Over the past two years, I’ve been enjoying two rather nice drams from Ballantine’s. The Christmas reserve blew me away back in 2012, and I hailed it as one of the best drams that I have experienced. One year later, I’ve been sent the latest expression in the Christmas Reserve portfolio, but as I conducted some research, I realised that I’ve never covered the rather iconic brand on my website. So, without delay, lets take a look into what, and indeed who makes Ballantine’s.

George Ballantine was the son of a farmer. Born in 1809 Broughtonknowe in Peebleshire, he moved to Edinburgh when he was 13 and set himself up with an apprenticeship. Over the next 5 years, he learnt the trade and by 1827 at the age of 18 he rented a small grocers in the city. By 1836, he capitalised on his growing success and moved into a bigger premises, specialising in whisky and malts. 1846 saw George utilise what we now take for granted, the option of delivery. George advertised his new idea and took advantage of the trains, offering a unique customer service. 1867 saw George honour his eldest son Archibald by naming his store ‘George Ballantine & Son’ in Edinburgh. George set up a new store in Glasgow in 1865, which he deemed a more profitable location, whilst his son Archibald ran the Edinburgh operations. At this time George Ballantine began creating his own blends.

1858, George could boast 2000 gallons on whisky in his warehouse, but in a measure of his rapid reputation, came to have 20,000 gallons of blended stock in bond by 1883. 1891 saw George hand over his business to his sons, and a year later passed away. 3 years after, Ballantine’s was awarded the Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria.

Business thrived under George’s sons, and the family sold profitably to the firm of Barclay and McKinlay in 1919. Building on the reputation and goodwill of the “Ballantine’s” name, the new owners focused on developing it as a brand for their blended whisky. When increasing resources were needed to compete fully in the growing world market, the internationally experienced Canadian distillers of Hiram Walker Gooderham & Worts acquired Ballantine’s in 1937. Ballantine’s Finest, 17yr and 30yr were released during this time, culminating in Lord Lyon granting the Heralding Arms, the shield of Ballantine’s. 1960 saw the 12yr released which catered for the growing cocktail market, whilst the 21yr came in 1993.

In 2006, Sandy Hyslop was appointed as Ballantine’s Master Blender, only the 5th Master Blender in Ballantine’s 180 year history.

Below, I give to you not only my notes on the Christmas expressions, but the core range available too, as well as my adventure with their incredibly rare 18yr and other limited editions –

Ballantine’s Finest – 40%

Oldest recipe in the current range, created in 1910 and uses more than 40 malts and grains, carefully selected from 4 different iconic Scottish regions.
Soft apricot and peach notes on the nose, with hints of delicate almond and lemon coming through. Soft, with a slight developing citrus sharpness. Ripe soft fruits, green apple and pears with walnut, spice and sweet, thin honey.

Ballantine’s 12yr – 40%

Predominant American as well as European oak casked used to mature, with Glenburgie and Miltonduff malts within.
Subtle smoke on the nose with hints of green apple, coconut and oak. Incredibly soft on the palate, with a slight citrus burst mid-way before long, smoky elements combined with red berries, damp forest and thin treacle.

Ballantine’s 17yr – 43%

Soft smoke on the nose with plenty of aromatic citrus and vanilla. Slight kick to begin, with fresh fruits darting through for a lingering warm finish.

Ballantine’s 21yr – 40%

Rich nut aromas with cinnamon and dry, prickly spice. Plenty of ripe, red fruits with good kicks of damp oak, thin fudge and a long whisper of citrus smoke.

Ballantine’s 30yr – 43%

Plenty of pear notes on the nose with rich, juicy aromas coming through. Hints of honey sweetness too. Incredibly smooth on the palate, with a slight dryness kicking in quickly. Well balanced with citrus and light honey counteracting. Rich red berry fruits come through with slight dashes of vanilla on the long, warm and elegant finish.

Ballantine’s Christmas Reserve 2012 – 40%

Slight spice on the nose with a hint of sweetness and rich fruit blending nicely. Soft on the palate with a slight spice nearing the long finish. Flavours of ginger and caramel swirl nicely with a lingering sweetness.

Ballantine’s Christmas Reserve 2013 – 40%

Fresh raisins on the nose, combined with ripe pear and soft ginger. A small amount of spice on the palate to begin with, although grows into toffee apples, caramel and orange peel. Long, lingering and a little dry on the finish.

Ballantine's 18yr
Ballantine’s 18yr

Ballantine’s 18yr – 43%

Discontinued. Lots of soft raisins on the nose, with sherry aromas coming through. Slight sharpness on the palate, although soon smooths out in a warming honey dram. Lingering lemons and a touch of barley to finish.

Ballantine’s Brasil – 35%

Created for the FIFA World Cup 2014, cask steeped with Brazilian lime peel.
Sweet aromas of lime on the nose, with chocolate hints, alongside honey to finish. Very light on the palate, with citrus, predominantly lime, giving off short, lively kicks. Slightly sweet on the lingering finish.

As mentioned, the 12yr came out during the cocktail boom of the 1960’s, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the Christmas Reserve in this way too! –

Spiced Hot Chocolate

Glass –


Ingredients –

50ml Ballantine’s Christmas Reserve 2012
3/4 mug of high quality chocolate
Mini marshmallows
Chocolate sauce

Method –

Make hot chocolate to suit personal preference. Gently add Ballantine’s Christmas Reserve. Decorate with a handful of mini marshmallows and finish with rich chocolate sauce.


Ballantine's Bitter
Ballantine’s Bitter

Ballantine’s Bitter

Glass – 


Ingredients – 

50 ml Ballantine’s 12yr
15 ml Sweet Vermouth
Aromatic Bitters

Method – 

Chill a Martini glass. Pour Ballantine’s into a mixing glass over ice. Add one bar spoon of aromatic bitters and sweet vermouth. Stir mixture with a bar spoon for 30 seconds and strain into the glass. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.

One of Europe’s biggest whisky brands can boast a rich legacy, and expressions which I am very much looking forward to experiencing. Respected whisky writer Jim Murray even went as far as announcing that the Ballantine’s 17yr was his Scotch Blend of the Year back in 2010. Who care’s to enjoy a couple of drams with me? Or at least try your hand at the 18yr?

© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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