Glen Grant 1954 Rare Vintage

A tasting and review

It was the year Queen Elizabeth II visited my home country of Australia, the first time a reigning monarch had ever done so. It was also the year an unknown hipster by the name of Elvis recorded his first demo and the year Godzilla premiered in Tokyo. That year was 1954 and it also happens to have been the year this particular whisky was distilled by Glen Grant.

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A lot has changed in the years since this was distilled, including the way whisky is made at Glen Grant. Back in 1954 Glen Grant operated with four coal-fired stills, which you could argue would’ve produced something of a rich, heavy spirit. In 1973 two further stills were added, but this time they were gas heated. Impressed with their performance, the distillery added a further four gas-heated stills in 1977 bringing the total to ten. At some point in the future coal firing ceased altogether.

Aside from this being incredibly old whisky, the bare bones of it – the spirit – are fundamentally quite different to what is being produced at Glen Grant these days, which makes it even more a piece of liquid history in my mind. Thanks to a generous sample from the kind folk at Gordon & MacPhail, I recently had the chance to sit down, relax and a spend some quality time with liquid time capsule.

Glen Grant 1954 Rare Vintage

The first thing that struck me about the nose is how active it still is. It’s slow moving, but there’s a lot in there. Old oak, cedar boxes, melon (cantaloupe) with honey drizzled on it, leather, earthy dried tea with a hint of soft smoke, tobacco, some soft stone fruit notes (fleshy blood plums, peaches, apricots) and raisins. Really quite fruity for something of this age and very well integrated, as you might expect.

On the palate it’s slightly oily but light in weight. I found it had a rum-like sweetness to it with lots of integrated soft oak spice at the front. After a few seconds lots of juicy tropical fruit salad/ oak notes emerge (like green mango, papaya, paw paw). There’s some light acidic sourness to it (grapefruit and orange marmalade) and some menthol or eucalypt notes. Toward the finish sweet rum-soaked dried fruits emerge before the finish turns drying with fragrant wood, light spice and lots of oak tannins.

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The idea of whisky that’s been deep in slumber for more than half a century is always alluring, intriguing and attractive. However from the limited selection of old whisky I’ve tasted, the reality of it is not aways so grand and I’m sure there are plenty of hyper-aged whiskies out there that are simply an over-oaked mess. This is not one of them though.

It has a gorgeous nose, almost ‘Japanese’ in the way it manages to integrate fruit, smoke and a leathery-tobacco in a sophisticated way. It took me right back to the times I sat at The Mash Tun in Tokyo, drinking some incredible Japanese whiskies at the bar.

There are just 610 bottles in existence and this expression is available now globally. What’s more, it has recently been awarded a double gold medal – the highest award – at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, as well as gold at the 2017 International Spirits Challenge. So I guess Im not the only one who thinks this whisky is pretty great? A very special thanks to Gordon & MacPhail for the sample tasted here.

Longmorn 12 year old

Bottled by Gordon & MacPhail

One evening, well over a year ago, I was browsing the online catalogue of a major drinks retailer when I spotted a few whiskies in their ‘Clearance’ section. One of them happened to be this 12 year old Longmorn bottled by Gordon & MacPhail, so I picked it up for around the AU$50 mark and thought I’d give it a go.

Longmorn bottle

Aside from the official 16 year old (which is the only current official bottling), we don’t really see that many Longmorn expressions in Australia, not even indie bottles. The distillery itself has quite a high capacity (around 3.5 million litres per year) with most of it destined for Pernod Ricard blends, like the Chivas range. With a production capacity of that size, there seems to be plenty of whisky going to the independent bottlers out there and some of them are bottling expressions that are well worth trying! (I’ve tried some fantastic Longmorn in the past).

Longmorn 12

Not an awful lot of information on this one apart from the 12 year age statement and 40% ABV. I’m almost certain it’s been chill-filtered and if I had to guess, I’d say it’s more than likely made up of refill bourbon casks with a smattering of refill sherry casks in there. I’d probably consider this to be somewhat of an entry level malt if you will.

Notes

On the nose I got all of those classic soft Speyside notes like green pears and apples, freshly cut grass, some light zesty notes and a mild honey sweetness. There’s also a hint of funky cardboard.

Very thin on the palate, with some mild baking spices up front, followed up green apples, some barley/cereal maltiness and a hint of marmalade. It finishes quite dry with some oaky spice and powdered ginger, whilst that cardboard note from the nose seems to work its way in there too. Overall I found it very mild and mellow with lots of soft pleasant notes, but also a couple of oddities that unbalanced it slightly.

