Tag Archives: Blended

Grand Macnish Blended Scotch

Not exactly a house-hold name in the world of scotch blends, Grand Macnish has actually been in continuous production since 1863. Owned by MacDuff International, the brand has seen a recent expansion into a wide number of expressions (including several aged-stated ones). This is review of the entry-level version, which is the most common offering.

The whisky was originally developed by a Glasgow merchant, Robert McNish, who wanted to create a lighter, smoother type of scotch. It is composed of malt and grain whiskies from around the highland/speyside regions of Scotland. While it is not widely available, this entry-level blend has been sold at the LCBO for some time now (currently $40 CAD for 1.14L bottle). Bottled at 40% ABV. I managed to sample it from a friend’s recently opened bottle.

Let’s see how it compares to other entry-level blends in Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.62 ± 0.61 on 12 reviews ($)
Catto’s 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.31 on 5 reviews ($$)
Catto’s Rare Old: 8.02 ± 0.67 on 5 reviews ($)
Chivas Regal 12yo: 7.79 ± 0.44 on 23 reviews ($$)
Cutty Sark: 7.54 ± 0.46 on 15 reviews ($)
Cutty Sark Prohibition: 8.48 ± 0.47 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s 12yo: 7.94 ± 0.35 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.52 ± 0.71 on 14 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse: 7.65 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($)
Grand Macnish: 7.87 ± 0.45 on 8 reviews ($)
Grant’s Blended Sherry Cask: 8.00 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($)
Grant’s Family Reserve Blended: 7.69 ± 0.66 on 14 reviews ($)
Hankey Bannister 12yo Regency: 8.65 ± 0.24 on 7 reviews ($$)
Hankey Bannister Original: 7.87 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker 12yo Black Label: 8.26 ± 0.47 on 24 reviews ($$)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.36 ± 0.59 on 21 reviews ($)
Passport Blended Scotch: 7.29 ± 1.08 on 8 reviews ($)
Teacher’s Highland Cream: 7.95 ± 0.72 on 11 reviews ($)
Whyte & Mackay Special Reserve: 7.47 ± 0.45 on 7 reviews ($)

For the entry-level scotch category, Grand Macnish scores at the higher end of the range.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Heavy brown sugar to start. Pear. Raisins. Lemon curd. A bit floral (lavender). Touch of cloves. Some acetone and raw ethanol, but not bad. Slightly musty note.

Palate: Molasses and brown sugar. Vanilla. Apple and pear. Light cinnamon and pepper. A touch of nuts. Some wet cardboard. Watery mouthfeel, comes across as fairly thin.

Finish: Short. Slight oaky bitterness with a vague frutiness (nothing very distinct). But not unpleasant.

I would rate this as on par (or slightly higher) than the Meta-Critic average. It has relatively few off-notes on the nose, which is surprising for a blend in this price category. While fairly basic and single, it is better than your typical bottom-shelf scotch blend. An easy to drink blend, I would recommend this one for those newcomers to scotch whisky.

The most positive review I’ve seen comes for Jan of Best Shot Whisky. Jim Murray, Ralfy, and Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Serge of Whisky Fun are all relatively positive for the category (and in line with my thinking). The lowest scores I’ve seen comes from RV of Quebec Whisky and Jason of In Search of Elegance.

Fuyu Japanese Blended Whisky

It’s not every day a new Japanese whisky shows up at the LCBO here in Ontario, Canada – especially at $70 CAD for a 700mL bottle. Of course, when that whisky is a custom blend by a wine and spirits merchant based in Bordeaux, France (BBC Spirits), one also has to take a moment’s pause.

Japanese whisky is unquestionably all the rage right now. On a trip to Tokyo last month, I was dismayed by how much prices have increased (and availability decreased) for all the standard bottlings of the established distillers. There are many new entries on the shelves – but from Japanese spirit makers who either don’t distill whisky, or have just started operations (and are therefore sourcing their whisky from elsewhere for sale). At the moment, a lot Scottish and Canadian whisky is making its way to Japan to be bottled by these companies – in fancy-looking bottles meant to mimic the established distillers. Caveat emptor!

So what to make of Fuyu? The label doesn’t have a lot of detail, other than to state it is blended Japanese whisky, small batch (which is meaningless on a whisky), and a product of Japan. The former and latter statements at least give some reassurance that it is actually Japanese whisky in the bottle.

Here is what BBC Spirits website has to say about this blend:

FUYU means WINTER. Our handcrafted blended whisky comes from several distilleries, on Honshu island, that have been carefully selected by BBC. FUYU is a powerful and generous blend, true expression of the Japanese cellar masters’ blending know-how.

