The Best Blended Scotch of 2022

The results of the 2022 Spirits Jury have just been announced by the International Wine and Whiskey Competition (IWSC). A total of 85 judges, mostly based in the UK, assessed over 4,000 entrants in a dozen main categories.

In the Scotch Whiskey category, traditionally one of the competition’s largest and most competitive segments, a total of 12 blended Scotch whiskeys received the coveted Outstanding Gold Medal. Winners ranged from iconic brands like Royal Salute The Malts Blend 21 Year Old to lesser-known brands like Scottish Leader or The Woodsman.

The IWSC is an annual wine and spirits competition. Founded in 1969 by Anton Massel, it has become one of the biggest competitions of this type in the world. Spirits are rated on a 100 point scale and awards are given for Outstanding Gold (98-100 points), Gold (95-97 points), Silver (90-94 points) and Bronze ( 85-89 points).

The two best blended Scotch whiskeys were the

Distell International, Black Bottle Alchemy Series Double Cask Blended Scotch Whiskey and JG Thompson & Co, Rich 23 YO Blended Malt Scotch Whiskey. Both expressions scored 99 points out of 100.

Black Bottle is a classic blended whiskey dating back to 1879. After a long period of decline, the brand was revitalized in the 1990s using a new blending formula using single malts from Islay and Speyside. Distell acquired the brand when it purchased Burns Stewart in 2013.

Black Bottle combines the peaty, smoky backbone of Islay with the fruitiness and elegance of classic Speyside whiskies, reproducing a style reminiscent of 19th century blended Scotch whiskies. The jury described the whiskey as follows:

Aromas of lemon cake, wheat, bread, citrus and grapefruit on the nose combined with flavors of orange blossom, pomelo, pepper and spice on the palate with a long finish.

Black Bottle also won an outstanding gold medal for its Alchemy Series Island Smoke Blended Scotch Whiskey Black Bottle. This expression scored 98 out of 1oo. The official tasting note described the whiskey as follows:

Sweet and creamy style with orchard fruit, delicate balance and ginger spice on the finish.

JG Thompson & Co was the name of an historic 18th century liquor and wine merchant based in Leith, the port of Edinburgh. The brand was resurrected in 2021 by the Artisanal Spirits Company, owner of the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society, as a bottler of unique single-barrel “small batch spirits”. The company also bottles an assortment of rums and gins.

The jury’s tasting notes describe Rich 23 YO Blended Scotch Whiskey as showing:

Wonderfully expressive, presenting aromas of orange and caramel before complex and interwoven flavors of mango, brown sugar, banana and cinnamon. There is a deep earthy and toasty oak character that runs through the whole wine. Chocolatey and extremely long on the finish. Divine!

Hankey Bannister won two outstanding gold medals for their 12 YO Regency Blended Scotch Whiskey and their Heritage Blend Scotch Whiskey. The brand is not well known in the US which is a shame as it is an excellent blended Scotch whiskey and represents exceptional value.

The official jury tasting note describes the 12 YO Regency as:

Vanilla and caramel led by a floral, honey and stewed fruit nose. Nice nose of fruitcake on the finish.

While heritage was described as:

Inviting citrus blossom aromas develop in botanicals, citrus blossom and coconut. Elegant, fragrant and accessible.

Whyte & Mackay won two outstanding gold medals for The Woodsman Blended Scotch Whiskey and for Waitrose Rich and Warming 3 YO Blended Scotch Whiskey. The latter is a retailer-specific brand that is not available in the United States.

The official jury tasting notes describe The Woodsman as having:

Beautiful vegetal notes welcome the nose, supported by notes of orange peel and turmeric. Beautifully peppery on the palate with flavors of toasted vanilla sugar and a pleasant herbaceous finish.

Chivas Brothers, Royal Salute, The Malts Blend 21 Year Old Blended Malt Scotch Whiskey also won an outstanding gold medal. The brand was launched in 1953 by Chivas Brothers to commemorate the ascension of Princess Elizabeth to the British throne. The blend was based on single malt from Strathisla, Speyside’s oldest working distillery.

The name Royal Salute and reference to the number 21 refers to the practice of giving the reigning monarch a 21-gun salute. The salute, reserved for a visiting monarch or head of state, is considered the highest military honor a state can bestow.

Unlike typical blended Scotch whiskeys, which are a blend of grain whiskey and multiple single malts, The Malts Blend consists of single malt whiskeys only. These types of blends were once called “Vatted Malts” but today are simply called “Single Malt Blends”. The Malts Blend consists of over 21 different single malts that have been aged between 21 and 25 years.

The jury described The Malts Blend as having:

Light, lively, fruity and creamy. Rich oak, vanilla and sweet banana marshmallow.

Ian Macleod Distillers, Isle of Skye 21 YO Blended Scotch Whiskey also won an outstanding gold medal. Although the label refers to the Isle of Skye, it is actually a blend of whiskeys from Speyside and the Western Isles, including Skye and Islay. The blend centers around the Isle of Skye’s most famous single malt – Talisker.

The jury described it as follows:

A subtle nose opens to reveal an inviting green flavor before a bold palate of sweet apples, flowers and seashell minerality comes through with concentrated intensity, offset by sweet smoke.

The other two winners were William Grant & Sons Distillers, Grant’s 8 YO Sherry Cask Edition Blended Scotch Whiskey and Scottish Leader, 12 YO Blended Scotch Whiskey. The official tasting note described the Sherry Cask edition as follows:

Nose of peach, raisin, burnt sugar, cherry, caramel, licorice and warm oak. Rounded and soft with a drying finish and dried fruit, toasted coconut and oak on the palate.

While the Scottish Leader 12 was described as:

White grape on the nose leads to a smoky cheese character and a hint of mango. The palate displays the breadth of Mezcal flavors with hints of cherry, blackberry and maraschino-like brine, with a satisfying diesel finish.

Despite the continued and growing popularity of single malt Scotch whisky, blended Scotch whiskey remains the top-selling category of Scotch whiskey in terms of volume and revenue. Blended whiskeys are often dismissed as lacking the depth and sophistication of single malt expressions. This is unfortunate and also wrong.

Blended Scotch whiskey can offer the depth, nuance and complexity typically associated with single malt Scotch and often represents better value. If you’ve strayed from drinking blended Scotch whiskey or never bothered to try them, these 12 medal winners are a good place to start. They represent the best of the best blended Scotch whiskies.

Sláinte

Freeda S. Scott