bronze, silver, gold or double gold medal. this means that 135 entrants were so bad they didn't get anything.

    what a farce!

    (btw, J Buchanan's won gold yet again this year - in the category Blended Scotch - Up to 15 Yrs)

    1. It is an absurd farce! I wrote about it a while ago and I did not do any serious analysis of the results but your numbers alone demonstrate that it is not a real 'competition' but rather another industry sponsored promotion.

      I always tell readers to disregard "medals" awarded for this or that whisky.

      Also have a look at the 'judges.' They all basically work for the industry.

  9. Great job on the video, Jason, I look forward to more. You're one of the lucky ones, most bloggers have faces made for the radio...

  10. Don't know a thing about scotch but I was going to give a bottle of Buchanan's to a colleague. Great video! I was just busting up watching it! But also - thank you very much for the insight! Merry Christmas!

    1. Please email me if you are looking for suggestions and maybe I can be of some help.


  11. Ugh! My husband is from Mexico too, and this swill is very popular amongst him and his friends. It's also the only thing they have to offer at our most frequent clubbing spot when you ask for "whiskey", therefore I stick to beer when we venture there. I'm not a snob by any means, and am perfectly happy with a bottle of White-Label Beam, but this stuff is completely undrinkable!

    1. Try Jim Beam Black and other bourbons.

      As you say, I understand that Buchanan's is enormously popular in Mexico and central/south America and that probably has to do with the fact that there are very limited choices for whisky.

  12. Just picked up a bottle last night. I'm a JW Black Label guy but guess I'll have a go at it tonight anyway. Too bad I did not do my research earlier. That's how it goes. Oh well, it would be a crime to waste even average Scotch. Great video also. Cheers!

    1. Just toss some ice in the glass and maybe experiment with 7-Up or another soda. Mine is still half full on a shelf. I will be giving it to a friend who will drink pretty much anything.

      Thanks for commenting!

  13. We're visiting the wife's family down in Coahuila, Mexico, and a bottle of Buchanan's 12 YO is on the counter. I just took a sip, and was thinking of looking for a sink to spit in! I gagged and swallowed out of courtesy. Reaching for my smart phone I found your review. I was not trusting my palate and I was influenced by the high praises of others-could this be as bad as I thought? Thanks for posting your assessment. As a non-smoker I can only compare the taste to the experience of pouring out a week-old beer bottle in which cigarettes have been fermenting.
    Different preferences I guess. Excuse me while I get some dog piss to get the taste out of my mouth!

    1. For some strange reason, Buchanan's 12 is really popular in Mexico and Central America. Not really sure why. Maybe advertising is heavy.

      In any case, Buchanan's 12 is pretty bad stuff unless disguised with Fresca or Lemonade. Even more disappointing is the Buchanan's 18, with its higher price it should really deliver more value to the customer.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment.


  14. I disagree. Buchanan's 12 is equal to if not superior to JW Black or even Double Black. It's not as smokey as JW but just as sweet and drinkable. I've only tried one bottle though. I find whiskies can vary by batch and depending on one's own constitution at the time of intake. So, all of that makes reviewing whiskies kind of foolish and poserish, imo. But, here we are doing just that. Cheers!

  15. There's no accounting for literature, art, film, design, comedy...or whisky. Surely the paneled awards bestowed over the years might chasten, if not humble, or at least give some measure of pause to, a single opinion. I've enjoyed this light, grainy spirit for years, in probably a c.2013 bottling (one of those bemedaled years). I'm partial to the most wrecking-ball of the Islay whiskys, but I enjoy the B-12 as a nightcap or aperitif and have no wherewithal to understand or evaluate your review, which goes far beyond "no accounting for taste," to 'what other substance was he hitting?" at the time of tasting. The dismissive rancor od the review raises questions not only of taste but of judgment and reliability. As I write this, I pause to swirl the very quaff around in my taster. Pretty, with pretty legs...

  16. Does anyone know which malts make up this blend? It could be due to me having currently opened bottles of Glengoyne and Benromach, but get echoes of them both