Right. FYI, Honshu is the main island of Japan – and eight out of the nine currently operating whisky distilleries are located there. So that’s not exactly a lot to go on. Given the incredible demand for Japanese whisky, I’m a little dubious as to what BBC Spirits would have been able to source at the moment. But for the sake of the local enthusiast community, I thought I’d take a plunge and buy a bottle. If nothing else, I love the label design.

Bottled at 40% ABV. Given the dark colour, I’m sure caramel colouring has been used. It bound to be chill-filtered.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Caramel, vanilla and honey to start. Plum wine. Creamed wheat. Lemon candies. There’s a soft floral component (rosewater?). Surprisingly, I’m detecting signs of Mizunara oak. Unfortunately, I am also getting paint thinner (turpentine) and nail polish remover (acetone). Slight funk, suggesting a lightly peated element in the blend. Seems young overall, with its heavy organic off-notes – but there is definitely something very Japanese about it, with reasonable complexity for a blend.

Palate: Mix of sweet and sour in the mouth. Certainly not as sweet as I expected from the nose. Prunes and green grapes. Creamed wheat again. Ginger. Nutmeg. Has a umami character (soy sauce), and a continuation of that funk from the nose. Dry cardboard. Thin mouthfeel, consistent with the low 40%. Some bitterness on swallow, but mild. Better than I was expecting, honestly.

Finish: Medium. Light corn syrup notes. A butteriness develops now, which is nice. The bitterness persists, but it is more of a ginger type, and seems to fit the blend somehow.

Surprisingly, this has more character than a standard entry-level Japanese blend at this price point. To be honest, its kind of what I imagine Chivas Regal Mizunara might taste like (although I haven’t tried it).

Personally, I prefer Hibiki Harmony over this blend. But there is more going on here than I expected. I would rate Fuyu on par with the Meta-Critic average scores for Suntory Toki and Hibiki Harmony (i.e., ~8.3). It needs some time to open in the glass – but it’s a glass I’m happy enough to finish.

Powers Gold Label

Powers Gold is another one of the common entry-level Irish whiskies, like Jameson, Bushmills or Tullamore Dew.  I’ve been curious to try it for awhile, as I am a big fan of the higher-end Powers 12 year old John’s Lane. I’ve also heard positive things about Gold, compared to the similarly priced Irish blends listed above.

Like many Irish whiskies at this price point, Powers Gold is a blend of pot still and grain whiskies. It is believed to be aged for 5-6 years in ex-bourbon barrels.

Bottled at 42.3% ABV, Powers Gold sells for $40 CAD at the LCBO (after a recent price increase). This makes it at least $5 more expensive the the competition listed above. Is it worth the differential?  Let’s see what the Meta-Critic Database has to say:

2 Gingers Irish Whiskey: 8.05 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.67 ± 0.45 on 17 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.38 ± 0.38 on 22 reviews ($$)
Glendalough Double Barrel: 8.24 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$)
Jameson Irish Whiskey: 7.83 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt Whiskey: 7.97 ± 0.46 on 7 reviews ($$)
Powers Gold Label: 8.04 ± 0.39 on 13 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Original Clan Irish Whiskey: 8.14 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$)
Traditional Irish Whiskey: 7.69 ± 1.04 on 8 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.84 ± 0.36 on 19 reviews ($$)
West Cork Original Irish Whiskey: 8.01 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$)
Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey: 8.49 ± 0.32 on 19 reviews ($$)

It certainly seems to be scoring better than those other entry-level whiskies – although of course, you can pay as much or a little more for an even higher scoring Irish whisky.

I recently managed to try this in a bar in Dublin. Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Almost sickly sweet, with a strong banana note (including green banana). Frankly, it could almost be a banana liquor. Dried fruit, with red berries in particular. Some citrus (orange peel). Vanilla. Hay. Unfortunately, I get a heavy acetone presence, which detracts for me.

Palate: ‎Honey dominates initially. Caramel adds to vanilla. Very ex-bourbon cask character. Cinnamon and nutmeg pick up now. Nutty. Seems lighter in mouth. Decent, but not a lot of character really.

Finish: Medium. First thing I notice lingering is the spice – a bit of pepper, light nutmeg. Caramel. A bit of sourness creeps in over time, but not bad.

I would consider this equivalent to Tullamore Dew in quality, and would rate them both the same at ~7.9 on the Meta-Critic scale.  Drinkable, but nothing too exciting. Seems to have more pot still influence than Jameson, and is also a definite step up from Bushmills Original. But at this price point, you can’t beat the value of Bushmills Black Bush (which remains my top pick for this entry-level Irish class)

The only truly positive review I’ve seen is from Jim Murray (who often scores entry-level blends higher than their more premium versions). Otherwise, the most generally positive reviews (relative for the class) are from Nathan the Scotchnoob, Josh the Whiskey Jug, and Michael of Diving for Pearls.  More typical are Jason of In Search of Elegance, Oliver of Dramming, Chip the Rum Howler, and Serge of Whisky Fun. Somewhat below average are Richard the Whiskey Reviewer and Ralfy.

