Long time readers of Scotch Addict will probably recognize that I don’t drink many blended Scotch whiskies, as many of my tasting notes are of single malts, but I do enjoy a blend from time to time to add a bit of variety. One of the blends I’m familiar with is The Famous Grouse, close cousins to The Macallan and Highland Park (each is owned by the Edrington Group).
One of the things I was sent was a recipe for the Black and Blue, a drink inspired by barbecue and includes The Black Grouse. The Black Grouse is intended to be a more heavily peated special edition of The Famous Grouse. You’ll note how it’s called the “darker” grouse because of the smokier character and features a black grouse, rather than a red grouse.
The tasting notes read more like an Islay, with a peaty-smoke nose followed by sweetness. The taste features a smoky-sweet tones, hinted by the nose, followed by cocoa and spice. The finish is said to be long, peaty, and aromatic with gentle smokiness. Having never tried the Famous Grouse (yet), I have no basis for comparison but I suspect this popular blends satisfies even the most aggressive of peat lovers.
As an added bonus, The Famous Grouse donates 50p for every bottle sold to the RSPB to help safeguard the 85,000 acres that make up the native habitat of the black grouse.
The Black and Blue
2 ounce The Black Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky
½ ounce calvados (apple brandy)
½ ounce amaretto
¼ ounce Hazelnut Liqueur
All in all a simple recipe created by Beverage Manager Tinika Green and Andrew Duncan, bartender of famed BBQ restaurant Blue Smoke, NY.
Forbes has a very entertaining and educational article on the history of Scotch whiskies written by F. Paul Pacult, who writes the Spirit Journal. It discusses the origins of scotch whiskies, how whisky is produced today, and talks a lot about column still distillation, which was a more recent innovation. It then moves on to discuss blended scotches, with Pacult sharing his twelve recommendations (in alphabetical order):
- Ambassador Royal Deluxe 12 Year Old, 43% AbV, $20. A lovely, finely balanced blended Scotch with nuanced flavors of nut butter and old oak.
- Chivas Regal 12 Year Old, 40% AbV, $35. The classic luxury brand that put the “luxury” in blended Scotch when it was introduced in 1954. Strathisla is the core malt.
- Chivas Royal Salute 21 Year Old, 40% AbV, $180. One of the greatest, most sublime whisky experiences of any variety that one could have. A legend.>/li>
- Compass Box “Asyla”, 40% AbV, $40. Malt whiskies from stellar distilleries like Linkwood and Cragganmore form the soul of this lithe, feminine blended Scotch.
- Dewar’s Special Reserve 12 Year Old, 43% AbV, $25. Core malt whisky is Aberfeldy. A delicious, mature whisky with seductive flavors of nougat and baked pears.
- Duggan’s Dew, 43.3% AbV, $22. Another best-kept-secret blended Scotch that combines excellent value and outstanding flavor.
- Johnnie Walker Gold 18 Year Old, 40% AbV, $65. The heart of this great Scotch hails from the Clynelish Distillery in the northern Highlands. Simply thrilling.
- Old Smuggler, 40% AbV, $15. A big favorite during Prohibition, Old Smuggler is today an overlooked dram of character and style.
- Pinch The Dimple 15 Year Old, 43% AbV, $33. One of the classiest blended Scotches, whose core malts include Dalwhinnie and Glenkinchie. Elegance in a glass.
- Teacher’s Highland Cream, 43% AbV, $20. The foundational malts are Ardmore and Glendronach. The creamy/oily result is one of the best blended Scotches you can buy.
- White Horse, 40% AbV, $16. The sensational smoky/iodine taste is brought to you courtesy of the Lagavulin Distillery on Islay among others. Unbelievable value.
- William Grant’s Family Reserve, 43% AbV, $16. Both Glenfiddich and Balvenie malts contribute to the sophisticated character of this global favorite.
What is the difference between blended and single malt scotches? Technically, the difference is in production. A blended scotch or whiskey is one in which several, anywhere from a dozen to a hundred, different whiskeys are blended together. A single malt scotch is one in which only one whiskey, from start to finish, is used. From a labeling perspective, blended whiskeys must have been aged at least three years and the age on the bottle must be that of the youngest whiskey in the blend. This isn’t an issue for single malts because there is only one age in the bottle.
As for the part of whiskey that matters, the enjoyment, there is no reason why a blended whiskey would be inferior or superior to a single malt. The difference is only in that single malts from one region will have the region’s characteristics come through in the scotch. This is difficult with blends because you have a lot of different whiskeys blended together. It’s like listening to a violin versus listening to an orchestra, to use the orchestra analogy once again.
So, when choosing what you’ll be having, it’s more important to be familiar with the whiskey rather than look to see whether it’s a blend or a single malt. Like age, whether the scotch is blended or a single malt is a poor indicator of whether you’ll enjoy it.