Though it often lacks the glamor of its single malt siblings, the beauty of blended scotch is that it can shapeshift to suit any taste or trend. Skilled blenders with access to thousands of casks can create a whisky that’s brooding and forceful just as easily as one that’s delicate and subtle.
In reality, because blended scotch includes grain whisky—which is lighter in body and flavor than single malt—it has generally landed more on the “easy drinking” side than not. But that doesn’t make blended scotch boring. Taking a survey of the latest releases shows quite the opposite: Blenders are drawing from across the board of whisky trends to offer a diverse array of bottles that appeal to many different palates.
Those trends include barrel finishing, as exemplified by the latest in Dewar’s Smooth line, the Calvados cask-finished French Smooth, and sherry cask maturation for Clydebuilt Coppersmith, a new blend from Ardgowan Distillery. And the popularity of high age statements, showcased in Old Parr’s latest release, remains strong.
Other blenders are taking cues from the past, and even from beyond scotch whisky. Ever-creative Compass Box looked backwards for its newest release, Ultramarine, which pays homage to a particular luxury blend of the 1980s. And Johnnie Walker has pulled a page from the American whiskey playbook with its High Rye blend, a combination of malt and rye grain whiskies, clearly designed with the bourbon fan in mind.
It would be a mistake to write off blended scotch as boring, especially with these five bottles to try.
A blended malt sourced from Speyside and Highland distilleries, this whisky is wholly matured in oloroso sherry casks. It’s part of the growing portfolio of Ardgowan, which is set to break ground on its new distillery, located west of Glasgow, in the near future. Master whisky maker Max McFarlane put together this blend, which will be followed by future editions in the Clydebuilt series, celebrating the craftsmen who constructed some of the world’s finest vessels in Glasgow’s shipyards.
Never shy about pushing the boundaries, Compass Box has a reputation for forward thinking—but its latest release looks to the past, not the future. The first in a series of whiskies dubbed the Extinct Blends Quartet, Ultramarine pays homage to a luxury blended scotch first launched in the 1980s, playing up rich sherry and pipe tobacco notes. The offerings to follow will take inspiration from other historic scotch whiskies, though Compass Box specifies that these are “tributes” and not attempts to recreate lost flavor profiles.
Over the last few years, Dewar’s has breathed new life into its range with a series of limited-edition finishes under the “Smooth” banner. Using casks ranging from mizunara and mezcal to port and rum, the whisky is always 8 years old and priced well within the everyday-drinking range. The latest release, French Smooth, employs Calvados casks from Normandy, lending apple-sweet aromatics and flavors to the base blend.
American whiskey is hot right now—so hot that even scotch is taking cues from it, as exemplified by this blend from Johnnie Walker. While most scotch grain whisky is made from wheat or corn, the grain whisky used here included 60% rye, which is harder to work with (rye tends to foam up and become sticky as it’s cooked) and more expensive. But it apparently was worth it, making enough of a difference to the final flavor profile of the grain whisky to stand out in a distinct blend that also includes a variety of malts typically used for Johnnie Walker Black Label.
A historic brand, named for a man who supposedly lived to age 152, Old Parr often flies under the radar of scotch snobs in the U.S., though it’s big in Colombia and other Latin American markets. But it shouldn’t be overlooked: With rich, meaty Cragganmore at its heart, the blend is an upmarket offering at a great price. In its short, crackle-glassed bottle, it has the look of a throwback, but with the launch of this 18-year-old, the brand is fully engaged in the current moment.