Buchanan's 12 Year Scotch: The Ultimate Bottle Guide

Buchanan's DeLuxe is a 12-year-old blended scotch whisky, which means it's produced and blended in Scotland before being exported worldwide. With a history dating back to the late 1800s, it's bottled at 40% alcohol by volume (ABV, 80 proof) and a decent whisky to drink neat or in simple cocktails like the Old-Fashioned.

Scotch is a very broad term covering a wide array of drinks. As The Scotch Advocate explains, blends like Buchanan's tend to be made from a mixture of malt and grain whiskies. There are five distinct types of scotch to choose from, all with their own unique flavors and characteristics. Blenders can mix these in varying quantities to achieve the desired flavor profile. While blends are generally seen as less desirable than single malts, very palatable and complex blends do exist (via Whisky Analysis). Blenders can easily achieve exact levels of sweetness, peatiness, maltiness, and everything else. Blending is also a lot quicker; getting a single malt to taste a certain way would be challenging, if not impossible, and you'd have to wait years to check the results of a batch. 

According to Diageo, Buchanan's is the liquor company's second biggest whisky brand. However, you're not likely to encounter it in Britain. The majority is exported and has carved out a loyal following in Latin America. Diageo acknowledges its brand's popularity in Mexico and South America and has worked to fortify its grip on this market. The conglomerate has used a combination of targeted commercials and full-blown campaigns to reinforce its appeal to this key demographic (via MarketWatch). 

The history of Buchanan's whisky

James Buchanan launched the brand in 1884, and curiously enough, it was not initially based in Scotland (via ScotchWhisky.com). Buchanan's first home was in London, and the product itself was designed to appeal to the English, who preferred a milder whisky. On the brand's origins, Buchanan wrote: "What I made up my mind to do was to find a blend sufficiently light and old to please the palate of the user," with the "user" in question being those "south of the border." Buchanan's plan worked, and his initial blend was incredibly successful. It found a place in London's music halls, served to politicians in Parliament, and even won a gold medal at the Paris Centennial Exhibition.

Both the brand and blends evolved over time. Buchanan released a liquor named "House of Commons," referencing his drinks' popularity with members of Parliament. The original blend was briefly renamed "Buchanan's Special Red Seal," but that was dropped due to trademark issues. Buchanan's had as many as five different blends on the market. However, those were eventually paired down to Buchanan's Finest Old Liqueur, which ultimately evolved into Buchanan's DeLuxe 12, and Buchanan's Special Reserve. At one point, the Buchanan's bottle took inspiration from the canteens used by British soldiers in World War I. It was designed as an accessible whisky that was easy to share, and after tasting it, you can argue it still ticks those boxes.

Buchanan's is not independent

Buchanan's has a unique history, clear branding, and a unique tasting product. On the face of it, you could probably convince someone the company is an independent blender of whiskies that the same family has run since old James founded it almost 140 years ago. But it isn't. Buchanan's is owned by Diageo, a company that has developed something of a scotch monopoly over the years.

This isn't necessarily a unique thing, nor is it particularly bad. Most of the biggest names in whisky, including Johnnie Walker, Talisker, and Lagavulin, are all part of Diageo's portfolio. The corporation also owns Dalwhinnie, which was once owned by James Buchanan and has close ties to his blend (via Whiskipedia). You could argue that the backing of a major international corporation can provide means the blend has access to a broader market. Buchanan's is right behind Johnnie Walker among Diageo's brands, so whatever they're doing seems to be working, and old James' legacy appears to be in safe hands.

Buchanan was rewarded for his philanthropy

The name James Buchanan doesn't tell the whole story. The brand founder's full name — with titles included — was Sir James Buchanan, then Sir James Buchanan, Bt (baronet), and finally James Buchanan, 1st Baron Woolavington. None of these titles is the kind you can get bundled in with a square foot of land in rural Scotland. They're all legitimate and were awarded for a reason. The main reason appears to be the whisky baron's dedication to philanthropic causes. However, things may not be so clear-cut.

According to Scotch Whisky Magazine, there are rumors that Buchanan, a very wealthy man, bought his titles. Again, the price tag was a little bit higher than the $20 you pay online for a fake lordship. It was £50,000, which, when adjusted for inflation and converted into U.S. dollars, comes out at around $2,289,000 in today's money. That fat check went to the then-Prime Minister David Lloyd George's government, and rumor has it that Buchanan was pretty shrewd with how he did it. The check was signed "Woolavington" and dated January 2nd, the day after the king or queen hands out titles to people on the New Year's Honours List. This meant the check would be invalid should he not be awarded the peerage.