Grant’s 18 Year Old Blended

This is a limited release of an age-stated version of the Grant’s line of blended scotch whisky (not to be confused with Glen Grant single malts). Prior to this premium age-stated release, I’ve only had the entry-level Grant’s blend (known as “Grant’s Family Reserve”). Although I haven’t reviewed it, I found that no-age-statement (NAS) blend to be very basic, and would not recommended it.

So what drew me to buying this bottle? In my experience, age-stated blends are generally pretty decent, especially from William Grant and Sons (e.g., the Storas 21 yo). Grant’s 18 yo has been finished in Port casks, which typically brings in a fruity character that I quite like. It is reasonably priced at the LCBO ($80 CAD, bought on sale for $64). And I found another whisky enthusiast willing to take a gamble and split the bottle with me, thus further lowering my risk.

Grant’s 18 yo is bottled at the industry-standard 40% ABV. I presume it is chill-filtered and colouring has been added.

Here is how it compares in my Meta-Critic Database to some other blended scotch brands that also come with age-stated expressions:

Ballantine’s 17yo: 8.77 ± 0.32 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Ballantine’s Finest: 7.62 ± 0.61 on 12 reviews ($)
Catto’s 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.31 on 5 reviews ($$)
Catto’s Rare Old: 8.02 ± 0.67 on 5 reviews ($)
Chivas Regal 12yo: 7.79 ± 0.44 on 23 reviews ($$)
Chivas Regal 18yo: 8.23 ± 0.46 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Dewar’s 12yo: 7.94 ± 0.35 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.52 ± 0.71 on 14 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse Gold Reserve 12yo: 8.47 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse: 7.65 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($)
Grant’s 12yo: 8.47 ± 0.42 on 5 reviews ($$)
Grant’s 18yo: 8.71 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Grant’s Blended Sherry Cask: 8.00 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($)
Grant’s Family Reserve Blended: 7.69 ± 0.66 on 14 reviews ($)
Hankey Bannister 12yo Regency: 8.65 ± 0.24 on 7 reviews ($$)
Hankey Bannister 21yo Partner’s Reserve: 8.55 ± 0.43 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Hankey Bannister Original: 7.87 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker 12yo Black Label: 8.26 ± 0.47 on 24 reviews ($$)
Johnnie Walker Blue Label: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)
Johnnie Walker Green Label: 8.53 ± 0.35 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Storas 21yo Rare Cask Reserves Blended: 8.69 ± 0.11 on 4 reviews ($$$)

As you can see, that’s a top score for an age-stated blended scotch. Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Fairly rich and complex nose, likely owing to the Port finishing. Honey and brown sugar. Caramel. A base of apple and pear juice, with figs and raisins. Some red berries (and red grapes). Lemon citrus. Nutty, which I like. A slight bit of funk, which adds to character. A bit spirity, but no real solvent off-notes – definite shows its extended age.

Palate: Tons of honey and caramel to start, very sweet. Vanilla. Fruity, with dried red fruits prominent. Figs again, and the standard apples and pear. Toasted almonds. Malty, which is nice for a blend (i.e., not particularly grainy). Very light wood spice, nutmeg mainly. No burn. Pleasant to hold in the mouth. ‎Turns slightly bitter on the swallow. Still, this is one for those with a sweet tooth. Wish it was higher proof, as it has a rather watery mouthfeel (as expected).

Finish:‎ Medium-short. Lemon zest. Chocolate-covered almonds. A winey Port finish on the fade out, with a bit of oaky bitterness. Some mouth puckering astringency. Not bad for a blend, but a longer finish would be nice.

A good integration of malt and grain whiskies – heavier on the malt, it seems to me. Certainly higher quality than regular NAS blends‎.

I like a nice Port finish on a fairly simple base whisky, like Pike Creek 10yo and Kavalan Concertmaster.‎ This Grant’s 18yo reminds me more of the later, although sweeter in this case. And a lot cheaper around here, too. Higher proof would have been great, along with a longer lasting finish, but a good blend for what it is. I think the Meta-Critic average score is fair.

Lawrence of Malt Maniacs gives it a very high score, as does Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. Ruben of Whisky Notes and Dominic of Whisky Advocate both give it a below average score (but positive reviews). The lowest score comes from Oliver of Dramming.

Tullamore Dew Irish Blended

This is a review of the entry-level Tullamore Dew Original, a no-age-statement (NAS) blended Irish whisky – and one of the best selling Irish whiskies in the world.

