By Richard Thomas
The square, brown glass bottle of Ballatine’s Finest, the entry-level scotch of the company, is a familiar sight around the world. Even in countries where you can’t find J&B or Jack Daniels, Ballantine’s is usually around. For many years, Ballantine’s was the top-selling scotch in Europe, and it continues to enjoy great popularity both there and in Asia. This has a lot to do with the modest virtues of Ballantine’s, as it’s a reasonably priced scotch that delivers just a little more than what the price tag promises. Ballantine’s is part of a trio of mass market scotch whiskeys, including J&B and Cutty Sark, that are almost always occupying the same pricing slot at the bar or on a supermarket shelf. Of the three, Ballantine’s is the best.
Ballantine’s puts the “blended” into blended scotch, combining both malt and grain whiskeys made at a handful of different distilleries. Everything that goes into a bottle of Ballantine’s has been aged for at least three years, and the whiskey is bottled at 40% alcohol. The scotch has a light gold color, and has a lovely glint on ice. Most bottles come with an aerator, a feature which I don’t care for.
On the nose, Ballatine’s Finest is a soft, sweet whiskey with a touch of spice and a hint of peat. That musty peat comes forward on the palate, but overall the whiskey’s flavor is one of smooth, lightly sweetened vanilla. The finish is warm, sweet and even.
Ballantine’s Finest is usually available in the United States for $13 to $15, and in Europe for 8 to 10 euros.
For an entry-level, standard label, Ballantine’s is actually a well-decorated scotch. In 2006, the whiskey won a Gold at the International Spirits Challenge, and a Silver from the International Wine and Spirit Competition. That was quite an accomplishment for a whiskey from a category that usually manages a “seal of approval.”