Buchanan wasn't born in Scotland

Buchanan made his fortune in Scotch whisky and had Scottish parents, but he wasn't born within Scotland's borders. According to The Clan Buchanan, the entrepreneur was actually born in a different country with a strong whisky connection: Canada. Buchanan entered the world on August 16, 1849, at Brockville, Ontario. His parents, Alexander and Catherine Buchanan, had recently immigrated from Scotland and would cross the Atlantic again shortly after James was born.

Buchanan's story is one of rags to riches. He spent his formative years in Larne, Northern Ireland, where his father worked in a quarry. At the age of 14, Buchanan crossed the Irish Sea to take a job in a shipping firm's office. He later left to take a job at his brother's grain business before taking a job for whisky blenders Charles Mackinlay & Co and moving to London. During his stint in London, he decided to launch a blend of his own, and the rest is history.

What does Buchanan's DeLuxe taste like?

Buchanan's is a very mild scotch, both on the nose and palate. Admittedly, we were tasting it out of a tumbler and not a more specialist kind of glass like a snifter, but the only prevailing scent we got was a minor whiff of ethanol. When tasting the whisky, the overall flavor is very light and somewhat like a Dalwhinnie, which the brand's heritage has strong ties to. However, that's where the similarities end.

While drinking it neat, Buchanan's lacks any of the subtle floral notes you get from the Speyside single malt. Instead, there is an initial sweetness followed by a strong fruity flavor. The fruit in question is probably closest to prunes. Once the initial flavor has left your mouth, you'll be treated to a slight peaty note, indicating that a bit of Islay has made it into the blend. The whisky also has a very mild malty finish. Adding water unlocks some more of the scents and flavors, but it does Buchanan's no favors. The main scent a drop of water will unlock seems to be ammonia. The sweetness and fruitiness remain around the same, the peatiness doesn't intensify but becomes more drawn out.

Buchanan's isn't a bad whisky. It's almost on par with other blends like Johnny Walker Black, though notably milder. It's worth having in the liquor cabinet for occasions when you don't want to crack into the expensive stuff. You can also use it as an easy starting point for beginners.

How is Buchanan's made?

In the whisky industry, brands don't always reveal all the details of producing the spirit, and Buchanan's is no different. However, we can get an idea of how it's made based on standard practices.

Single malt and single grain whiskies are made by creating an alcoholic mash from a batch of grain or malt from a single distillery — hence the name (via Distiller). A regular "malt" or "grain" whisky's base ingredients can come from a number of sources. The mash is then distilled, and the subsequent spirit is put into a barrel and matured for several years. This maturation process turns the initial clear, vodka-like spirit an amber color. Other factors, such as the kind of barrel used, can affect the flavor, but older whiskies tend to be darker in color. Once a whisky is removed from its barrel, the aging process stops; an 8-year-old whisky has spent that length of time maturing in a barrel, and it can sit in a bottle for a century, but it will still be an 8-year-old whisky.

A blend is made from several of these finished whiskies. While an individual whisky's flavors come from ingredients like the malt or grain used, the barrel it is aged in, and the water the distillery uses, blenders can combine a variety of whiskies to achieve their desired characteristics (via Single Malt Whisky). An interesting thing to note is the blend's "age." A blended scotch can only be labeled with the age of the youngest whisky used. For instance, if a blender used three 21-year-old whiskies and a drop from eight-year-old, the resulting blend would have to be labeled as an eight-year-old scotch.

Scotch is a broad term

All scotch comes from Scotland, but several distinct types of scotch are available, and it all comes from different regions. The five whisky-producing regions of Scotland are Speyside, Lowland, Highland, Campbeltown, and Islay (pronounced eye-lah).

Each region's product has distinct flavors, with Islay arguably standing out the most. The peat used in the manufacturing process influences the whisky's flavor, leading to highly smoky notes, earthy flavors, and a heavily medicinal iodine-like taste. These strong characteristics make Islay an acquired taste, not something beginners tend to enjoy. Then there are the milder Speyside and Highland whiskies, which overlap. The Speyside area is located in the Highland region, so all Speyside whiskies are technically Highland whiskies, though not all Highland whiskies are Speysides. Highland scotches tend to be robust and can share earthy undertones with Islays. Speysides and Lowland whiskies tend to be milder than Islays and Highland scotches. They feature sweet, caramel-like flavors from the malt used in the whiskey-making process. Campbelltown, located on a peninsula in Western Scotland, is the smallest and least well-known region, but its whiskies can have a fruitier profile than other scotches.

