After trying The Famous Grouse 12 yo All Malt side by side with Glenfiddich 12yo, I have to say the Grouse was just as tasty and characterful as the Glenfiddich, lessening my reliance on the received wisdom that a single distillation is indispensable for a good drop. I bought a bottle of Ballantine's 12 year old blended whisky last night, which includes some grain whisky in the mix (of over 50 different whiskies, for goodness sake). The main big hitters in this are Miltonduff (Speyside) and Glenburgie (also a Speyside which is owned by Ballantine), but I can't find a list of all the others used (it's probably a secret). My first impression was that it had a proportion of Caol Ila- in that I am probably wrong, as I'm sure this would be flagged for potential customers, given the reputation of Caol Ila.
Certainly there is that similar suppleness and more or less perfect balance between oak and peat in this particular dram, which CI exhibits. The finish can appear, as some have noted, disappointing in it's shortness- TFG wins here easily. But I noticed that I could still taste a residue this morning; that unmistakable dry peatiness which sticks to the sides of your cheek and it's not as if your mouth isn't aware of having recently drunk whisky. But the finish in TFG is a finale of a 3-stage palate, whereas the finish in the Ballantines doesn't move the story on- there is only 1 stage to The Ballantine's. There is less oiliness than in TFG12yoAM and less citrus character. For my money, the Ballantine's 12 is all about the initial taste, as many "Deluxe" whiskies are, but there is a more Scottish character to it than with, say JWBL. The flavours and character of the many different malts and grains have been married to a commendable degree, such that it tastes like one very nice, young dram. Think of it like a 6 yo Caol Ila, peated Glenmorangie, or even a Whyte & Mackay done right for a change. I've been tasting while writing this post and if I'm brutally honest, I think TFM12yoAM is better at doing what it does, but I like the Ballantine's no less for it's unchallenging character. The way to get the best out of it is to hold it in the mouth for an unusually long time, to let it seep into the tongue. This allows the sherried sweetness to dissipate slightly, giving more bite and peat on the middle of the tongue, and a longer finish. For some reason I'm thinking of a lemon Sponge, but I might just be a little tipsy. :-)