We do like a good blended whisky here on Malt. (Have a read of this interview with whisky legend Charles MacLean on blended Scotch.)
Cheap blends are often looked down-upon, particularly if you’re just starting to explore single malts, but they do provide the backbone of the whisky industry. And that’s why I like to cover them here, too. It’s all right reviewing whiskies worth hundreds and, on occasion, thousands of pounds, but that’s not much good for the majority of whisky drinkers. Particularly after Christmas, when everyone is scratching around for spare change in the sofa in order to make it to payday.
And now it’s time to look at another of the UK’s major blends – Whyte & Mackay Blended Scotch Whisky.
Whyte & Mackay
The company, Whyte & Mackay, has been around a long time. Since 1844. Based in Glasgow, its brands make up around 3% of the UK whisky market. It’s very sought after by corporations, too, and has changed owners quite a few times in recent years. Now it’s owned by a Philippines firm, Emperador, who bought it for a cool £430m. Whyte & Mackay is also the 26th largest blended Scotch brand worldwide.
Their master blender is Richard Paterson, who knows a thing or two about putting good whiskies together. He’s released some astonishing The Dalmore whiskies, and some – in my opinion – not so good Jura whiskies (I just can’t get excited about that spirit). They also own Fettercairn and Tamnavulin, as well as the gargantuan Invergordon single grain distillery.
The Whyte & Mackay Special Blend – the core of their range – is ‘triple matured’. First is the standard maturation of individual single malts. They’re then brought together and married in sherry casks, where they’re matured for a further few months. Then aged grain whiskies are added, where the new blend of whisky matures a little longer. In total, 41 different whiskies are used to make up the blend.
You can pick bottles of this up very cheaply indeed. Small bottles for less than £10 in many places, such as your local supermarket. Although rather bizarrely I won this in a raffle, so it didn’t cost me anything.
On the nose: quite confident, creamy, vanilla custard, flashes of dried fruits. Malty. Like a bowl of porridge with a lot of heather honey stirred into it.
In the mouth: flavour! Quite a bit actually. Sweet: dried fruits, molasses or maple syrup. A little bit of woodiness in there too. Malted Milk biscuits. The burnt sugar crust on a crème brûlée There’s something very dark rum-like about it, too. Yes, it’s not complex, not even close, but there’s plenty going on. Compared to Bell’s or Famous Grouse, it’s far more flavoursome. And as with many blends, there’s good texture to the spirit.
I think because this last year I’ve become more a fan of sherried style whiskies than peated whiskies, this one ticks my box. If you’re not a fan of that sweetness then it may not be for you. I can imagine this going one of two ways. If you’re totally new to whisky, perhaps Bell’s – being more mellow and dialling down the flavours – might be the better bet. Whyte & Mackay just has far more flavour, and isn’t shy about it either.
Anyway, of the cheapest UK blended whiskies, I think this is the tastiest. Just don’t go expecting your knees to quiver and your spine to tingle when you take a sip.