Google Journey to the centre of Glen Grant - Part 1

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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

June 20, 2020





Angus's Corner
From our Scottish correspondent
and skilled taster Angus MacRaild in Edinburgh
Journey to the centre of Glen Grant - Part 1
It is no secret I’m a big fan of old Glen Grant - although that’s not to say there isn’t much to enjoy in more contemporary examples of course. However, I do think that it is a distillery that from the early 1970s backwards to the most distant historical examples I could try displayed a level of charisma, easy charm, panache and sheer damned attractiveness that it very rarely fails to hit the mark.


It’s also one of those rare and truly flexible distillates that can strut its stuff from youth to ripe old age; knackered refill or the most bullish of sherry casks; 70 proof to enamel-dissolvingly high ABVs. Anyway, once again I’ve amassed an embarrassing stash of old Glen Grants composed of samples, full open bottles and old miniatures. So let’s try to split them across a couple of sessions and divide by examples under the classic old ‘heath covered mountains’ label (one of the all-time great labels in my wee view) and then more ‘modern’ aged indy examples.



Glen Grant 5 yo (70 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, 1960s)

Glen Grant 5 yo (70 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, 1960s)
I’m sure we all know how influential old batches of Glen Grant 5 year old from G&M were in Italy in the 1960s? I think it’s also important to remember that such bottlings - like this one - were also to be found throughout the UK as well. Remember, Glen Grant was kind of the ‘Macallan’ of its day in terms of popular consensus about ‘quality’. Anyway… Colour: very pale white wine - with an almost green tinge. Nose: No wonder the Italians loved it so much, this is really Scottish grappa! Wonderfully grassy, green, slightly vinous, mineral, lightly oily and with abundant fresh, crisp cereal and bread notes. Wee touches of fabric, marrow fat, bouillon, Scotch broth and some wonderfully rustic sheep wool. Raw, old style barley eau de vie. Mouth: seriously, this is almost like tamed new make with this punchy grassiness, rustic vegetal tones, cornflakes dusted with icing sugar, some rather potent olive oil - in texture as well as flavour - and some nicely deft waxiness and toasty cereals. Finish: medium, peppery, canvass, cereal, lamp oil and sunflower oil. Comments: Everything about this, from the age, to the bottling strength and most of all the flavours, is pure old school. I cannot imagine many contemporary distillates showing with such confidence at this kind of age and strength which provides the spirit precisely zero space or woody sweetness to hide within. Now, having said all that, it’s probably also something of an acquired taste.
SGP: 341 - 86 points.



Glen Grant 8 yo (40%, Moray Bonding for Armando Giovinetti Jr, 1960s)

Glen Grant 8 yo (40%, Moray Bonding for Armando Giovinetti Jr, 1960s)
I just love these old presentations featuring the thistle stencils on the glass. Interesting to see that it wasn’t only G&M that was using them. Colour: light straw. Nose: several shades fatter and more oily. It’s easy to see why drinkers at the time would have considered 8 to be a rather mature age with this kind of profile on display. Much more petrol, mineral oil, soot, gentle waxes, oily sheep wool and things like chamomile and soft medical tinctures. Also a good deal more natural sweetness like malt syrup and honeyed porridge. Mouth: the ABV feels a bit soft here, but these flavours of waxes, marrow fat, mutton soup, vegetable broth and barley water are all very pleasant and charismatic. In fact you get a lot of shared DNA with the 5yo but with an added layer of wood activity and gentle, herbal-accented sweetness. Finish: medium and getting drier and more towards white pepper, flinty minerals, gentle petrol notes, lemon pith and dried herbs. Comments: Highly quaffable, but just 3 more degrees alcohol would have carried it far better I think. Anyway, beautiful distillate as ever.
SGP: 452 - 84 points.



