By Richard Thomas
Scottish Leader is the blended scotch brand from Burn Stewart Distillers, a company perhaps best known for the Bunnahabhain single malts. As such, it is the work of Ian MacMillan, a 40-year veteran of the scotch industry who has served as Master Blender at Burn Stewart since 2002. MacMillan reportedly based the Scottish Leader blend on a 19th Century recipe of the Ross Brothers of Dunbarton, and the brand name itself dates back to the 1940s
Positioned as an alternative to the big mass market blends, Scottish Leader is now distributed in more than 60 countries. So, if the label isn’t familiar now, it should become so in the future.
Like most mass market blends, Scottish Leader is bottled at 40% abv, but the differences from the mass market crowd begin right past that. As opposed to most whiskeys in this category, which are usually pale yellow in color, Scottish leader has a rich, light amber appearance.
The nose has a malty, honey sweetness to it, along with a certain oily, ashy character in the creosote vein. There is also a little raw bite in the nose, suggestive of some youth in the blend, but the scent of Scottish Leader is predominately a mellow one.
The flavor follows along that smooth, mellow course. It’s a little woody, dipping into pine wood, as well as a little grassy. The sweet side is malty and honeyed again, but now with a bit of caramel and spice, and a trace of ash runs right through. The finish is light, leaving a very moderate, but lingering afterglow, and a faint, ashy aftertaste.
Contrary to what the name might imply, Scottish Leader is mellow and restrained rather than big and bold. I wouldn’t call it complex, but it is certainly quite balanced. Finally, it is as good or better than the best of the mass market blended scotches.
I’ve read that Scottish Leader runs £15 or £16 in the UK, or about €19 or €20 on the Continent. Given its quality, that puts it in serious bargain territory. In the U.S., some retailers have it priced below $15, but $20 seems more normal.
Scottish Leader won gold at the 2001 International Spirits Challenge, and has won a series of silver and bronze medals at international competitions virtually every year since.