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Whiskies That Should Be On Your ‘To Try’ List

Everyone has their favorite whiskies, but what are the most popular Scotch whisky brands around the planet? It’s not surprising that the top 10 in the world includes some well-known brands, but there are there are also lesser-known brands – and there isn’t even a single whisky in sight. Richard Woodard reports.

If you ever need to be reminded of the fact that blends are the heart room of the Scotch whisky industry Just take a look at the top 10 most popular brands around the world.

Not one of them is one malt at all – in fact, none are in the top 20 list which is why the list is mostly dominated by popular brands, mixed with a couple of lesser-known brands.

Certain things aren’t changing However, some things don’t change. The largest of them all, Johnnie Walker, continues to lead the pack, and outsell the closest three competitors. And the top five have maintained the same position for the past couple of years.

It’s closer-fought further down the rankings – there’s almost a three-way tie for the sixth spot, which is shared by Famous Grouse and William Lawson’s brand and William Peel – while Diageo’s price-fighting Black & White blend has been able to climb into the top 10 following its smashing over the two million-case threshold in the year 2017.

Our list is based on volume figures, which have been provided by the world’s leading drinks industry data provider and expert IWSR Magazine, which is the IWSR Magazine, and which is measured using the sales of cases that weigh nine litres.

The picture changes notably if you compile an overall top 10 based on the value of the product, not its volume; on that measure the higher costs of single malts propel Macallan and Glenfiddich into the top 10 and with The Glenlivet lurking on the fringes, while William Lawson’s, William Peel and Black & White leave the top 10.

But that, as the saying goes, is yet another story…

1: Johnnie Walker

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

2017 sales: 18.1m cases
Versus 2016: +2%
Ranking in 2016: 1
Popular and awe-inspiring …: Duty free, US, Mexico, Brazil
Owner: Diageo

The world’s most popular Scotch whisky outdoes all the other by selling over 2.5 times the volume of its nearest competitor. It’s come a long way since the Kilmarnock grocery store that was founded by John Walker back in 1820.

Johnnie Walker has occupied the global number one spot since the mid-1950s and has held that spot due to its instantly recognizable square bottle, slanting label and the striding man logo that was first drawn by the cartoonist Tom Browne in 1908.

Since then since then, it has been a while since the Walker family has grown significantly to include a number of color variations, ranging that range from Double Black to Green and Blue; and 2017 brought new innovations, such as the Blenders’ Batch and Ghost & Rare launch in addition to the rechristening of the Platinum Label with the title of Johnnie Walker Aged 18 Years.

2: Ballantine’s

Ballantine’s Finest

The 2017 sales figures: 6.7m cases
Versus 2016: +3.8%
The 2016 ranking: 2
Popular in …: France, Poland, Spain, Germany
Owner Chivas Brothers/Pernod-Ricard

Although blended Scotch has faced difficulties in various markets over the last few years, Ballantine’s has been on growing, adding almost 1 million cases of sales each year from 2013.

Like Johnnie Walker, its story begins with a shop – George Ballantine’s store in Edinburgh, to be precise, which opened in 1827. Since then, the history of the company has been shaped by the release in 1910 of flagship blend, Ballantine’s Finest, and by the decision in the 1960s of its former Canadian owner to concentrate on selling whiskies across Europe.

That philosophy has endured in both good and bad times The Ballantine’s philosophy was affected by the decline of Spanish Scotch market following the millennium however, it has become a major success in Poland as people there increasingly change their vodka to Scotch.

Constant are the primary single malts that make up the blend, Glenburgie, Glentauchers and Miltonduff as well as the exquisite blend of smoothness and sophistication found in classic expressions like the Ballantine’s 17 year Old.

3: Grant’s


The 2017 sales figures: 4.5m cases
Versus 2016: +1.1%
Ranking in 2016: 3
Affluent in …: France, UK, Poland
Owner: William Grant & Sons

Similar to many of its competitors blends, Grant’s has found some of its markets increasingly challenging in recent times, but a welcome uptick in sales since 2015 has seen it get the number three position over Chivas Regal.

Unusually, the story begins at the beginning with one malt. William Grant only started selling blended whisky in 1898, a little more than a decade after establishing Glenfiddich distillery near Dufftown. After a few branding false attempts, Grant’s Standfast became the one that made it to success and ‘Standfast’ remains in every bottle until today.

The year before, the company announced a major overhaul of the Grant’s product line, renaming its core expression Family Reserve as Triple Wood, and introducing new peated, Sherry- and rum-finished variants.

4. Chivas Regal

Chivas Regal 12 Year Old

Sales in 2017: 4.4m cases
Versus 2016: +1.1%
The 2016 ranking: 4
Popular In …: Duty free, China, US, Japan
Owner: Chivas Brothers/Pernod Ricard

The last decade has been a rollercoaster for the ‘original luxury Scotch’. But it’s perfect for its tumultuous history.

Originally introduced as an (then unheard of) blend of 25 years old, aimed at elite of the early 20th century America, Chivas Regal has been through multiple rebirths under various ownerships before settling on a 12-year-old version in the Second World War onwards.

During the post-millennium luxury boom in China, it was the nation’s top imported spirit, before sales crashed in the aftermath of Chinese government’s anti-expense crackdown. Since then, it’s suffered a slow decline before making an ebb last year.

Recent developments have included blended malt the Cognac finish Chivas Regal XV and a tie-in with Manchester United FC. The sales in China are starting to recover in addition, Chivas Regal comes back (again).