Longmorn box

The bottom line

It’s not the most complex dram (but then again, I wasn’t expecting it to be), but it’s still quite an enjoyable, light, summertime whisky. I’d probably consider it as a pleasant alternative to the likes of the Glenmorangie 10 year old, or Glenfiddich/Glenlivet 12 year olds, perhaps a tad less-refined though. Nice work Gordon & MacPhail, looking forward to trying more from your range in the near future!

Benromach 100° Proof

Tasted alongside its sibling, the Benromach 10 year old

Like many distilleries in Scotland, Benromach has a rather interesting history of ups and downs over the years. It was originally founded way back in 1898, but over the course of the next hundred years or so it was sold, closed and re-opened more times than I care to detail.

That was until independent bottler Gordon & Macphail decided to give it some loving and embarked on a project to refurbish Benromach and put it back into production. It officially came back to life in October 1998 and in 16 short years has managed to conjure up a pretty impressive portfolio of whisky that seems to just get better and better (have you tried their latest ‘peat smoke’!?)

Knowing that they’re making some pretty tasty drams these days, I was very keen to try their new 10 year old, bottled at 100° proof. So you can imagine how chuffed I was when this nicely presented set showed up courtesy of the folks at Alba Whisky.

Benromach 100 proof

Thanks to this generous set, I’d have the chance to be able to taste the new higher proof 10 year old side-by-side with the original. After all, they are supposedly constructed in exactly the same way, with the only difference being chill-filtering and a different alcohol percentage. Time to see what kind of difference this really makes.

Benromach 10 year old 43% ABV

First up was the widely available 10 year old expression. It’s comprised of 80% ex-bourbon cask matured whisky and 20% ex-sherry cask matured whisky. These parcels are then vatted together and left to rest for their final year in an ex-Oloroso sherry cask before being bottled. Talk about labour intensive.

Benromach 10 year old

I found the nose quite heavy (as in, laden with plenty of layers), but at the same time it seemed bright and active. Honey, malty sweetness, crushed biscuits, dried pineapple, tangy and buttery with a whiff of smoke.

The more I came back to it, the more it changed, so take the above with a grain of salt. One thing I can confidently say is that there seemed to be quite a lot going on for your average 10 year old!

A nice lightly oiled mouthfeel for a 43%er. Hints of spice up front, sweetness, apple skins and sultanas with a fair amount of damp vegetal smoke on the finish. Not overly warming, but well balanced with a lot of flavour left behind on the palate.

Benromach 10 year old 100° Proof (57% ABV)

Many of you (especially if you’re reading this from the U.S.) would be wondering how 100° Proof equates to 57% ABV. You’d probably expect it to translate to 50% ABV, right?

The key is in the ° symbol, indicating the old imperial measurement of ‘degrees proof’, whereby 100° equates to 57.15% ABV. There’s actually a neat story linking this back to rum, naval times and the flash point of gunpowder (you can read more here). Anyway, I digress. Back to the whisky.

Benromach 100 proof

It’s not just the photo, but as you’d notice from the first image, the 100° proof bottling is noticeably darker in colour.

It’s immediately richer on the nose. Perhaps not as ‘lively’ as the regular ten, but it’s depth could easily make you think it’s older than it is. Malty caramel sauce, creamy, hints of vanilla, some spice and the red fruits you’d associate with sherry maturation. That little whiff of smoke is hardly evident.

BenromachLegs

Quite hot and prickly up front on the palate, but this transitions into a thick and creamy mouth-feel. Sweet honey, malty biscuits, spice and jammy berries. A dash of water tames the heat and enhances the sweet, creamy richness, but I found it detracted from the lovely nose, so experiment carefully.

The verdict

Both come across to me as very well made whiskies. What do I mean by that exactly? It’s a little had to articulate I suppose. They’re not necessarily in your face or memorable for one particular note, rather they just leave you with a general impression that they’re very well balanced, well thought out and crafted with precision. I like to think that’s a hallmark of something that’s well made.

With all that being said, Benromach still fly under many people’s radars a little bit. A bit of a shame really, as they’re producing some pretty smart whisky indeed.

The new Benromach 10 year old 100° proof is now available in Australia through specialty whisky retailers at around the AU$150-160 mark. Thanks again to Alba Whisky for the generous (and photogenic) samples.