Ballantine’s Scotch Whiskey: History And Everything Else

by Libation Staff | Last Updated: September 4, 2021

Scotch drinkers worldwide probably know about Ballantine’s Scotch Whiskey, as it is one of the more affordable whiskies on the market that actually still tastes good both on its own or in a mixed drink. And just because it’s not the most expensive whiskey on the market, doesn’t mean that it hasn’t won some accolades. In fact, Ballantine’s Scotch is the most popular whiskey in Europe and the world’s third-highest selling Scotch whiskey.

If you’re interested in Ballantine’s Scotch, let me fill you in on the details and where to buy it on the web.

ballantine's 12-year scotch

Ballantine’s History

Ballantine’s can trace its roots back to 1827 when a grocer named George Ballantine set up shop in Cowgate, where nobody else was really selling their wares. In 1836, Ballantine began dipping his toes into the spirits game and started aging whiskies, specializing in hand-selected malts. George had to open a bigger grocery shop in South Bridge to showcase his new products. 

In 1857, Ballantine began something unique in the grocery world–offering free deliveries to customers within a 10-mile radius, causing him to have to expand his store again. By 1881, Ballantine’s began exporting whiskey to the worldwide market and good old George retired, leaving the business to his sons. In 1895, Ballantine’s Scotch was awarded the Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria; essentially it was given the seal of approval!

Ballantine’s Fun Facts

When you see a bottle of Ballantine’s, you’ll notice that it has an interesting square shape to it. This iconic shape is believed to have been started during prohibition so that American salesmen could conceal the bottles easily in their briefcases when the Fuzz was around. Thankfully we don’t need to hide our booze anymore, but that square shape is here to stay.

Another fun fact about Ballantine’s Scotch Whiskey is that in 1938 it was awarded its own Heraldic Arms by Lord Lyon. The crest is a true honor and Ballantine’s includes it on each of their bottles. It features all the elements of whiskey making, the Scottish flag, and the saying, “Amicus Humani Generis”–Latin for a “Friend to all Mankind”. 

We’ve all heard of watchdogs being used to protect your property, but Ballantine’s marched to their own drummers. In 1959, warehouses were guarded not by some vicious pack of dogs, but instead by the “Scotch Watch.” What fierce animals did they use for protecting this delicious libation?


Geese Gif

Yep, you read that right. The civil engineer that was in charge of the warehouses in Dumbarton was also an ornithologist and he convinced Ballantine’s that geese were cheaper than dogs and just as scary. Talk about “Cobra Chickens”!

Varieties of Ballantine’s Scotch Whiskey

Ballantine’s produces a range of varieties of their scotch. Each has its own expressions, characteristics, and ages. These include their core range:

As well as their other varieties, which aren’t always easy to get your hands on:

For the purpose of this article, I’m going to focus on the Ballantine’s you can easily get your hands on the Finest, 12-Year Old, and 17-Year Old. 

Ballantine’s Finest

Ballantine’s Finest is an elegant, refined blended scotch whiskey with a clear, golden color. This variety has a very smooth taste and it’s perfect to enjoy on its own or in a mixed drink. Those that love this option from Ballantine’s state that the flavors are subtle and soft; you’ll taste notes of spice, chocolate milk, red apples, and vanilla with a floral finish.

The only real negative with this specific range is that if you’re someone who likes their whiskey strong, you’re probably not going to like that this is a very subdued flavor.

Ballantine’s 12-Year Old

Ballantine’s 12-Year Old whiskey is a blend of 40 of the best-malted whiskies from all over Scotland that are aged for 12 years in French oak barrels.  You’ll notice a definite difference in color from the Ballantine’s Finest–this variety is a golden honey color.

If you like your drinks creamy and sweet, with honey and floral notes, and a refreshing finish, you’ll likely enjoy the 12-Year Old Ballantine’s. Don’t let the sweetness fool you, though, as the biggest complaint against this whiskey is the next-day hangover. Apparently, this Ballantine packs a big punch if you drink too much.

Ballantine’s 17-Year Old

The company matures this variety for 17 years which gives it extra depth and character. You’ll notice an aroma of vanilla and smoke with flavors of creamy vanilla, hints of oak, and licorice, finishing with a hint of spice. The smoke is quite prominent in this Ballantine’s, along with a fruitiness and velvety texture. 

Where to Buy Ballantine’s Online

Finding Ballantine’s isn’t always easy to do. It really depends on where you live and if they are available in your area. When I did a search on Ballantine’s U.S. website, I had no local suppliers and couldn’t order from them directly to my area. I suspect that it will be similar in your area as well.

So, that led me to look online for sellers and suppliers. There are a few that I found, however, full disclosure, I have not ordered from these places personally. Buyer beware and make sure you’re doing your homework before dropping a pretty penny on Ballantine’s if you’ve never ordered from these places either. 

I also found a place to get in on auctions for rare and premium spirits at Whiskey Hammer and a site that will show you other sites that sell Ballantine’s (or any other wine or spirit you’re interested in) at Wine-Searcher

Final Thoughts on Ballantine’s Scotch Whiskey

Ballantine’s Scotch Whiskey may not be the most expensive or most “flashy” scotch whiskey on the market, but it is a delicious and affordable option, especially if you want to drink it straight or in a mixed cocktail. Finding it to purchase can be a little more tricky, but when you do find it, you’ll see that it was worth the search.

If you are interested in Ballantine’s Scotch Whiskey, take a look at some of the details on their varieties and use this guide to buy it online.