Glen Grant 12 yo (75 proof, Moray Bonding Co, UK market, 1960s)

Glen Grant 12 yo (75 proof, Moray Bonding Co, UK market, 1960s)
Colour: deep coppery gold. Nose: beautiful! Another style entirely with this very nervous, ethereal cloak of sherry that’s draped over everything (to think, there’s an entire Facebook thread on Malt Maniacs about the use of the word ‘nervous’ in tasting notes - what a time to be alive!) Beyond that though there’s all these wonderful herbaceous, earthy and tobacco notes. Raisins, caramel fudge, putty, strawberry wine, cafe latte and eventually this wonderful rancio quality. Just superb! We’ve really struck ‘old Glen Grant’ now. Mouth: impeccably dry, nutty, saline and rancio sherry. Green walnut liqueur, Irish coffee, natural tar, herbal extracts, old bitter ointments, dried tarragon, verbena and wormwood. The word that comes to mind here is ‘complexity’. This pitch perfect marriage of sherry, distillate and time. Finish: wonderfully long, thready, nervous (!!) and full of more of these saline and nutty sherry touches. Earthy, waxy and with lots of crystallised citrus peels. Comments: There’s probably quite a lot going on here, but my initial thought is: what a difference 43% makes! There’s just that extra wellspring of power that lifts everything that much higher while retaining poise and balance. Just pure pleasure in a glass!
SGP: 462 - 92 points.



Glen Grant 19 yo (45%, OB for Italy, Armando Giovinetti Jr import, 1960s)

Glen Grant 19 yo (45%, OB for Italy, Armando Giovinetti Jr import, 1960s)
One of these rather scarce but almost always totally excellent old official ‘cube’ bottlings for Italy. Colour: pale gold (yes!). Nose: just beautiful! A ballet of waxes, shoe polish, crystallised citrus and exotic fruits, wild herbs, tobaccos, roots, medical embrocations and all kinds of furniture and mineral oils. One of these aromas where the distillate is rich, vibrantly fresh and expressive and yet you still get the wood in perfect harmony with these wee coconut touches. Mouth: soots, waxes, root vegetables, metal polish, natural tar, potent herbal cough medicines, waxed lemon peel, olive oil and even hints of saltwater - maybe salty pasta water, this was for Italy after all! Wonderfully mineral, herbaceous, hugely waxy and with a thrillingly oily and mouth-filling texture. Finish: long, nicely peppery, again lightly vegetal, honeyed, waxy and full of wee notes of salted mead, herbal medicines and dried tarragon. Comments: A wee poem in a bottle. No wonder the name Glen Grant carried such a reputation, what an utterly phenomenal distillate this distillery rattled out.
SGP: 563 - 93 points.



Let’s move on to some old miniatures. I’ve recently taken to buying some old minis at auction, largely out of curiosity, but I can’t help but feel a light effervescence of schadenfreude at the thought that I might be annoying some miniature collectors/dealers.



Glen Grant 8 yo (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, miniature, 1970s)

Glen Grant 8 yo (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, miniature, 1970s)
This one with a large white capsule so probably late 70s I suspect. Colour: gold. Nose: A much leaner and more powerful style. Full of wet leaves, moss, snapped twigs, earthy potting sheds and then bags of raw barley, porridge oats, plush cereals, buttery toast and a big spoonful of golden style and barley sugars. Evolves to become more honeyed and approachable with a little breathing time. You can also find wee flourishes of waxes and herbs. Quite superb but absolutely a geek’s whisky style I would say. With water: rather more buttery and oily now, with sweet cereals, dried mint and things like putty and lamp oil. Superb and very old school. Mouth: big, fatty, herbal and waxy. With an almost greasy vegetal quality that feels somehow both textural as well as flavoursome. More leafy and mulchy notes, petrichor, herbal teas, citronella and a wee hint of nutmeg. With water: honeyed, waxy, peppery, lightly spicy and full of gentle notes of lightly smoked teas (lapsang souchong, earl grey) mineral oil, shoe polish and menthol tobacco. Finish: long with a rather thready waxiness, some white pepper, cinnamon, olive oil and more notes of shoe and metal polishes. Comments: At times tough, but with water and patience you are rewarded with unvarnished, old style glory. I also love that there is a definite vein of DNA running from the 19yo into this wee miniature.
SGP: 472 - 89 points.