Originally produced in Tullamore, County Offaly, Ireland, the Tullamore distillery was established in the early 19th century. The name of this brand eventually changed to  Tullamore D.E.W. – the latter part derived from the initials of Daniel E. Williams, a general manager and later owner of the distillery. The distillery was closed down in the mid-20th century, and remaining stocks were transferred to Powers & Son – which was eventually merged with Midleton in the great Irish whisky consolidation of the 1970s.

In 2010, the brand was purchased from Midleton by William Grant & Sons, the largest independent distiller of whisky in Scotland (who own a number of global whisky brands). They constructed a new distillery on the outskirts of Tullamore, bringing production back to this region after a hiatus of more than half a century.

According to Wikipedia, it is currently the second largest selling brand of Irish whisky in the world, with nearly a million cases per annum in 2015.

I’m generally a fan of Irish whisky, especially the higher end Midleton offerings such as Redbreast 21yo and Powers John’s Lane 12yo. I’m less impressed with most entry level bottlings, like standard Bushmills and Jameson. So when I came across this in an airport business lounge, I thought I’d give it a try.

This entry-level Irish whisky is bottled at 40% ABV. It is reported to be blend of triple-distilled pot still, malt, and grain whiskies, matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and sherry casks.

Let’s see how it fares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Bushmills Original Blended: 7.67 ± 0.45 on 17 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.38 ± 0.38 on 22 reviews ($$)
Jameson Irish Whiskey: 7.82 ± 0.47 on 21 reviews ($$)
Powers Gold Label: 8.00 ± 0.51 on 11 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Original Clan Irish Whiskey: 8.14 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$)
The Quiet Man Traditional Irish Whiskey: 7.56 ± 1.05 on 7 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.84 ± 0.36 on 19 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew 10yo Single Malt: 8.03 ± 0.78 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Tullamore Dew Blended 12yo: 7.98 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$)
West Cork Original Irish Whiskey: 8.01 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$)
Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey: 8.49 ± 0.32 on 19 reviews ($$)

Now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with tons of honeysuckle. Also lots of green apple and pear, green banana plus a bit of honeydew melon. Orange peels. Caramel, but you have search for it. Slightly floral. A bit of an artificial sweetener note – plus acetone – which detracts. But overall a decent nose for an entry-level Irish blend.

Palate: Honey, with a bit of caramel to start. Light vanilla. Nutmeg and some cinnamon show up next. Not as fruity as the nose suggested. Some malt, adding character. Very light, with little mouthfeel (maybe a touch oily). Some minor tongue tingle. Disappears fast after swallowing.

Finish:‎ Short. A slight bitterness picks up quickly, but fortunately doesn’t get too bad. Green apple returns. Spiciness lingers, maybe with a bit of black pepper now. A bit of mouth puckering astringency.

While nothing to write home about, I would rank this at the higher end of the entry-level Irish blends I’ve tried (on par with the higher-ranked Powers Gold). A definite notch above standard Jameson, as the notes are better defined (especially the pot still-derived “green” notes). Good choice for an entry-level Irish whisky.

No one ranks this whisky particularly highly, but the most favourable reviews are from Jim Murray, Michael of Diving for Pearls, Josh the Whiskey Jug and the guys at Quebec Whisky. I’m more in-line with Jason of In Search of Elegance, Ralfy and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. Some of the lowest scores come from Serge of Whisky Fun, Chip the Rum Howler and Jan of Best Shot Whisky.

Hibiki Harmony Master’s Select

Hibiki Harmony Master’s Select is a duty-free (aka “global travel retail”) special release of Hibiki Harmony blended whisky. Unlike some Japanese special-edition “travel exclusives” – which are simply re-labelled and marked-up versions of standard bottlings – Master’s Select is actually a different blend than the regular Harmony.

Master’s Select is reported to be a blend of 10 different Japanese malt and grain whiskies from Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distilleries, aged in 5 different types of casks, including American white oak casks, sherry casks and Mizunara oak casks. The stronger woody character – and use of Yamazaki sherry casks in particular – are emphasized in Suntory promotional materials, in an apparent effort to increase the cachet of Hibiki Master’s Select. As with regular Harmony, there is no age statement, and it is bottled at 43% ABV.

I bought a bottle in early 2016, but only opened it recently. I paid a little over $100 CAD at the time (on sale), which was about the same price as regular Harmony here in Canada. I have always been a big fan of the older Hibiki age-statement expressions (especially the Hibiki 17yo), and am relatively positive on the no-age-statement Harmony expression – although it doesn’t fare as well among most reviewers. So I was curious to see how this Master’s Select version of Harmony would compare.

