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Monday, 12 April 2010

Granted, it's Ultra Premium.

The new Grants 25 Year Old Ultra Premium Blend is soon to be launched (June 2010) with “just over 2,000” bottles available in the “world’s most prestigious airports” before hitting selected specialist retailers in 2011. We’ve no idea where these prestigious aerodromes are but we’re guessing Ryanair doesn’t fly there. That, along with the list price (£145 a bottle) very much rules us out, here at Caskstrength.net HQ from buying a bottle. No worries however as a wee sample has popped through our letter box, saving us having to buy that return flight to Narnia or Hogwarts or Wherever and risk shoplifting a bottle from World Of Whiskies...

We’ve only reviewed one Grants blend before, their awful Ale Cask bottling but this is a whole different beast; an Ultra! Premium! Blend!

Whoop-de-do!

Now, when I hear a phrase such as Ultra! Premium! Blend!, I ponder this old proverb:

“If you’re drinking a blend in the forest and no marketing person is there to tell you it’s an Ultra! Premium! Blend!, is it still an Ultra! Premium! Blend! ?”

With no guidelines I can find on the subject (unlike that for Pure Malt or Single Malt or Blended Malt), I’m always intrigued as to what the difference is between a Blend, a Premium Blend and an Ultra Premium Blend. According to Grant’s, this 25 Year Old Ultra Premium Blend contains 25 whiskies from every single region of Scotland including some of the first ever grain whisky distilled at Girvan in 1963. Not a bad start...

The placing of this product is deliberate; Ultra Premium Blend, rare whiskies, price point in excess of a hundred and twenty quid... remind you of anything? Even the packaging: heavyweight, dark navy blue card and gold embossed logos... there seems to be a certain amount of “inspiration” drawn from the Johnnie Walker Blue Label, here!


It kinda reminds me of the same level of “inspiration” that White Lies took from Editors who took from Joy Division, for their album covers:

Luckily, hidden somewhere at the back of the caskstrength.net cabinet is bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label with about an inch left in the bottom, nabbed from a wealthy but slightly misguided friend’s party earlier in the year. These two blends may contain rare and unusual whiskies, but what is certainly true is that they are backed by some Ultra Premium marketing. Time to strip that all away, as I feel a blind taste test coming on....:


Nose:

Glass A (tall glass): Grapefruit, grass and grist. There is some lemon and lime, unripe Kiwi fruit and hint of smoke. Peanut oil. Over time, the smoke develops greater prominence.

Glass B (short glass): Cereal (digestive biscuit), the same grass and grist but with some addition of fruits (melon and mango). A lot less smoke, virtually none, but heather and vanillas come through instead. With time, the mango notes increase.

Palate:

Glass A: Cereal, bitter liquorice, salt and brown bread toast (unbuttered). There are some flavours that are struggling to get though: Orange wants to appear, but is smothered by the liquorice. Strong and spicy; hints of cinnamon and fennel seeds. This isn’t at all subtle.

Glass B: There seems to be a greater energy to this, something I would equate to having a fairly decent slug of grain over malt, but that serves to enhance a palate with lemons and limes (oddly, as in the nose from Glass A) and some lovely fiery ginger (think Old Jamaica Ginger Beer). Mint and sugar (like a strong mojito made with dark rum). Sweet, well balanced and fruity.

Finish:

Glass A: A good length with nice hints of warming spice, oak and cinnamon. But the fennel seed notes overpower these soft spices to leave a sharp bitterness which lets the whole structure down.

Glass B: A real fizzle which dies down pretty quickly and leaves lovely fruit notes of the initial mango, that ginger again but now some passion fruit and strawberry. Any sherry casking in this blend has really held back until the depths of the finish where it becomes quite plumy and really lip-smacking. The ginger really keeps sailing into the distance.

Overall:

Well! For me the two start neck and neck on the nose but with some time in glass, A becomes much smokier while B develops some exotic fruits. A is all spice and smoke and B is all grass and fruit. On the palate we see Glass B really start to pull away. Glass A feels slightly tired- I bought a Chelsea bun last week and while the individual flavours were all there (spices and sugars), it was a touch dry and became a chore to finish. Glass A had some of these aspect to it. Glass B had a greater energy (possibly from a higher grain content?) and the ginger sweetness appeals to me more than the slightly tired spices of Glass A. But it’s the finish that sees Glass B really hammer nails into the coffin of Glass A. Yes, with A there are some warming, soft spices but there is an overriding bitterness that really lets it down, where as Glass B develops even further into over-ripe, squashy red fruits, mango and the ginger.

In summary, I’d hesitate to call a winner as I wouldn’t spend, give or take £145 on either of these blends. I’d much rather buy a single malt of some description. However there is a clear winner for me and that’s the enhanced fruity nature of Glass B. More energy, more life and more complexity.

Time to find out which is which:

Glass A: Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Glass B: Grants 25 Year Old Ultra Premium Blend