Glen Grant 8 yo (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, miniature, 1970s)

Glen Grant 8 yo (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, miniature, 1970s)
This one has a smaller gold screw cap and slightly sleeker bottle, which means properly 1970s, probably around mid-70s. Colour: straw. Nose: indeed, this feels already like a slightly earlier style of distillate. It’s overall more elegant, but certain characters within are more direct and punchy, in this case particularly the herbal aspects. Lots of dried and freshly chopped herbs with various ointments, medical tinctures and cough syrups. It’s also beautifully honeyed. Lots of mead, barley sugar, dried mint and some lovely emerging notes of proving bread dough. Natural, understated and extremely attractive. With water: linens, chalk, pollen, dried meadow flowers, white bread and crushed aspirin. A little lighter on its feet and a notch more medical now. Mouth: powerful attach with more of these really punchy notes of herbs, but also now with freshly crushed ferns, moss and other greenery, mothballs, syrupy cough medicines, green peppercorns, fermenting honey and mineral oil. Fatty, dry, tautly structured and showing some lean and rather crisp minerals and acidity. A wine drinkers’ malt like so many of these pale old Glen Grants. With water: herbal extracts, pinewood sap, ink, soot, cough sweets, citronella, lemon balm and more rather textual vegetal notes. Finish: long, emphatically oily, waxy, weightily textured, faintly lemony and with many wee tertiary notes of crisp cereals, fresh fabrics, hessian, chalk and white flowers. Comments: Amazing that this wee mini would stay so pin-sharp and bright after what must be 40+ years in the bottle. The power of these old Glen Grants seems indomitable.
SGP: 462 - 91 points.



Glen Grant 8 yo (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, miniature, 1970s)

Glen Grant 8 yo (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, miniature, 1970s)
An almost identical bottle except that this time the capsule is white and the liquid is a few shades darker. Which of course in those days could just as easily have meant caramel as sherry. Colour: bright gold. Nose: hmmm, I think we may have struck sherry! A stunning mix of fatty, swollen waxes, putty and cooking oils mixed with delicate preserve fruit jams, conserves and cordials. Lots of old hessian, leather, dunnage earthiness, raisins in brandy, wee notes of fennel and caraway and this ever-present, persevering herbaceous complexity. A hug in a glass! With water: perfectly balanced now! Breads, tobaccos, herbs and medicines, but also fresher, more exotically fruity notes of mango and tinned pineapple. Mouth: Gah! Brilliant! Uber powerful and yet riddled with tobaccos, dark fruit chutneys, olive oil, mineral oil, camphor, putty, myriad medical ointments and superbly waxy textural thickness. With water: same story as on the nose, the fruits begin to take over. Here they are also joined by fruit salad syrups, tinned lychee and plain old runny honey drizzled on some cornflakes. Finish: long, fatty, gloopy fruit syrups, mineral oil, waxes, pollens, old Chartreuse and ink. Comments: What a glorious wee thing. Why have we been letting miniature collectors get away with hoarding these things for so long!?
SGP: 662 - 92 points.



Glen Grant 10 yo (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, 1970s)

Glen Grant 10 yo (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, late 1970s)
Back to one of the later chunkier bottles now with a bigger white screw cap, but this time with the capacity included in old imperial measurements, so probably bottled sometime around 1976/77. Colour: gold. Nose: it’s a very grassy and austere one. Very punchy, slightly aggressive, lightly vegetal, chalky and plenty of mineral oil and graphite. These vegetal aspects become more assertive over time and you still feel this peppery heat. Some softer herbal complexities emerge in time. With water: lighter fluid, moss, lemon peel, white mushrooms, gravel, carbon paper and some sort of Scottish broth soup. Pretty whacky but fun. Mouth: Gah! Intensely alcoholic at first. Really, only 100 proof you say? Now, it’s still got a lot of very nice flavours, it’s just that they’re really wrapped up in raw fire. More vegetable stocks, soups, mutton, oily sheep wool. brittle waxiness, cavass, clay and crushed aspirin. With water: (not being shy with the water here…) much better, and more cohesive I’d add. Still very peppery but more in terms of flavour than heat intensity now. Lots of pink, white and green pepper, paprika, Moroccan fruits in muesli, earthy turmeric, pollens, preserved lemons and even candle wax. Quite a ride! Finish: long, rather salty, some coal dust, sheep wool, lemon peel, some green asparagus maybe, lanolin, medical balms. Getting a little too acrid and dusty in the aftertaste, OBE? Comments: Phew! I couldn’t tell you how much of that was due to whatever kind of mad journey this wee Glen Grant has undergone in its 3rd class miniature carriage over these past decades and how much was down to original distillate character or cask. Bags of entertainment, but not ideal if your thing is, you know, ‘enjoying whisky’ while watching a film or something. But then again, I’m not yet convinced those sorts of people are reading Whiskyfun ;)
SGP: 372 - 79 points.



