There is a liquor store between home and work that sells a lot more beer kegs than whisky, but they do have a pretty good selection of the good stuff, including some bottles that have been sitting around for several years. I stopped in to look for something I can’t find at my usual haunts, and saw a few bottles of White Horse Extra Fine blended scotch sitting on the bottom shelf. I haven’t seen this anyplace else, and I thought I had heard good things about White Horse on the whisky forums. It’s aged 12 years, bottled at 40% ABV, and priced at $33.
I picked up the box, and read that “the powerful, smoky flavors of the aged Lagavulin combine in perfect harmony with the mellow, rounded character of Glen Elgin and the sweet aromatic flavors of Craigellachie to produce an outstanding quality Scotch Whisky for the truly discerning drinker.” A blend based on Lagavulin? Sold! I had to try a bottle.
On the nose, I immediately pick up signs of sherry cask aging. There are dark fruits (prunes) and figs. It’s not a sherry bomb, reminding me more of single malts that are 40-50% aged in first-fill sherry casks, like some Highland Parks and Dalmores. Also hinting at some sherry aging is a light sulfur presence. Not enough to turn me off, though. Finally, there is a pretty strong toffee sweetness. Sometimes I thought I picked up hints of smoke, but then it would disappear. I also thought there was some orange, until I tried it next to Dalmore 12, then I wasn’t so sure. Orange came out in the Dalmore and disappeared from the White Horse in the comparison.
On the palate, it’s very sweet, and quite mild. It does, however, have just a bit of pepper that builds after a couple of seconds, and some hints of spices like ginger and cinnamon. That’s a nice touch, but it doesn’t compare to higher proofed, stronger tasting single malts.
The finish is short to medium on the tongue, but there’s still a little pepper and some pleasant drying, along with a slight malty presence. There’s also just a little bit of “grain aftertaste” on the back sides of the tongue that I seem to get with most blends (and vodka). Meanwhile, some smoke finally makes an appearance, enveloping the fruits from the nose and hanging in the back of the nostrils for a medium period of time.
You’ll note that I didn’t say anything about Lagavulin similarities in the tasting notes. That’s because there is nothing even remotely resembling the iodine and smoke that makes Lagavulin so recognizable. So, I must have been terribly disappointed by this blend, right? Quite the opposite. White Horse 12 year just shot to the top tier of my blended whisky list.
I really enjoyed the sweet, fruity nose. It was perhaps the closest to a pure malt that I can recall in a blend. I’m also a big fan of mixed sherry/bourbon cask whiskies, so my impression of this being similar to HP or Dalmore in this regard fit right into my preferences. Finally, the palate and finish were just interesting enough to keep me coming back for more, and there wasn’t much in the way of detractions. One thing lacking was much of a wood influence, which I look for (not too much, though) in a fully balanced whisky.
Overall, this is a very good whisky, and not just for a blend. I highly recommend trying this if you can find a bottle. I’d rate this 85/100 points for having lots of good points and very few bad ones. To rate it higher, the palate/finish would need to be a little more interesting, and I would want at least some level of noticeable wood influence.
Availability and other opinions
I can’t find White Horse Extra Fine in any of the larger liquor stores locally, or the online stores that I frequent. I’m not sure if this isn’t made anymore, or if it’s just primarily sold in other markets. I also can’t find any reviews in the whisky publication online sites, or the better known blogs. If you’re familiar with this particular blend, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. I’d also be interested in hearing about any “official” reviews out there. This seems too good to go completely unnoticed. Or maybe I’m just too easy to please.
I did manage to find a couple of online references to White Horse 12:
- LA Whisky Society: Type “White Horse” into the search box at the top of their main page. A couple of the LA Whisky Society members rated Extra Fine 12 year. Their minimal notes are a bit different from mine, but they do give it a B+ rating.
- Whisky.com: A page dedicated to the White Horse blends. The text from the box of 12 year Extra Fine is included, and check out the links to the distilleries that are used in the White Horse blends. While I didn’t find much to remind me of Lagavulin, I can certainly believe that Glen Elgin and Craigellachie play a significant role in the flavor of this blend, based on the distillery profiles.
You can read about my attempt at a rating system here.