A blend is a mixture of any number of these scotches and can draw characteristics from all of them. Scotch blends are a closely guarded secret, though after tasting Buchanan's, it is possible to have a rough guess at what is in there. The mildness suggests a Speyside or Lowland base, while the fruity tones are likely from a Campbelltown making it into the mix. There is also a smoky finish, which implies a small, but not overpowering, amount of Islay has made it in too.

What does the 12 mean?

Numbers on drinks can have a variety of meanings. In some cases, as with Jack Daniels Old Number 7, it can relate to the particular drink in the bottle. Distillers usually produce more than one drink, and adding a number is easier than coming up with a unique name each time one is needed. A number can also indicate a drink's volume; the most famous may be the "40" — a 40-ounce container of malt liquor. In the case of scotch, neither of these apply. The number on a bottle of scotch refers to the length of time, measured in years, it spent maturing in a barrel. Unlike wine, whisky will not continue to age outside of a cask. Instead, a whiskey that spent 15 years in a barrel will be a 15-year-old scotch forever, even if its bottle sits on a shelf for a century (via Whisky Flavor).

Slightly different rules apply to blends. The whiskies that go into blends like Buchanan's have already been aged, and that's reflected on the label. A blend can only be labeled with the age of the youngest whisky in it. So as Buchanan's DeLuxe says "12," no whiskies are younger than that are involved in the blending process. There could, however, be older whiskies in the mix, and the labeling wouldn't be affected.

How to drink Buchanan's DeLuxe

A good scotch should be enjoyed neat and at room temperature. Mixing and giving a bottle some time in a freezer are two methods of disguising "off" flavors and making a poor-quality spirit more palatable. Given the price, you should really be drinking Buchanan's neat. If you're looking for something to use as a mixer, you have far cheaper options available which will perform just as well. Drinking your scotch neat allows you to explore the drink's aromas and flavors without a mixer masking or overpowering anything. Buchanan's was easy enough to drink neat but is slightly less palatable with a drop of water or an ice cube added.

If you absolutely must use a mixer of some kind, opt for something where the whisky can play a starring role instead of just being there to provide the alcohol content. Although purists will insist using anything but a traditional bourbon is sacrilege, an Old-Fashioned is the best option when it comes to a whisky-centric cocktail. When you want to open up the flavor with a bit of fizz and enhance the whisky's smokiness, try Buchanan's with a splash of soda.

How much does it cost?

Expensive is a relative term. As far as scotches go, Buchanan's is not very expensive. You can source a bottle for under $40. While those aren't bottom-shelf prices, they are at the low end of what you'll pay for a blended scotch that features several 12-year-old whiskies and is fairly palatable. However, it is notably more expensive than many domestic spirits; you can get an equivalent bottle of bourbon or rye for close to half the price.

Scotch is a luxury product, and those come at a premium. Unlike vodka, which can go from mash to spirit in less than a day, scotch takes a lot of time to manufacture (via Liquor Laboratory). The whiskies used in Buchanan's have sat in a barrel for a minimum of 12 years; the time and storage space needed all contribute to the price, and a good amount of the liquid evaporates in the process. Add taxes on top of everything else, and you end up with a premium price tag (via Whisky Ride).

Buchanan's DeLuxe 12 vs Oban 14

On the face of it, Buchanan's and Oban are both Scotch whiskies. They're made in Scotland, malt is a key ingredient in both of the spirits, and both contain a liquid that has spent over a decade maturing in a barrel. So what's the difference? The most obvious one is the price tag, a bottle of Oban 14 costs roughly double the price of Buchanan's 12. Then there's the bottle design itself, Oban has a cork stopper. Buchanan's plastic top, as practical as it is, gives the bottle a bit of a budget feel. However, the real difference becomes apparent when you explore the bottles' contents.

Oban 14 is a 14-year-old single malt (via Oban Distillery). The mash was made with a batch of malted barley that came from a single source. The resulting liquid was then distilled and matured in a barrel for 14 years. Buchanan's is a mix of various whiskies, the youngest of which has matured for 12 years. It will contain malt from multiple sources, as it has several whiskies in it, and it may also contain grain alcohol.

In terms of flavor, Oban is a whisky from the Highland region, and it shares a bit of Buchanan's fruity flavor. It also has some sweetness and a hint of smoke. The flavors and aromas are more intense than they are in Buchanan's, but that may be due to Oban not striving for accessibility.