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SMWS 9.153 Magical Whirlwind Tour

The Glen Grant isn’t one of your more prominent distilleries in Scotland or abroad. A classic example of a Speyside producer. A solid if unspectacular whisky nowadays that remains popular in Europe thanks to the influence of its current Italian owners Campari.

Since 1840 Glen Grant has enjoyed great success and widespread acclaim. Not so much in recent years, as sales have taken a dent and the distillery has stumbled from one owner to another. Jim Murray in recent editions of his tub-thumping manifesto has taken it upon himself to prompt Glen Grant to a higher purpose. We recently reviewed the staple 10 year old Glen Grant that was solid if a little mundane. To put it mildly, it didn’t have us rushing out to track down the 18 expression that won the best Scotch and best single malt categories.

Awards are very much opinion based. As our Phil showcased in his Jameson Signature review, they are a modern-day whisky cancer where entry almost guarantees an award of some kind. Such awards look great on any marketing and lure in unsuspecting onlookers making their initial steps into whisky. That old gambit that if it won an award it must be pretty good then?

If only in reality and this is why we tend not to do awards here on Malt. Whilst others will gladly populate your browser with meaningless top 10 lists or shopping guides, we’d rather just do something more worthwhile. Hence this Scotch Malt Whisky Society release. We’ve managed to up our coverage of this independent bottler in 2018. Personally, I’ve tried quite a few and nothing has broken the 7 score barrier. That’s a reflection not only of the sheer class escaping the Society cask management programme currently, but also that I’m a right fussy git. A grumpy one if you listen to Phil as well.

However, an upshot of this Scotch Malt Whisky Society focus is my increasing familiarity with their labelling. The devil is in the details. I always have a problem with the SMWS labels as they only tend to showcase 1 cask type. For instance here looking at the bottle label, you’d believe this was fully matured in a 1st fill charred red wine barrique?

Wrong. Reading the description via the official site confirms this spent 14 years in an ex-bourbon barrel before the barrique. This means an entirely different proposition. Sure, they’ve tried to patch things by mentioning the bourbon barrel in the tasting notes on the label. Things could be clearer and this purple stripe that cuts through some of the tasting notes and bottle number is too dark against black font. That’s one of my gripes from this year of SMWS releases and we’ll address the balance with some positives in a future piece. After all, I’m still searching for that showstopper 8 or 9 bottle that hits home. Still, in retrospect at least we do have some details on the label unlike say Macallan and Highland Park where you’d be better just making them up.

Back to the details for this specific release. This was distilled on 21st August 2002 before being bottled at 15 years of age. An outturn of 184 bottles was harvested at a pleasant 57.9% strength. This will set you back £66 online which for a 15 year old is perfectly reasonable – if the contents stack up.

SMWS 9.153 Magical Whirlwind Tour – review

Colour: A Scottish sunrise.

On the nose: A herbal thyme quality soon passes into a memory. Standing in a damp forest with a united element of autumnal leaves, pine, wood sap and moss. There’s an injection of redness from the finish but not forcibly. Red liquorice, dried bark, charcoal dust and rose petals. Giving time in the glass, Bakewell tart and oddly polystyrene packaging. With water white chocolate appears alongside a heather honey.

In the mouth: Sweeter than the nose suggests. Red grapes and red wine vinegar. Cranberries, a high-quality dark chocolate with a very dry finish. The cask finish comes through strongly, so much so the Glen Grant DNA is lost. A vanilla and honey pannacotta, olive oil and tannins. With water, things become less cask aggressive and more rounded. A creamy rice pudding and a more sincere finish are deployed.

Conclusions

This is must be said isn’t really my sort of thing. The cask finish has ridden roughshod over the previous ex-bourbon cask foundations. What remains is drinkable and for some enjoyable but for me its all a bit meh and decidedly average.

When I think about Glen Grant it becomes all about the layers. The wonders of Speyside and bourbon casks, or those subtle sherry notes from the 1970s or prior. This modern offering just isn’t indicative or to my taste. Distinctly average.

Score: 5/10

Thanks to Ian for the sample.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar
    David says:

    At least in my experience with Cadenhead’s you easily get all the information when they use different casks.
    Personally I’ve found a decent maturation than a quick finish is more to my liking, do you think this one would be been better in the wine cask for longer or was it a case of turd polishing an already average whisky?

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi David, thanks for dropping by. It is an interesting point you raise. I can hear Mark’s rants about knackered casks 3rd or 4th fill as a possible avenue. Personally, Glen Grant does good spirit, so we either have an inept cask for the majority of its maturation that needed spruced up at the end, or a failed attempt to go somewhere else with the finish.

      This didn’t taste too bad in the venue, but a bottle at home was somewhat flat. You’re right, there’s nothing better than a patient approach as opposed to a quick finish. Anything under 2 years sets off alarm bells in my head. Cheers, Jason.

  2. Avatar
    Graham Skinner says:

    My old man used to take cheap blended whisky and pop it in the decanter with a shot or two of sherry and most folk were convinced it was single malt. I get the impression that super active casks can spoil a dram very quickly so would second fills of these casks be better/softer? I think there is a place for cask finishes if done well.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Definitely, as you say the key thing is doing it well. To pull it off is a skill and takes expertise. And there are some casks that are too active for such a role. All about balance and watchful waiting.

  3. Avatar
    bifter says:

    Last time I was in the Society (Queen St) they had desecrated the Nisbet-designed building with a tacky new layout, drams started around £6 even for members and the barman confessed they rarely have sherried whiskies any more due to the expense of the casks. The place was rammed but I was at a loss as to why. SMWS has always been a bit wanky but it seems to have lost even the core lure of having an interesting range of single cask malts at reasonable prices and sampling from the bar is an invaluable tool in IB land. Is it just a status symbol for Edinburgh yahs now?

    As for Glen Grant it has always been one of the more common sources of casks at SMWS. I’ve tried many and even bought one or two bottles. It always seemed fairly consistent in Bourbon and maybe maybe a malt that suits vatting to bring out the best rather than single cask releases?

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Bifter, we are seeing a new more aggressive approach from the SMWS. Far too many casks being released, often less stellar distilleries or casks. Meaning everything becomes much of a muchness.

      I agree, the bar is invaluable for trying especially before you buy. Nothing worse than a disappointing bottle. For some releases as well, it is the only option to even taste a popular release.

      Not much coverage out there of their releases either which we’re trying to address when we can. Cheers, Jason.

  4. Avatar
    Juju says:

    With the amount of outturn they’re releasing, there’s bound to be some average and even mediocre ones. I used to be a member and SMWS is feeling more and more like a money grab, where marketing (obscure names, single cask, cask strength, etc) takes centerstage more than the product itself. Thanks for the review and I agree the Glen Grant does great spirits. One of my faves was, ironically, from SMWS. Cheers.

  5. Jason
    Jason says:

    Hi Juju, yep finding the quality is the key thing nowadays. Some variable casks in general – not just from the SMWS – I find, that means you cannot rely on the good names who produce a good spirit either. We’ll keep the SMWS coverage going.

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