Here are how the Hibiki whiskies compare to other entry-level Japanese whiskies in my Metacritic Databae:

Hibiki 12yo: 8.61 ± 0.25 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Hibiki 17yo: 8.77 ± 0.32 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Hibiki Harmony: 8.36 ± 0.54 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Hibiki Harmony Master’s Select: 8.19 ± 0.74 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries: 8.64 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR): 8.20 ± 0.46 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Mars Iwai Tradition: 7.69 ± 1.03 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mars Maltage Cosmo: 8.56 ± 0.27 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka All Malt: 8.44 ± 0.18 on 8 reviews ($$)
Nikka Coffey Grain: 8.48 ± 0.52 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Coffey Malt: 8.77 ± 0.42 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka From the Barrel: 8.82 ± 0.36 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Black: 8.78 ± 0.21 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Red: 8.53 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt White: 8.70 ± 0.32 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Suntory The Chita Single Grain: 8.36 ± 0.39 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Suntory Toki: 8.24 ± 0.45 on 10 reviews ($$$)
White Oak Akashi Blended: 7.60 ± 0.67 on 8 reviews ($$$)
White Oak Akashi Single Malt (NAS): 7.94 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Similar to regular Harmony, but with more dry oakiness up front. Not particularly fruity, but I do get light pears, plums, bananas and orange rind (plus some lemon curd). Floral, with some sort of fruit blossom. Lots of vanilla, as before – perhaps even more so. Toasted coconut, which is new. Wood spice. A slightly funky note, vaguely vegetal, which I don’t recall on standard Harmony. Definitely a bit more character here, but not all of it good. Also more acetone, which detracts for me.

Palate: Similar opening waves of vanilla and honey, with the arrival of prominent caramel now. Stronger orange citrus taste now than before. Dark chocolate (with that classic bitterness). Cinnamon and nutmeg. Something vaguely earthy, but I can’t quite place it (ginger? not quite). Simply put, it seems like a more heavily-oaked version of Harmony, especially with that lingering bitterness – which builds on each sip, unfortunately. Less of the delicate perfumy/incense notes than the regular Harmony (but they may be drowned out by the earthy wood tones). Decent mouthfeel, slightly silky in texture.

Finish: Short, but longer than regular Harmony. Nutmeg. Bitter apple. That ginger-like note from the palate is prominent, with a vague wet cardboard note. The oaky bitterness lingers the longest – rather unpleasant, frankly. Again, the complexity is up a bit, but this is the most disappointing part of the experience.

This “master’s select” version of the NAS Hibiki is no match for the age statement versions of old. It lacks the traditional subtlety of Hibiki, and seems to have gone for a flavour-shortcut, by exposing a younger blend to heavier wood influence.

If you like an earthy, oaky structure in your whisky (i.e. virgin wood), then this might be a blend for you.  But for most casual whisky drinkers, I expect standard Harmony would be preferred. For me, some of the more delicate characteristics of Harmony are lost here, and too much oaky bitterness has been added.

There are few reviews of this whisky, but Dramtastic gave it a positive review with an average score (compared to a very low score for standard Harmony). On Reddit, _xile also gave it an average score (and greatly preferred it over standard Harmony).  Josh the Whiskey Jug get it a slightly lower assessment than Harmony, and muaddib99 of Reddit gave it a much lower score than standard Harmony.

I’m in this latter camp, and give this a lower score than Harmony. That said, I think the Meta-Critic average scores are a little low for both NAS Hibiki expressions. In choosing between them, it really comes done to how much you like a woody presence in your whisky. But I recommend you start with standard Harmony – or the age-statement versions of course, if you can find them.

Highland Queen Blended Scotch

I had never heard of this particular brand – and so was surprised to see several different bottlings of blended Scotch whiskies and single malt expressions on the shelf on a recent trip out West.

The origin of the brand name dates back to 1893, with the Highland Queen blend of Macdonald & Muir Ltd. Named in honour of Mary Queen of Scots, the original Highland Queen was supplied by Glenmorangie distillery. The brand was purchased in 2008, and the Highland Queen Scotch Whisky Company was established at the Tullibardine distillery, in the Scottish Highlands.

I’ve had a few Tullibardine malts, which are generally quite mild and inoffensive. It’s definitely a “gentle dram” maker, and should work well for basic blends.

This entry-level scotch blend is the base expression of the Highland Queen line, aged for 3 years and bottled at 40% ABV. I saw this this bottling on sale for $26 CAD in a COOP in Calgary, Alberta.

