Vat 69 is a blended whisky that was first produced in 1882 by a man called William Sanderson. He owned a whisky liqueur company in Leith, Edinburgh and decided to branch out in to the area of blended whiskies in 1880, which was a time when the blended whisky sales were booming in Scotland. As the story goes, Sanderson decided to produce 100 casks of blended whisky, each with its own style and subtle difference. He then assembled a panel of judges comprising of friends, family, business associates and reknowned master blenders, asking them to taste and mark each one. The whisky from cask number 69 received the highest score, so the name Vat 69 was born. Sanderson started the production in 1882.
The blend contains a complex mix of 40 different single malts and grain whiskies and the exact combination remains a closely guided secret. This has evolved over the years from Sanderson's original blend that was built heavily around the two distilleries that he owned - Glen Garioch (pronounced glen-gear-ee) for its single malt and North British for its grain whisky content. The Vat 69 brand is now owned by drinks giant Diageo, with most stock exported from the UK. Its main markets around the world are Spain, Greece, Venezuela and Australia. Vat 69 is also popular in India, where it has regularly featured in Bollywood movies since the 1950s which has fuelled its sales there massively.
The colour is light with a brownish tinge and the nose is slightly rough but then improves slightly with time. It is full of different cereal grains (think of malted barley, corn and maize) and sugary caramel, with a distinct fake fruit sweetness (imagine peardrop sweets - this is a classic indication that some young whisky is present in the blend). Not a great start but as stated it does improve with some vanilla coming through. On the palate, this feels medium to light bodied and slightly buttery in the mouth. Again, there are lots of cereal notes (almost too much as it gives a touch of herbal bitterness to the whisky) and that sweet sugary caramel. The finish has very little length and is sweet (almost sickly), then turns bitter and woody before leaving a raw alcoholic burn in your mouth and throat.
Vat 69 lacks any real complexity and clearly contains some young whiskies. While this keeps the production costs and subsequent retail costs down, it does add a slightly unpleasant edge to the blend when drunk neat. Having said that, it was better with a mixer and gave the required impact to the drink. It would also be good with ice, as the extra coldness would take away some of the spirity alcohol. Both of these make it perfect for warm weather climates, so it is easy to see why Vat 69 is so popular in the countries listed above. This exported version that we tried on our recent trip to Spain is different to the UK version, which has a slightly higher percentage of single malts involved. In the UK a bottle should cost between £15-20, although it is much cheaper in Spain where our bottle cost €9!