Here in the final part of the review of our visit to the Girvan and Ailsa Bay distilleries, we review the final products of the whole whisky making process - the Grant's blended whisky range. We were recently invited by William Grant & Sons' global brand ambassador for the Grant's range, Ludo Ducrocq and he showed us around both distilleries, which are located close to the town of Girvan on the west Lowland coast of Scotland. At the end of our tours, Ludo allowed us to sample the complete range of Grant's whiskies including some not available in the UK and one new release. To read our distillery visit notes for Girvan and Ailsa Bay - click here.
The Grant's range is amongst the best selling in the world. The main markets are the UK (where the brand stands in 4th place behind Bell's, Famous Grouse and High Commissioner), France (who are the world leaders in whisky consumption with a staggering 48 million litres each year) and South America (especially Ecuador and Venezuela). Sales in other growing markets such as eastern Europe, Taiwan and the travel retail/Duty Free sector are increasing rapidly. The Grant's brand sits comfortably in the world's top five for the sales of blended whisky and is predicted to shortly take third place for the first time (the other brands in the top five as of 2009 were Johnnie Walker, Ballantine's, J&B and Chivas Regal). Overall, the range sells 20 million bottles of whisky a year! *
Grant's Ale Cask Reserve
This was first released in 2001 and remains the only whisky in full time production to be matured in ex-ale casks. The construction of the blend is around 40% single malt whisky (from between 20-30 distilleries) and 60% grain whisky (from 2-3 distilleries, with the main component being from Girvan). The Ale Cask Reserve is blended in the style of a Lowland single malt. It is bottled at 40% ABV and should cost £15-18 a bottle. The colour is golden with a brownish tint and the nose is cereal grain husks and a honey-like sweetness. On the palate, this bittersweet feel is intensified and some vanilla and oatmeal come through. The finish is particularly grainy with plenty of cereal and a hint of yeast. It seems a slightly unusual whisky but is very drinkable and extremely pleasant.
Grant's Family Reserve
This whisky is the flagship of the Grant's brand. It is designed to be similar in style to a classic Speyside single malt and contains ex-bourbon and sherry cask matured whiskies and a few casks of peaty whisky. The Family Reserve has a rich golden colour and a nose is full of cereal grains and vanilla. Other elements give a warm, comforting combination of aromas - sweet honey, yeast, citrus (imagine dried orange peel) and whiff of earthy smoke. On the palate, this is light, delicate and mellow with initial sweetness (sweet grains, vanilla, honey and caramel), fruitiness (imagine pears and apples) and nuts (especially almonds). The finish is sweet before turning drier at the end. The nut and grain notes are also noticably present here. Family Reserve offers great value at £12-18 a bottle and is widely available in the UK. To read our full review and tasting notes of the Family Reserve - click here.
Grant's Sherry Cask Reserve
As the name suggests, this whisky contains a large proportion of both single malt and grain whiskies that have been matured in ex-sherry casks. The base of the blend is the same as that of the Family Reserve but it has been married in sherry casks. The result is a heavier, sweeter whisky with more body. The Sherry Cask Reserve should cost under £20, is bottled at 40% ABV and is widely available in the UK. The colour is a golden orange/amber and the nose is rich and packed with honey, sweet dried fruits (think of sultanas and raisins), orange zest and wood spices (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg). On the palate, this feels rich, sweet and coats your mouth. The obvious sweetness is led by the aromas of the nose - honey, dried fruit, orange - with the wood spices and plenty of cereal grains giving balance and a slightly bitter edge. The finish is warm and fruity before the cinnamon and nutmeg come through at the end. Lovely.
Grant's 12 years old
This whisky is not available in the UK and its main markets are France and South America. In France, a bottle will sell for €20-25 and it is released at a strength of 40% ABV. The blend is made up of 50% single malt whisky and 50% grain whisky. The colour is golden yellow with a hint of amber and the nose feels sumptuous and tempting. There is a mix of vanilla, honey, cereals, zesty orange and distinctive earthy peat smoke. On the palate, the whisky is rich and creamy with plenty of honey, vanilla and nuts. These are complimented by zingy orange zest, ginger and nutmeg spices, cereals and soft earthy smoke. The finish is long and less sweet with a lovely drying bitter grainy note coming through.
Grant's 18 years old
Another whisky in the range that is not available in the UK market but is extremely popular in France, where it retails for €35-40. It is bottled at 40% ABV and contains whiskies with a minimum age of 18 years, including some that are over 25 years of age. After blending, this whisky has spent time marrying together before finishing its maturation in large Port casks. The colour is deep amber and the nose is rich, sweet and fruity (especially dried fruits such as raisins, figs and prunes). On the palate, this is again rich and feels thick in the mouth. There is an interesting array of characteristics - dark dried fruits (raisins, figs, prunes again), black treacle, vanilla, caramel and hints of wood spice (think of nutmeg) and cocoa powder. The finish is long and rich but with a refreshing dryness towards the end.
Grant's 25 years old
To try this whisky was a real treat - thanks Ludo! This bottling will be released in July 2010 and will be exclusive to the travel retail/Duty Free market. It is bottled at 40% ABV and will retail at £150 each. This is a special whisky as it contains whisky with a minimum age of 25 years and some much older indeed. This includes a cask of grain whisky that was distilled on the first day of production at Girvan on Christmas Day 1963, some whisky from the closed Ladyburn distillery and other rare whiskies from closed distilleries and over 25 other single malt and grain whiskies. We plan to do a full review of this 25 years old upon its release, but here is a little taster.
The colour is golden amber and the nose is rich with an interesting fruitiness to it (think of peaches and citrus zest). On the palate, there is a mix of sweeter notes (vanilla, honey, fresh peaches, plums and distinct cereal grains) and spicier wood notes (oak, cinnamon, nutmeg and hint of bonfire-like smoke). It is initially rich and creamy with a refreshing spicy heat (think of ginger and chilli) before mellowing and turning softer. The finish is very long and starts woody and spicy, becoming sweeter and softer before almost going full circle and becoming drier with a touch of spice to finish off. A lovely and complex dram that deserves your attention.
What's the verdict?
The Grant's blended whisky range is consistently good across the six whiskies. It really does have something for everyone and for all tastes, except maybe the fans of very peaty whisky. Tasting them side by side illustrated this perfectly and was a real treat. This includes the lighter Ale Cask, the balance of the Family Reserve, the richer and sweeter Sherry Cask and 12 years old, the even richer and darker 18 years old and the highly complex 25 years old - the jewel in the Grant's crown.
* Please note that all figures in this paragraph are from Euromonitor International 2009 via The Malt Whisky Yearbook 2010. All photographs are used with permission of Ludo Ducrocq and William Grant & Sons.