Let’s see how it compares to other entry level blends in my Meta-Critic Database:

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.62 ± 0.61 on 12 reviews ($)
Bank Note 5yo Blended Scotch: 8.09 ± 0.67 on 5 reviews ($)
Bell’s Original: 7.57 ± 0.77 on 7 reviews ($)
Black Bottle (after 2013 re-launch): 7.99 ± 0.47 on 12 reviews ($$)
Catto’s Rare Old: 8.02 ± 0.68 on 5 reviews ($)
Cutty Sark: 7.53 ± 0.46 on 15 reviews ($)
Famous Grouse: 7.64 ± 0.56 on 20 reviews ($)
Grant’s Family Reserve: 7.69 ± 0.67 on 14 reviews ($)
Hankey Bannister Original: 7.87 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($)
Highland Queen: 7.92 ± 0.45 on 3 reviews ($)
Islay Mist 8yo: 7.91 ± 0.47 on 9 reviews ($)
J&B Rare: 6.98 ± 1.03 on 11 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.36 ± 0.59 on 21 reviews ($)
Teacher’s Highland Cream: 7.95 ± 0.72 on 11 reviews ($)
Whyte & Mackay Special Reserve: 7.47 ± 0.46 on 7 reviews ($)

There are only a limited number of reviews, but so far Highland Queen is scoring on par with the higher-end of the base scotch blends in my database.

I was given a sample to try, let’s see what I found in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with honey and caramel initially. Standard apples and pears (apple juice), but not a lot of fruit otherwise. A touch of nutmeg. Very simple, but pretty decent for an entry-level blend, with a surprising lack of solvent notes.

Palate: Apples remain the most prominent here, caramel-dipped. Honey, with a bit of vanilla. Something faintly herbaceous, but nothing specifically identifiable. Maybe a touch of anise. Light and watery mouthfeel, with no real burn.

Finish: Short. Quick and clean, just faint apple juice and honey. Disappears with no off notes, but a slight touch of bitterness does creep in.

A very basic blend, with a limited ex-bourbon barrel flavour palate. But surprisingly lacking the off-notes that mar most entry-level blends for me.

This base blend gets a decent score from Jim Murray (though still below average), and a positive review (but a low score) from Jonny at Whisky Advocate. Personally, I’m in-between on this one, but closer to Jonny in score. Nothing to specifically seek out, but as the Meta-Critic shows, you could do a lot worse.

Hankey Bannister 12 Year Old Regency

I first came across this blended scotch at a beer lounge and restaurant called Easy Beer in Riga, Latvia. Although I had heard of Hankey Bannister scotch blends, I had never actually encountered one in my travels. And to my surprise, it was priced similarly to Bulleit bourbon as the lowest-priced whisky on hand for sampling. After this tasting, I subsequently went out and bought a 700 mL bottle at a nearby Spirits & Wine depot for 27 € (or just under $40 CAD).

In case you were wondering about the brand name, it is actually the combination of two proper surnames – Beaumont Hankey and Hugh Bannister – who came together to form the Hankey Bannister & Co. in 1757. While not as well known as some other blenders, their range of blended scotch whiskies have found favour with many over the years (e.g. Sir Winston Churchill is reported to have been a big fan).

Today, the brand is owned by Inver House, which also owns the malt distilleries Balblair, Pulteney, Speyburn, Balmenach and Knockdhu (AnCnoc) – whose malts, presumably, are used to create this 12 year old blend. Note that this 12 yo “Regency” bottling is different from their no-age-statement offering (also known as “Original”), which typically sells at around the floor price for blended scotch in jurisdictions that carry it (e.g., it is about half-priced in Latvia, at 14 € for a 1 L bottle – or $21 CAD). As an aside, Latvia has generally good prices on spirits – except for premium bottles, which have an even greater mark-up than here in Canada.

Packaging for Hankey Bannister 12 yo is pretty basic, and reminds me a lot of the current entry-level Johnnie Walker bottles (i.e., screw caps, and thin rectangular bottles and boxes to allow easy shelf stocking). Bottled at the industry standard 40% ABV.

Here’s how Hankey Bannister compares to the competition in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.62 ± 0.61 on 12 reviews ($)
Ballantine’s 17yo: 8.79 ± 0.34 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Compass Box Great King St Artist’s Blend: 8.59 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Compass Box Great King St Glasgow Blend: 8.56 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Chivas Regal 12yo: 7.77 ± 0.42 on 22 reviews ($$)
Chivas Regal 18yo: 8.24 ± 0.53 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Chivas Royal Salute 21yo: 8.53 ± 0.62 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.52 ± 0.70 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s 12yo: 7.87 ± 0.33 on 13 reviews ($$)
Hankey Bannister 12yo Regency: 8.57 ± 0.20 on 6 reviews ($$)
Hankey Bannister 21yo Partner’s Reserve: 8.56 ± 0.43 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Hankey Bannister Heritage: 8.50 ± 0.10 on 4 reviews ($$)
Hankey Bannister Original: 7.87 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker Black Label: 8.25 ± 0.48 on 24 reviews ($$)
Johnnie Walker Blue Label: 8.53 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Johnnie Walker Green Label: 8.53 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Johnnie Walker Platinum Label: 8.42 ± 0.45 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.37 ± 0.59 on 21 reviews ($)
Té Bheag: 8.47 ± 0.29 on 15 reviews ($$)

That’s a decent Meta-Critic score for what is basically still an entry-level price scotch blend.

