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Glen Grant is one of a handful of classic Speyside distilleries that seems to just churn out glorious whisky at quite impressive prices. It has garnered such a solid reputation through the years due to an almost endless array of stunning aged examples. Glen Grant is probably among the top 10 distillates in terms of sheer aging potential and it shows in almost all the older bottlings you can find, either official or independent. It has been available as a single malt since before the second world war and it shows no sign of slowing down. This is great news for anyone interested in fruity, complex and stunningly elegant Speyside whisky.
Glen Grant Distillery
Stills: 4 Wash 4 Spirit
Water Source: Caperdonich Well
Capacity: 5.9 Million Litres
1930s-1973: Old Style Perfection.
Glen Grant has been available as a single malt for a long time. The most important reason for this is Gordon & MacPhail who have long been defacto bottlers of Glen Grant and have ensured a steady stream of bottings at a variety of ages for decades now. The best examples of Glen Grant are, like many other distilleries whos pre-war product has fortunately been bottled, those examples from before and during the second world war.
In the decades leading up to the 1960s Glen Grant was made in a very traditional and old style fashion. It was a style of whisky making that had evolved since late 1800s, it was one that was not as concerned with mass production as todays industry. It was a world where old barley varieties like Bere were floor malted and then dried, often using peat or a combination of coal and peat. This malt was then milled, mashed and fermented in wood using either natural yeasts or much more delicate bakers and brewers varieties, nothing like as aggressive as the powerful distillers yeast varieties that are used today. The wash would then be distilled through direct fired stills and condensed through worm tubs. It should also be noted here that Glen grant is one of only a handful of distilleries to use purifiers on its stills, a practice that helps to increase reflux and copper contact thereby making the spirit lighter and fruitier. This has been the case at Glen Grant for over 100 years and is undoubtedly essential to the distillerys character. Spirit would then be filled primarily into very fresh, untainted sherry casks or occasionally refill wood or ex-bourbon casks, although this practice was rare until later in the fifties. The cumulative effect was a very old school style of whisky that, while once an industry standard, is now long gone form Scotland. Thanks to numerous bottling of Glen Grant from this era we have a great window onto this magnificent historical style.
There are bottlings of Glen Grant at younger ages hailing from the 30s, 40s and 50s although these are harder to find than the long aged examples. They show wonderful sherry matured old style distillate with polished, delicate, fragrant sherry and big notes of wax, oil, gentle phenols and soft metallic peat. There are also numerous fruit characters, from drying aspects of glazed, crystallized and stewed fruits to more lush green, tropical and resinous qualities. The best examples are, undoubtedly, those bottled by G&M.
More common are the long aged examples. Those from the 1930s and particularly the war years of the 1940s are considered the best and are consequently the most expensive and rare. Glen Grants from these years can be found from 30 up to 50 years of age and above. They all show a distinct oily, phenolic peatiness and all the mineral, metallic, fruity and oily sub complexities that arise from aged peated distillate They also display stunning aged qualities such as tobacco, rancio, old cognac, raisin notes, leather, menthol and mint leaf and stunning, polished, clean oak. They are some of the finest examples of pre-war distilling, they sit alongside the best Strathislas, Macallans and Mortlachs as examples of poetry in a bottle. Thankfully there are numerous examples and, while some are better than others, there are no bad ones as far as I know. The best aged Glen Grants from these years are world class whiskies that put modern distillates to shame.
The aged examples from the fifties are also stunning and often can be found at much lower prices. They display less peat but also staggeringly complex and lush fruit qualities with beautiful wax and resinous notes. There are some phenomenal examples from refill wood to be found and G&M are still occasionally bottling casks from this era. They are some of the best value malts in terms of price to quality ratio. The same can be said of distillations from the early to mid 1960s. G&M regularly bottle casks from this era, often quite heavily sherry influenced. These can be more beefy examples with liquorice, dark fruits, spice, dark chocolate and heady notes of balsamico, tobacco and fruit liqueurs. Some are for sherry lovers only but the best are beautifully clean, balanced, rich and rewarding, again as far as pricing goes they are unbeatable.
By the mid sixties there was a much higher proportion of Glen Grant being filled into ex-bourbon casks and refill hogsheads. There was also a much higher proportion of casks being sold to other companies which has led to a vast array of other independent bottlings from this time. Glen Grant matured in refill wood from the late s60s/early 70s can be some of the most intensely fruity and gloriously lush whisky you can imagine. Dense green and garden fruits on top of honey, vanilla, spice, oils, pristine oak, butter, grass and light chocolaty aspects are all common. There are too many stunning casks from a multitude of bottlers to go into specific examples but regular and consistent expressions have been bottled by Duncan Taylor, Berry Brothers, Signatory and Speciality Drinks. Like the older versions by G&M, these casks all show Glen Grants incredible ability to age beautifully.
1973-late 1990s: Slow Modernisation.
Glen Grant was one of the later distilleries to modernize. In 1973 they changed from worm tub to shell condensers and added a new pair of stills to the existing four. This move was followed in 1977 with the addition of another four stills, all the new stills were installed with gas firing while the original four retained their coal firing method. It was not until the late nineties that the stills were all converted to steam, thus making Glen Grant one of the last distilleries to do so.
The character inevitably lost some of its luster as a result of these changes. There are still spectacular Glen Grants to be found from the late seventies onwards but they lack the lush, fruit-heavy characteres of the older bottlings. However, given Glen Grants capacity for aging, we may need to wait a little longer to see how distillations from the latter 70s and onwards start to behave at 35-40 years plus.
During these years Glen Grant brought out a string of young official bottlings, most commonly at 5 and 10 years of age. These were very popular in Italy and Spain where very light malts were greatly appreciated. These bottlings are exceptionally cerealy, grassy, light, citrusy and borderline fragile with distinctive notes of pear drops, herbs and grainy youthfulness. If you are looking for light, easy going, ice-friendly summer drams then you could do much worse than these official Glen Grants.
Oddly enough there seems to be far fewer bottlings of Glen Grant from the 1980s and 90s. G&M offer some standard expressions as do the distillery themselves and they are typically in keeping with the modern Glen Grant style. They are floral, malty, delicately fruity and vary soft. In fact the softness of Glen Grant is one of its most distinctive characteristics, it is also what affords it such great aging potential. The delicacy of the distillate means it can bend to the whims of a cask over many years and work with the wood rather than fight against it like bigger, more boisterous distillates.
1990s-Present: An Uncertain Future?
Glen Grant still makes very fine, clean distillate but it has undoubtedly changed a lot in terms of its production methods so it remains to be seen how the modern distillates of the past two decades will develop in years to come. Hopefully great things will emerge and in the meantime there are still great aged casks coming out fairly regularly at mouthwatering prices. Although this will inevitably have to end and the prices will rise as a result we have not quite reached that point yet so enjoy Glen Grant while you can, the best examples remain some of the most beautiful and elegant malts in Scotland.