5: J&B

J&B artwork

In 2017, sales: 3.3m cases
Versus 2016: -3.3%
Ranked in 2016: 5
The most popular and awe-inspiring …: Spain, France, South Africa
Owner: Diageo

It might seem strange that a product with roots deep within the genteel surroundings of London’s clubs has turned into the party whisky of the Mediterranean But that’s not the unlikely story of J&B.

A wine retailer located in Pall Mall, Justerini & Brooks began mixing whisky in the 1880s but the company really began to take off in the 1930s with the introduction of J&B Rare, a light-coloured and lighter-bodied blend that was aimed towards the American palate.

It was successful it did, but Stateside successes were later eclipsed by J&B’s role in spearheading the Spanish Scotch boom, which was exemplified by bars that offered generous pours of ‘Jota B’ with Coke.

The decline of Spain, however, has hit J&B extremely hard which has led to sales declining on a yearly basis for a number of years. Fresh, light and sour With Knockando along with Auchroisk single malts at its heart, J&B is now waiting for the event to begin once more.

6=: Famous Grouse

The Famous Grouse Bourbon Cask

The 2017 sales report: 3.04m cases
Versus 2016: +0.5%
In 2016’s ranking, 6
Very popular …: UK, duty free, US
Owner: Edrington

Scotland’s most beloved Scotch is still a big seller in the UK all over and more than 50% of its sales occurring there. Brits may not have a steady appreciation for blended spirits, but Grouse remains extremely well-loved with its market share increasing to over 25%.

The roots of the brand are in a different grocer’s store, which was located in Perth and Matthew Gloag. in 1897, 2 different blends – The Grouse Brand and, at a lower cost, The Famous Grouse – were released. The latter was the one that caught on.

The modern Grouse collection has gone through several changes and tweaks, with the main collection now featuring the named after the brand, and accompanied by The Famous Grouse Smoky Black and The Famous Grouse Mellow Gold.

The Naked Grouse, now blended malt has officially exited the family, while this year has seen the introduction of a new Cask Series exploring maturation character.

6: William Lawson’s

William Lawson’s

2017 sales: 3.04m cases
Versus 2016: +4.7%
In 2016’s ranking, 8
Popular in …: France, Russia, Mexico
Owner Name: Bacardi

A sweet-tasting blend that has the single malt of Macduff as its main ingredient, William Lawson’s is owned by rum major Bacardi for the last three years, since the company bought the Martini & Rossi sparkling wine and vermouth business (which was itself acquired Lawson’s 30 years before).

Since since then, William Lawson’s led the charge in some of the Scotch’s fastest-growing markets like Russia and Mexico and gained popularity in the most popular destination of all, France.

William Lawson himself was a Scot who came to Ireland, entering the business of whiskey there. He was fired as director of the company in 1903, but the whisky he gave his name to endured.

8. William Peel

William Peel

2017 sales: 3.03m cases
Versus 2016: +2.9%
In 2016’s ranking, 7
Popular across …: France
Owner: Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits

“Who is William?” some of you might be asking, but this whisky is among the top-selling in the world that consumes more Scotch than anyone else on the planet: France. There is a very small presence within Poland, William Peel sells nearly all of its whiskies within French stores and in hypermarches and these sales have been increasing faster than the competition for several years now.

There’s nothing romantic about the historical connection with this blend. William Peel was created by drinks entrepreneurs Bernard Magrez in 1964, initially as an umbrella brand for single malts but then as a mass-market blend.

Magrez has since entered an area of high-end wine (owning numerous top-quality Bordeaux estates and Chateau Pape-Clement). Chateau Pape-Clement) and William Peel is now with Marie Brizard – a company that was in a bit of trouble at the time of writing due to an array of profit warnings.

9: Dewar’s

Dewar’s 12 year old

Sales in 2017: 2.5m cases
Versus 2016: -5.2%
Ranking in 2016: 9
Popular in the …: US, Spain and Spain, duty free
Owner: Bacardi

Just a few years ago, Dewar’s outsold Bacardi William Lawson’s stablemate, however, the different fortunes of Lawson and Dewar have led them to change positions, and Dewar’s impacted by the sliding popularity of blends in the US along with Spain.

But Dewar’s White Label is still one of the industry’s classic blends, its honey- and vanilla-accented taste profile perfectly tuned to post-war American palate. Dewar’s still sells 1m cases of whisky each year.

Early success was built upon the shared talents of brothers John as well as Tommy Dewar – the latter well-known for his charismatic marketing nous and two-year-long journey across the globe.

The company has now reaffirmed its commitment to age statements through the introduction of Dewar’s 25 year old to replace Signature.

10, Black & White

Black & White advertisement

In 2017, sales: 2.3m cases
Versus 2016: +27.1%
In 2016’s ranking, it was 12
Popular in…: Brazil, Mexico, India, South Africa
Owner: Diageo

In the past, Black & White would not have even made the top 20 list of the most popular Scotch whiskies at least not even being a top 10. The rise in its popularity since then has been awe-inspiring.

Much of that popularity has been due to Black &White’s price-competitiveness as well as its enduring ties with its fellow Diageo blend Buchanan’s, which is a extremely popular blend in Black and White’s Latin American heartland.

Legend says there was a legend that James Buchanan, one of the Victorian whisky barons, picked as brand mascots an dark Scottie animal and an white Westie, also known as a West Highland terrier after attending a dog-show.

Since then, both Black and White’s branding for canines has seen a lot of travel – it was once the most loved mix in England and was even consumed by the Emperor of Japan at the start of the 20th century – and has been featured in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, and Ian Fleming’s Moonraker.