By Richard Thomas
The lengthy worldwide boom in Scotch has produced two general trends. One is to offer alternatives to the big brand name blends, such as Johnnie Walker, that dominate scotch sales. The other is to expand into Asian markets. With the Scottish Leader 12 Year Old, both trends are encapsulated in a single blue bottle.
The core Scottish Leader expression of Burns Stewart’s Master Blender Ian MacMillian, who reportedly based it on a Ross Brothers recipe from the 19th Century. In the 12 Year Old, that style is taken a step up, once again offering a viable alternative to 12 year old blends like Johnnie Walker Black and Ballantine’s 12YO. What points to the Asian trend is that the Scottish Leader 12 Year Old is currently available only in Taiwan, but hopefully the expression will expand into other markets in the future.
As a blend, Scottish Leader is a mix of grain and malt whiskeys from different distilleries, and it is bottled at the usual 40% abv. The package is a tall, squared, clear glass bottle that is a little suggestive of a plain decanter, crowned by a metal screw-top.
Following in the path laid out by the basic Scottish Leader, the 12 Year Old has a good bit more color than one expects from scotch in general, with the possible exception of the stuff coming out of Famous Grouse. The amber appearance of this stuff is absolutely bourbon-like, and quite a contrast the the typical straw colors on usually sees in Scottish spirits.
The nose is predominately one of toffee and citrus, with notes of sherry wood and bit of sea spray. The flavor is quite mellow and pleasant, and even just a little complex, balancing as it does a candied flavor of toffee, caramel, and nougat off of cookie spices, especially ginger, and a dose of oak. The finish is lengthy, bringing a mild warmth with it.
In my opinion, don’t take this scotch with water or ice. The abv is low enough that it shouldn’t need water, and a few drops does little or nothing to enhance something that is already pretty good, while ice freezes out all complexity.
Past that, the Scottish Leader 12YO is a nice blend of middling age, and a clear cut above the offerings of most of the other non-artisinal names in blended scotch.
As of posting, this scotch is only available for retail sale in Taiwan, and I had no luck in finding out what it actually goes for in Taiwanese shops. Even so, travelers passing through Taipei and expats should keep their eyes open for the scotch, not to mention the Taiwanese themselves, who should feel blessed to have it.
Scottish Leader won a gold at the 2001 International Wine & Spirits Competition, and a succession of silvers and bronzes since then.