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Thursday, 10 June 2010

A Major Delight

Yesterday, Caskstrength was given yet another great opportunity to visit Speyside - that's twice in a week now. We're starting to think it would be better if we could get a little bolthole somewhere up here and save on travel. Then it came to us.... As we were visiting Glen Grant for the launch of their brand new 170th Anniversary bottling perhaps we could get permission to pitch a field tent at the bottom of the distillery's wonderfully manicured gardens? Better still- maybe we would be allowed to bed down in the cave, which Major Grant had purposefully cut into the rocks which now houses a very special cask indeed? Don't mind topping and tailing!!

Having a little bit of free time before the official launch, we got to wander through the gardens with Master Distiller Dennis Malcolm. Not only is Dennis a legendary whisky maker, but it seems he's also a dab hand at garden design- it was his idea to rebuild the walkway over the burn up to where the cave is situated and it makes for a spectacular tasting platform.

First up, a rare treat - a healthy measure of 1961 Glen Grant was drawn from the slumbering cask for us to get our palates around. Brace yourself Ridley...

The Major's Glen Grant- 1961 - 'The Cave Finish' - ABV Unknown

Nose: Deep, dark and murky. Bloody hell. You can tell this has been maturing outside in the Scottish elements. Some huge polished wood, mixed with a fruity then vanilla perfume, quite reminiscent of George T. Stagg bourbon. Dig deeper and the woody notes turn to a more cedar'y variety. To finish off this wonderful aroma we get molasses and some dark fruits steeped in aged rum. Really quite an experience.

Palate: Perhaps not as beguiling as the nose, with some drying wood taking a firm lead, but this soon dies away into burnt toffee, big malt notes and toasted nuts- no...make that charred nuts! Not sure what strength this is at, but with water, some of the drier notes subside and the fruits in rum from the nose make a welcome return.

Finish: We're often asked what a 'long' finish is. Put it this way, we took a leisurely walk back through down the wooden path, zig-zagged across the lawns, examined the flowerbeds and had time to take plenty of pictures. This whisky lingered, developed and coated the mouth like engine oil. That's a long finish.

Overall: More often than not, trying a whisky in the open air at the distillery gives it a fairy dust which you just can't obtain anywhere else. To try this, with the burn flowing underneath us makes it one of those heart fluttering moments. Thanks to Dennis for a great opportunity to try something a little bit out of the ordinary.

As the early evening started to draw in, we were ushered in to the filling warehouse for the official tasting of the Anniversary bottling. Dennis gave a short introduction to the concept behind the whisky, which is a vatting of casks from between 1976 and 1990, but with as much as 45% of the whiskies included coming from between 1976 and 1982. So there's some seriously old bits and bobs in here, folks.

It was then left to Mr Jim Murray to take the assembled group through tasting notes. Here's what we thought:

Glen Grant - 170th Anniversary Release - 1840-2010 - 46%

Nose: An initial fruitiness, coupled with some marzipan, wet cardboard and a spicy raisin sweetness. Very clean, with a crisp barley freshness. The balance between old whisky and the younger casks from 1990 works very well. It's unmistakably Glen Grant.

Palate: Spirity at first, with a hint of some red fruits developing, then a sharp wave of gooseberries and green apple peel. Jim recommended not adding water, but we decided to explore a little further and the result was very pleasing indeed, with some big fresh bread-like maltiness emerging and a return of the raisins. There's also a subtle hint of peat smoke, which is perhaps due to the peating of the 1970's malt. Jim mentioned he found a little sulphur on the palate, but it isn't something we detected at all, just lots of clean, fruity goodness.

Finish: Some lingering licorice, with a little hint of soapiness, but most of all, that big barley.

Overall: A very well put together bottling, which sings Glen Grant on every level. Most certainly recommended and not a hint of sulphur in sight. (Sorry Jim!)

Our evening was then topped off with some generous drams of a modern Glen Grant classic- the Cellar Reserve bottling from 1992. We reviewed this last year, notes of which you can read here. If you haven't got round to grabbing a bottle of this, get on it now! it has recently been discontinued and on tonight's performance, perhaps the real star of the Glen Grant bottlings.

As the Celler Reserve flowed, someone thought it a good idea for your caskstrength ambassador to have a quick blast on a set of bagpipes. Oh dear. There exists a picture of this horrific experience, which shall hopefully remain hidden in a vault somewhere, but sounds akin to that of the bowels of Beelzebub emanated from both the pipes and your red faced, wheezing scribe. Below is an artists impression- not a pretty sight, i'm sure you'll agree....