Glen Grant 10 yo (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, late 1970s)

Glen Grant 10 yo (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, 1970s)
This is an interesting one. Bigger bottle again with a big white capsule, but with the diagonal red lettered age statement which recalls the older 1960s and early 70s style G&M presentations, and a larger printed ‘100 proof’. I’d guess around mid-1970s but we are really scraping the barrel of my mini knowledge here. Colour: orangey gold. Nose: sweet stewed fruits mixed with petrol! Sultanas, damp earth, plum wine, orange oils, herbal liqueurs, nutmeg, pollens, wee touches of quince and some more tropical notes of guava and dried mango. Superb and very much towards an older, sherry-accented style. With water: softer, wider, more towards breads, pastries, lilies weighted with pollen, apricot jam and mirabelle. Once again evolving towards more sweet tropical fruit notes in time. Mouth: really on tobaccos, herbal cough medicines, lemon cough drops, dried mint, darjeeling tea and a rather salty, punchy sherry profile. Some pretty earthy tobacco notes too. With water: drier, waxier, dustier, more earthy, peppery, lemony and with wee glimmers of star fruit, kiwi and lime. Some kind of mixed exotic fruit curd along with glazed pastries and almond croissant. Finish: long, with quite a few bitter citrus piths, herbal bitters, waxes, putty, mineral oils and aniseed. Comments: Definitely an older one I’d say, and the interplay between sweeter fruits and breads and dried earthy and herbal tones is really compelling here.
SGP: 661 - 90 points.



Glen Grant 12 yo (100 proof / 57%, Gordon & MacPhail, miniature, c1980)

Glen Grant 12 yo (100 proof / 57%, Gordon & MacPhail, miniature, +/-1980)
Another larger shaped bottle and a big white capsule again this time. With the addition of metric measurements we should be comfortably within spitooning distance of 1980. Colour: pale gold. Nose: quite a different style. Much grassier, greener, more floral and full of pollens, plain cereals, lightly buttered toast, vase water, hessian and clay. We’re creeping towards this lighter but still rather old school Glen Grant profile which to me feels like the late 60s distillates captured at a younger age. This one remains beautifully fresh, green and vibrant with many subtle complexities emerging including olive oil, beeswax, carbon paper, bouillon and chopped parsley. With water: wonderfully mossy now with lots of twigs, bracken and petrichor. Ink, carbon paper, dried herbs, honeycomb and shoe polish. Mouth: rather fierce on arrival with lots of struck flints, petrol, lime oil, hessian, white pepper, ink and crushed aspirin. Also things like cut grass, cactus and raw vegetables. Very good but a more austere expression. With water: easier and more towards old school boiled lime and lemon sweets. Cornflakes dusted with icing sugar, rapeseed oil and sweetened darjeeling tea. Finish: long, getting slightly earthy, still vegetal and herbal, also more peppery and punchy again. Comments: Another really great one, although it’s perhaps not quite as luminous as those wee 8yos.
SGP: 461 - 89 points.



Well, that was fun! Next week, unless there’s a pretty sudden change to the rules of mathematics, it’ll be part 2.




More tasting notesCheck the index of all Glen Grant malts we've tasted so far







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