Gordon & MacPhail 45 year old Glen Grant 1966
Glen Grant is often overshadowed by its illustrious Speyside neighbours however it has a unique history of its own. One of its founders, James Grant, in 1820 was a leader of the last recorded clan uprising as he led 700 clansmen to Elgin to free their clan chief. This passion for the Grant name continued when in 1840 John and James Grant decided to go legitimate having previously earned a living by smuggling.
More notably they had hands on experience by working in partnership with the Walker brothers of Elgin at Dandaleith distillery. This distillery is now lost to history but when the lease ended in the 1830’s, both sets of brothers were suitably inspired to move onto new distilleries with the Walkers taking over Linkwood. By doing so they followed in the footsteps of other local entrepreneurs who pursued distillation as a legal business following the introduction of the 1823 Excise Act. Interestingly James Grant was a qualified lawyer and practised nearby in Elgin.
After establishing a successful distillery thanks to its location with readily available barley and access to sea ports, John Grant passed away in 1864 and was followed by James in 1872. It was upon his death that the distillery passed to his 25 year old son known as James Junior who would become more widely associated with the title The Major. Having always had an interest in the distillery itself, the well-travelled Major was always on the lookout for new opportunities and technology. He was the first person to own a car in the region and also saw the potential in electric lighting, having this fitted in the distillery. Grant also introduced the tall slender stills at the distillery, accompanied by purifiers that have defined its style of whisky. It wasn’t just internals that concerned The Major, as he also established the surrounding landscaped gardens that visitors to the distillery can still enjoy today.
I was very fortunate to participate in a recent Tweet Tasting event from Gordon & MacPhail and organised by The Whisky Wire. The focus of the online event was the classic Rare Vintage range from one of Scotland’s classic bottlers. The event comprised of five marvellous whiskies that I had to force myself to sit down with and explore. Just now you’re reading one of these drams, but if you’re interested in what other whiskies were served up that evening then do checkout the gateway article to a treasure trove of matured whiskies.
When faced with such an aged or unusual whisky as this Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant, I like to set the scene by considering the practices at the distillery in 1966 and subsequent changes. This way you can appreciate the influence of various enhancements and upgrades post-distillation. Compared to some of the other whiskies I’ve tasted as part of this Rare Vintage event, Glen Grant itself tends to harbour a formidable inventory of aged stock. Compared to some neighbours its older vintages are still affordable and wonderful. I still fondly recall a straightforward 10 year old bottling from the 1970’s that just offered so much character.
As for the distillery during 1966 we know this would have been the original four stills that were coal fired. These were upgraded to six in 1973, before the tally was increased again to ten in 1977. Also in existence in 1966 was the last water-wheel driven rummager; a device that moves copper chains in the bottom of the still. This prevents any burning and therefore tainting of the spirit. When visiting Glenfarclas in 2016 the rummager method is still utilised although purely powered by electricity today. Unfortunately the drum maltings closed in 1964 having being established in 1898 on the same site as Caperdonich distillery (or Glen Grant #2). It was the revival of Caperdonich that prompted the drum maltings to finally close and another piece of the distillery passed into the history books. Glen Grant also in 1966 featured worm tubs as opposed to the condensers we now see at the distillery, which were installed in the 1980’s refurbishment.
Distilled in 1966 and bottled on 16th July 2012 at 45 years of age, this Glen Grant resulted in an outturn of 1121 bottles at 40% strength. A vatting of five casks in total from all from 1966, it features a refill American hogshead (cask 7376) distilled on 28th December. In addition a first fill sherry butt (cask 5260), distilled on 3rd November and then a trio of refill American hogheads (casks 2924, 2925 and 2930) all distilled on 4th May. Now that hopefully I've set the scene at the distillery, we can move on to the main event.
Colour: edible gold leaf
Nose: it's fruity at first with apples, a hint of pineapple and a drop of melon. A light resin interspersed with vanilla follows, I'm almost tempted to say a Portuguese custard tart but then lemon cuts through it all. An oily presence as well. In the backdrop subtle spices.
Taste: a real lightness with apples and lemons once again. A fresh vibrant vanilla, banana peel and some grapefruit that moves into the lingering finish. I'm taken back to a banana fitter with lashings of golden syrup.
Overall: a very approachable and engaging light whisky. Would I have picked it out as being 45 years old? No, not at all. This more than the other whiskies during the tasting could have benefitted from a higher strength. I actually prefer the aforementioned 10 year old that has more of a sherry presence and density.