Finding the best cheap scotch is never an easy task. Scotch tends to get really expensive really quickly, whether we’re talking about single malts or blends. Still, there are some well-priced bottles on the shelf that are worth at least trying, and that’s what we’re here to do today.
For this blind tasting, I’m not trying to guess the prices or even guess which blended scotch I’m tasting (I don’t know the category well enough to even take a stab at naming some of these). I’m simply tasting them and then ranking them by which ones taste good and which I’d want to drink again. As for the price, this is squarely in the cheap-but-not-bottom-shelf category.
The bottle prices range from $20 to $35 and are all pretty easy to find at any liquor store. Accessibility is the key here.
While I do know a few of these expressions well, I was pleasantly surprised by the overall quality and drinkability of each dram. Still, this was about a ranking and that meant there was a first and last — so see which blended scotch landed where!
Part 1: The Blind Taste
There’s a clear sense of butterscotch next to whisky malts with a slight sweetness. The taste gets a bit woody with a slight alcohol burn (not a spiced warmth). Still, this did grow on me after the second sip and became slightly woody/sweet. It’s fine but a little jagged.
This is a combo of fruity, malty, woody, and nutty, first and foremost. Then a hint of florals arrives with a soil earthiness counterpointed by a hint of buttery toffee, spicy tobacco, and a touch more of oak. The end is a little chewy, which is nice. If I was guessing these, I’d pretty confidently say it’s the Chivas.
Hello, Johnnie! There’s a softwood box feel next to mild sweet fruits with a hint of peat and earthiness. The malts shine through with a minor note of spice warmth that leads to a whisper of smoke on the end that’s peatier than smoky.
It’s easy drinking and really mellows/ subtly sweetens as you sip more.
Malts and butterscotch dominate with this one. It’s very thin with a sweet cherry candy underbelly that hints at spicy wood as the thinness gets a little thicker and chewier. Interesting.
This is tinny yet soft. There’s a mild tobacco spice that’s cut by an apple-esque bridge between tart and sweet. The end builds with a green woodiness that helps keep the sip very easy and, again, soft. It’s super simple and straightforward to sip.
There’s a matrix of vanilla, oak, and caramel up top that leads towards malts and Christmas spices with an emphasis on nutmeg. That vanilla gets very creamy and a sweet almost nut brittle edge arrives with a little dried fruit.
The end is velvet smooth. This is really good. Or I’m getting tipsy.
Part 2: The Ranking/Answers
6. Ballantine’s Finest (Taste 6)
Average Price: <a title="" href="ABV: Average Price:” target=”_blank”>$20
Ballantine’s Finest is a classic blend and the oldest consistently made expression from the brand. The juice is comprised of 40 different malt and grain whiskies from four regions around Scotland.
This landed on the bottom for me simply because it’s a little harsh compared to all the other tastes I had. It was also the first taste, so maybe it hit harder than it would have as my last? I’ll put it this way, I won’t turn down a dram if it’s offered to me, but I never buy the stuff myself.
5. Teacher’s Highland Cream (Taste 4)
Average Price: $19
This blend has a high concentration of single malts with Ardmore single malt at its core. The whisky is advertised as using Ardmore’s peated malts in the blend to add subtle smokiness and deeper whisky flavors.
I got zero smoke or peat from this. That being said, it was fine, though that heavy butterscotch on the nose was a bit off-putting. Still, it did smooth out and was perfectly drinkable.
I can see finishing this bottle off in highballs or with ginger ale.
3. (tie) Grant’s Triple Wood (Taste 5)
Average Price: $22
Willam Grant & Sons have a deep bench of whisky distilleries to draw their malts and grains from for this expression. The ripple with this blend is the triple barreling with new oak, American oak, and re-fill American oak, hence the name.
This started off a little tinny but really opened up nicely with an amazingly approachable softness. That tinniness became more minerality, which made it a nice sip overall and a very good candidate for mixing into a highball with good, fizzy water.
I can defintely see drinking more of this.
3. (tie) Johnnie Walker Black Label (Taste 3)
Average Price: $35
This signature blend from Johnnie Walker is designed to be an entry-level sipper. The whisky is a marriage of nearly 40 whiskies from Diageo’s deep stable of distilleries with a focus on the peat-laden juices from Talisker, Lagavulin, and Cardhu.
I’m not a peat monster seeker. But the subtlety of the peat in this dram really appeals to me. Granted, this isn’t Johnnie Green, but it’s still a very accessible scotch for mixing with water or sipping on the rocks, especially when you’re looking for that whisper of peat and smoke.
2. Chivas Regal 12 (Taste 2)
Average Price: $29
The Highland’s Strathisla Distillery is where Chivas comes together. The whisky is well-rounded and designed to be a workhorse that’s an easy sipper but also works wonders in a cocktail.
This is probably the bottle I know the best on the list. And it still didn’t snag the top spot. It’s complex, super easy to drink even neat — definitely a dram I want to have another one of immediately.
1. Dewar’s 12 (Taste 6)
Average Price: $30
Dewar’s blends malt and grain whiskies from over 40 distilleries with the famed Aberfeldy at its core. The juice is blended and then aged for an additional six months in oak to marry all the flavors before proofing and bottling.
This really had a deeply interesting texture and flavor profile. I can see sipping this on the rocks without hesitation and am really looking forward to playing with the juice in cocktails, especially with that spiciness.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
I was pretty surprised by the Dewar’s 12. Generally, I’ve been a fan of Dewar’s but didn’t expect it to beat out Chivas for me. That’s a very high quality $30 bottle, in my estimation.
I think the biggest standout was Grant’s, though. I really wasn’t expecting a lot. But tasting it blind, it really mellowed and made for a nice, sweet experience. That’s also true of Teacher’s Highland Cream. It was really easy-drinking by the end and that’s saying a lot for a blended scotch that costs just south of $20.