Here’s what I find in the glass:

Colour: Standard whisky colouring – pretty sure E150 spirit caramel has been added to this one.

Nose: I get classic honey and caramel on the nose, plus vanilla. Light berries, green grapes. Lemony citrus. Graham crackers. Creamy wheat and a grain sensation. Something spirity, almost mineralized (flint?). Furniture wax (lemon-scented Pledge, in fact). Faint touch of glue. Quite a decent nose for a blend.

Palate: Sweet honey and caramel dominate, with butterscotch and nougat. Very buttery – in both taste and texture. Lemon biscuits. Frosting. No real fruit, beyond typical apple/pear. Light spice. Some minor tongue tingle.  A bit light overall, consistent with low ABV.

Finish: Short. Caramel is the main note that remains. That spirity note from the nose returns – there is a definite minerality here. Has a club soda-like cleansing feel at the end.

This was a great find – one of the better blended Scotch whiskies that I’ve tried. I would put it on par with Johnnie Walker Blue Label (which is nearly 10 times as expensive), with which it shares a similar honeyed style. It rivals the quality of some comparably-aged Japanese blends out there (which are now sadly unavailable, or much more expensive). And it matches or exceeds most entry-level single malts in this age range (e.g., I find it more complex than the similarly honeyed – but more expensive – Singleton of Dufftown 12 year old). If you like this style of whisky, Hankey Bannister 12 yo Regency is pretty hard to beat for the price.

As an aside, my wife (who is not a big scotch drinker) really enjoyed this one – and encouraged me to bring back a bottle. I think it is very well suited to the casual whisky drinker who doesn’t like obvious smoke in their whisky. Among reviewers, the most positive is Ralfy, followed by Serge of Whisky Fun. It gets slightly below average scores from Jim Murray and Jan of Best Shot Whisky.

Twelve Barrels

A number of recent additions to the LCBO catalog of Canadian whisky have piqued my interest – including this first release under the new “Twelve Barrels” brand.

The name is derived from some local lore in the town Napanee, Ontario (from whence the creator of this whisky, Cole Miller, originates). Apparently, a minor local celebrity named John took to jumping over whisky barrels on skates – eventually working his way up the eponymous Twelve Barrels.

This entry-level whisky is blended from whisky sourced from a few different distilleries. It is bottled at the industry standard of 40% ABV, and is sold at the LCBO for $35 CAD.

There are few reviews so far, but here is how it compares to other entry-level Canadian whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Alberta Premium: 8.16 ± 0.67 on 12 reviews ($)
Canadian Club (Premium): 7.30 ± 0.71 on 18 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.30 ± 0.41 on 16 reviews ($)
Crown Royal: 7.60 ± 0.47 on 19 reviews ($)
Crown Royal Black: 8.20 ± 0.50 on 16 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Barrel Select: 8.44 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($)
Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve: 8.70 ± 0.36 on 14 reviews ($)
Gibson’s Bold 8yo: 8.25 ± 0.46 on 5 reviews ($)
Gibson’s Finest Sterling: 8.02 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($)
Hiram Walker Special Old Rye: 8.20 ± 0.38 on 9 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe: 7.90 ± 0.68 on 10 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Double Still Rye: 8.34 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Small Batch: 8.53 ± 0.26 on 11 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Special Blend: 7.42 ± 0.75 on 6 reviews ($)
Twelve Barrels: 8.09 ± 0.45 on 4 reviews ($$)

My sample of Twelve Barrels was provided directly by Cole for this review. All opinions in the review remain my own, of course.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, ultra-light corn syrup. Caramel and vanilla. Orange peel. Red berries. Dusty rye spices, cinnamon and nutmeg. Dry kindling, seasoned wood. Very rye forward, almost an American straight rye character (or a light-style, high-rye bourbon). Much more rye than a typical Canadian whisky. Acetone and a touch of glue, but not objectionable – it does seem young though. But better than I was expecting so far.

Palate: There’s that American rye again, starting out with powerful initial wallop.  Cinnamon spice, black pepper. Simple sugar syrup backbone. Orange peel again. Old cedar chest. Some creamy cereal notes (Weetabix?). There is something here that reminds me of Century Reserve 21, but not as refined. Watery, as expected for the ABV.  A cut above most entry-level Canadian whiskies so far, easy enough to sip. But a persistent bitterness rises quickly right after swallowing.

Finish:‎ Fades fast, like most of the competition in this class. Slight artificial sweetness with a dry bitterness settle in – and that glue note returns. These all point to its youth. Disappointing in this regard, honestly.

Well, that was interesting: starts off like an American rye, morphs into a Canadian corn/wheat whisky in the mouth, and ends like a typical Canadian corn whisky.‎ Similar to a lot of entry-level Canadian whiskies, the finish is rather disappointing (what little there is). But it strike a pretty good balance on the nose and palate, with more character than I expected.

