Grant’s Special Family Reserve Fine Old Scotch Whisky

Reader, I am not expecting to be blown away by today’s bottle.

I am not expecting to hand out an 8, 9, or 10. Heck, getting to 5 might be a stretch. On specifics at least, this has every chance to be the lowest score I have handed out. I write this as the bottle for review is unopened, and I am guilty of judging it on face value alone.

This shouldn’t be the way here on Malt. I am sure if Taylor had his druthers, each reviewer would approach each sample with an open, unbiased mind, even blind tasting when possible. On the other hand, I am a fallible human being, warts and all. Expect the worst, hope for the best is all I can offer today. Having said that, I am the sucker who bought this bottle, ponying up my owned hard earned legal tender, so I have no one to blame but myself.

As I mentioned in my review of the Thompson Bros SRV5 Blended Malt, I am relatively new to whisky auction sites. Not new to browsing them – I have done this for a couple years – but new to taking the step to pursue and bid for a bottle. The Thompson Bros was my first purchase, this is my second.

The Grant’s Special Family Reserve Fine Old Scotch Whisky caught my eye for a few reasons. Firstly, there was no reserve, and when I joined in the bidding was only at $20 AUD. Secondly, the age: nothing precise but the auction site had this pegged as from the early 1980’s. Then, the technical details: on the bottle this claims to have been distilled and matured in Scotland but bottled in Australia, and is at 37% ABV.

37% ABV? Red flags are flying faster than when your loner cousin Phil comes and sits next to you at a family barbeque to discuss his theories on #pizzagate. As we all know, whisky should be at a minimum 40% ABV. However, Australia is one of the few places in the world that has a minimum ABV under 40%, and which is in fact 37%. However, in all my years of reading about and observing the whisky industry in Australia, this is the first time I’ve actually seen a bottle at under 40%.

I couldn’t imagine an Australian distillery today releasing anything at under 40%. Consumers are familiar with this percentage and expect it on their cheap blends and single malts. The 37% ABV Australian clause is not well known and wouldn’t be appreciated.

I assume the low ABV is why this bottle was bottled in Australia, as it may have run afoul of regulators in the UK even if only intended for international distribution. I am guessing, however, as there seems to be next to no information about this bottle anywhere online.
In the end, after a fierce bidding war (going up $2 at a time), I secured this 750ml bottle for $42 AUD. A new release 700ml bottle of Grant’s Blended Scotch Whisky at 40% ABV costs $40 AUD. So that’s what 50 ml and about 40 years of squirreling this bottle away will earn you: an extra $2.

I am very happy to be opening this bottle. This isn’t a prestige Black Bowmore from the 1960’s destined to live on unopened in a collector’s humidity regulated storage space. This was a bottle of cheap blended whisky intended to be thrown in with Coke and ice in an Aussie bar around the time Reagan was inaugurated.

Off course, every bottle is intended to be opened, from the Black Bowmore to a supermarket Bells blend. On the other hand, if someone had opened it 40 years ago, I wouldn’t have it here to drink today. In summary: don’t store away your bottles, open and enjoy them! On the other, don’t open them so that the next generation can discover them in 40 years! Clearly, there’s no right or wrong here.

Turning our attention to what’s in the bottle, this isn’t Ardnamurchan or Waterford where every component of production is painstakingly detailed online. However, I reckon this will lean heavily towards young grain whisky in the blend. On the bottle, it states that it is from the proprietors of Glenfiddich and Balvenie distilleries, to at least give some hint on which single malts may be in the blend.

I do read often about how much better even entry level whiskies were in previous eras. I will try to discard my prejudices and discover this for myself.

Grant’s Special Family Reserve Fine Old Scotch Whisky – Review

37% ABV. Possibly available at auction.

Colour: A warm, likely unnaturally enhanced gold.

On the Nose: As I twist open the cap, what musty skeletons might be rattling around? This is quite thin and clearly grain forward. Plasticky and medicinal, also the smell of rain on warm tarmac, motor oil and a canvas tent. Then also wet grass and plasticine. Really not much by way of fruits. Not an offensive nose, but certainly not complex or appealing. My hopes are re-calibrated.

In the mouth: More one note than a Spice Girls song, with no development on the palate. Blink and you’ll miss it. Slight caramel notes and some vanilla. A weak cup of coffee. A yawning void of nothingness. After a few mouthfuls a tired finish emerges of musty books and crinkled up old photos, then actually some brown sugar.


Is this actually whisky? Well yes, because my country says it is, even if your country likely does not. Is it fair to judge at under 40% ABV? Yes, also, because once upon a time William Grant and Sons allowed this to go out onto the market with the name Fine Old Scotch Whisky adorning the bottle. Is it fair to rate a bottle of whisky probably never intended to be consumed neat? Off course! This is Malt, after all. It’s what we do.
I did not hate this. I am unsure how I’ll get through, give or take, another 725mls of it. Possibly with soda and some ice, early in the afternoon on a hot day when I’m looking to get a little buzz going but still be able to argue coherently with dodgy cousin Phil. Maybe I should’ve saved this artefact away, unopened, and – in 40 years time when clearing out my stuff – my kids could’ve found it stashed away under the stairs and raised $44 dollars at auction.

But where is the fun in that?

Score 3/10

  1. Rob says:

    I think the lower ABV used to be industry wide. I’m in Blighty and remember Tamdhu 10 in the old white label with green trees at 35% (maybe Aussy bottlings?) but in Spain it was at 43%. The 35% is insipid to say the least at 43% it was a different ballgame.

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