As U.S. sales of blended Scotch whisky drop, and American bourbon continues its meteoric rise in popularity, Scotch producers continue to seek innovative ways to appeal to a younger audience interested in cocktails and milder flavor profiles. An emerging trend is creating Scotch blends using elements of Bourbon production, incorporating techniques like new American oak aging or removing the smokey peated whisky component of a blend. New to the market is Barrelhound blended Scotch whisky, from spirits giant Pernod Ricard, billed as “bridging the bourbon and Scotch worlds…with a sweeter, more accessible taste profile,” according to the company’s press release.
Traditional blended Scotch whiskies (think Dewar’s or Johnnie Walker) tend to aim for a full-bodied flavor profile blending whiskies from a variety of Scotland’s various production regions including Islay, known for it’s bold, smokey peated expressions. The end result makes for classic Scotch drinking neat or over ice. This is the sort of “Scotchy Scotch” that Ron Burgundy of “Anchorman” fame covets.
Thanks to a simultaneous (and not unrelated) rise in American bourbon and craft cocktails, many of the new fans of brown (aged) spirits trend toward relatively milder flavor profiles with notes of vanilla, toffee and cocoa thanks to the required aging of Bourbon in unused (“new”) American oak, and the common addition of wheat to the whiskey mash bill, which produces a somewhat sweeter flavor profile. Popular examples of “wheated” bourbon include Pappy Van Winkle, W.L. Weller and Maker’s Mark.
In the case of Barrelhound, Pernod Ricard is taking advantage of its Speyside region Scotch whiskies which trend sweet to begin with, including Glenlivet and probably Aberlour and/or Longmorn. The whisky has been largely matured in ex-bourbon barrels (common to the Scotch whisky industry as a whole), to emphasize notes of vanilla, caramel and oak. The company hasn’t said, but it’s unlikely there is any heavy peat component to the blend. It’s equally likely that the grain whisky component (a character of the Blended Scotch category) is wheat-based. And finally, it’s likely that the barrels selected were those bearing a heavy “char” or interior burn, accentuating the notes that make bourbon taste like bourbon.
According to Pernod Ricard’s Kate Pomeroy, VP of Innovations and Consumer Insights, “In a market dominated by American whiskey, we feel Barrelhound’s foundation of some of our finest Speyside malts and unique taste profile brings something different and exciting to the category.” In fact, the packaging seems designed to convince one more of the bourbon relationship than the Scotch: It’s a low, squat bottle design popular among craft and sourced bourbon brands. The old-timey. script-heavy label, with its Scotty Dog barrel handler, evokes a “craft” product not unlike the Orphan Barrel series of whiskeys. And a tag on the label states that it is “selectively matured in American oak / the result is / smooth, sweet & not peaty / with notes of vanilla & honey.” It is, of course “distilled, matured & bottled in Scotland.”
On the nose, it’s fairly evident that the spirit is, in fact, attempting to bridge the gap between Scotch and bourbon. There is an earthiness and brashness, overlain with “sweet” fruit and nut elements common to Speyside whiskies. There are also hints of cherry, vanilla and oak. Comparing it directly to, say, Wild Turkey, exemplifies the similarities between Barrelhound and a bourbon aromatic profile. It possesses just a hint more herbaceousness than the bourbon.
On the palate, it is lightweight and creamy. Notes of vanilla, marzipan and vanilla cream dominate the mid-palate.There are still hints of smoke, and the body lets you know you’re drinking Scotch and not bourbon, but again, the overall character of the whisky should appeal to the new bourbon fan who’s still exploring the margins.
It should be pointed out that Barrelhound is entering a field where a similar Scotch, Monkey Shoulder, has already found a home among young social drinkers in the U.S. Both sport similar squat, low-shouldered bottles more commonly found in use among American whiskey brands. Both tone down the smoke and brashness, and both see themselves as well-designed for use in cocktails as well as drinking neat. While Monkey Shoulder doesn’t explicitly state that it’s attempting to woo the young bourbon fan, it certainly is a milder, sweeter, more lush Scotch whisky expression (it’s a blended malt whiskey, and so consists solely of single malt whiskies with no grain whisky component). Whether those fans already drinking Monkey Shoulder will hop on the Barrelhound train has yet to be seen. The former has a more complex flavor profile and might be more popular among those who like their Scotch to taste like Scotch, if a softer version.
At any rate, despite the heavy marketing (some could accuse it of pandering to the trend), the juice inside is good. It’s a solid entry into the new category of crossover whiskies attempting to update and refresh the category. Sipping it neat is fine, but it takes to an ice cube nicely, not unlike bourbon. It also should blend easily and effortlessly into cocktails that appreciate a softer touch. So instead of Rob Roy, think Whiskey Sour. Instead of a Blood and Sand, think a Mint Julep. You won’t be disappointed.
Barrelhound blended Scotch whisky has an ABV of 40% and a suggested retail price of about $30. Please drink responsibly.
FTC Disclaimer: The author sometimes receives product samples for review, which carry no cash value and cannot be re-sold, and sometimes attends press events such as lunches or cocktail parties, designed to promote a given product. The author is not paid by any alcohol manufacturer, retailer or distributor, or provided compensation apart from revenue from an assigning publishing company for editorial publication. Opinions are the author’s own. By the way, you should be 21 or older to read this page. Author received a sample bottle of Barrelhound Blended Scotch Whisky for review purposes only. There must have been a hole in the bottom of the bottle, because it’s all gone now.