Interestingly, I found I was holding this whisky in my mouth longer than usual on each sip. But not because I was waiting for something new to emerge – it was to prevent the rise of that slight bitterness after swallowing.

Among reviewers, the most positive is Jason of In Search of Elegance, followed by Davin of Canadian Whisky. The most negative is Andre of Quebec Whisky, who gives it a low score. I would personally be somewhere in the middle of all of these. Looking forward to trying what Cole comes up with next.

Jameson Irish Whiskey

One of the most recognizable names in Irish whisky, Jameson is a core brand of the Midleton distillery of County Cork. An empire was built on the shoulders of this slender green bottle – Jameson is the top-selling Irish whisky across the world.

This base expression of Jameson is a blend of traditional pot still whisky and inexpensive column-distilled grain whisky. As with most Irish whisky, it is triple-distilled and aged for a minimum of 4 years. It is bottled at the industry-standard minimum strength of 40% ABV. You can typically find it at or near the “floor” price for budget whisky in most jurisdictions.

Standard Jameson is known for its relatively “smooth” flavour – a term widely used by casual whisky drinkers to denote a relative lack of sharp, off-putting notes – and widely derided by enthusiasts who look for greater complexity and character. But personally, I find there is something to be said for a lack of off-notes in an entry-level expression. I was gifted a bottle a while back, so I figured it was time I tried it neat again, for a proper review.

Here is how it compares to other inexpensive Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

2 Gingers Irish Whiskey: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 3 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.36 ± 0.38 on 22 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.67 ± 0.45 on 17 reviews ($$)
Glendalough Double Barrel: 8.23 ± 0.38 on 6 reviews ($$)
Jameson: 7.84 ± 0.50 on 21 reviews ($$)
Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition: 8.19 ± 0.51 on 9 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.37 ± 0.38 on 18 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan 8yo Single Grain (Greenore): 8.15 ± 0.38 on 12 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt: 7.97 ± 0.53 on 6 reviews ($$)
Powers Gold Label: 7.99 ± 0.51 on 11 reviews ($$)
Teeling Small Batch (Rum Cask Finish): 8.35 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve: 8.29 ± 0.36 on 7 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Original Clan Irish: 8.15 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$)
The Quiet Man Traditional: 7.56 ± 1.04 on 7 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.83 ± 0.38 on 18 reviews ($$)
Tyrconnell Single Malt: 8.17 ± 0.38 on 14 reviews ($$)
West Cork Original: 8.01 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$)
Writers Tears Pot Still: 8.49 ± 0.32 on 19 reviews ($$)

And this is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Strong grain sensation tickles the nose hairs, followed by honey sweetness. Pear and green apple. Faint citrus (grapefruit). Something you could describe as floral, but indistinct (dried flower arrangement?). Grass clippings. A bit of old book bindings (i.e., dried glue). Not as bad as it sounds, but definitely more on the dry side than the sweet side.

Palate: Immediate grain hit, followed by gentle malt and sweet light honey. Light fruits (pear and apple again), but also unripened ones (e.g. green banana). A little vanilla. Green grass and some hay. Unfortunately a slight artificial sweetener note builds with time. Watery mouthfeel, but a slight stinging sensation asserts itself after swallowing, oddly.

Finish: Light, short finish. Honey initially, then fades into the typical mix of slightly artificial syrup and mild bitterness.  Maybe some faint spice, but mild.

One comment to make right off the bat – although those are the flavours I could detect, the overall experience is a bit frustrating as all the notes are lighter than usual. It is almost as it were bottled at even lower proof or something – there really is not a lot of sensory experience going on here.

I don’t know anything specific about the mix, but I presume this is more grain whisky than pot still. Supposedly, there are some sherry barrels in here – but I can’t find them. Not that this is not a bad pour per se, it is just boring. I think it is fair to say that this is “easy drinking” (another code word for bland), and won’t overly task your taste buds. But it is best suited to mixed drinks or on the rocks, and for those who don’t like strong whisky flavours. Personally, I would still prefer this over the entry-level Bushmills recently reviewed, which I find too sweet.

As for reviewers, there is one anomalous score – Jim Murray loves this base expression, giving it one of his top scores. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this – Mr Murray has a tendency to give top marks to a number of entry-level blends (see a discussion here). Otherwise, the most generally positive review I’ve seen is from Nathan the Scotch Noob, followed by Micheal of Diving of Pearls, Josh the Whiskey Jug , Jonny of Whisky Advocate and Ralfy (although all still give a well below average score).  Some of the lowest scores in my database come from Thomas of Whisky Saga, S.D. and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, and Serge of Whisky Fun. I must say I am personally at this lower end of the spectrum as well.

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