Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Lightly Peated

Whisky, Blabber 'n' Smoke

Distillery Visits

Glen Grant

There is a shifting history of brand ownership in the whisky industry as the industry consolidates into the hands of multinational drinks companies. Companies merge and morph and then butt up against the Monopolies Authority who will then decree some distilleries disposed of. This happened in 2001 when Pernod Ricard bought the whisky interests of Seagrams. Their real target was Chivas Royal and Glenlivet but  Glen Grant was also part of the job lot. So from 2001 to 2006, when it was finally sold, Glen Grant was unloved and uncared for, and even basic maintenance was neglected. A sad state for a distillery with an interesting history and one that has always been the favourite malt of Italy. It is no surprise therefore that the eventual buyer was Italian: the Campari Group. As it is the only whisky distillery they own it is now obvious there is  a little bit more love.

There is an interesting history to be written about distilleries once considered the runt of their litter. But that is for later now we can forget about it, say to ourselves that things always change, look around and just enjoy the surroundings and

outside visitors centre

the pleasure of being here. It  really is a pretty place: hidden from the road, in a valley by a small river, the only distillery I know with  a woodland garden. Signs of the new interest in the site strike you as soon as you enter the visitors’ hut. It has been designed  with a clean, bright, modern, and dare I say it, Italian style, which is refreshing after all the tartan and wood we see elsewhere. Because I had to wait  for the tour, the first call was their café and again the Italian influence was there because they served  decent  coffee. Now this is something I thoroughly approve of, especially as it was sunny afternoon when you can sit outside, enjoy the atmosphere, relax and feel at peace. You see favourable impressions can be formed by extrinsic as well as intrinsic reasons. Right here, right now it’s not about the whisky it’s about atmosphere – and I like this place.

So onto the visit but when we went round they weren’t actually distilling; instead the staff were bottling.  Groups with multiple distilleries will tend to send their spirit to central bottling plants, with all the advantages of scale, however some smaller singletons do their bottling on site but Glen Grant fits neither profile. It is Campari’s only Scottish distillery, so stands alone, but it produces quite a lot so is not on the craft end of the scale. The decision to open a bottling hall in 2003 is therefore unusual but it does make the distillery seem more complete. Just like Balvenie (although they don’t do their own bottling) you get a better sense of the beginning to end process, unlike somewhere like Glenlivet, which is solely a spirits factory, and seems to lack a little bit of heart.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGiven that the process at every distillery is basically the same the only reason to visit more than one is to look for differences and scent anything that is distinctive in the atmosphere. Here at Glen Grant it is the spirit of Major James Grant, who inherited the distillery in 1872. For a start there is the look of the place and the woodland garden, with its whisky safe. (If I was wealthy and had such an estate I think I would like to build such a feature). But then there are also the peculiar stills he designed. They are vertical at the base of the neck and have purifiers on the lyne arm and so increase the copper contact and produce a purer, lighter style of spirit. This might be one of the factors behind its popularity in Italy, where it is sold as a 5 year old and is pitched against grappa. There is though another lingering image found on the label. James Grant liked to live the life of a highland gentleman, fishing rod, gun and all, and the Glen Grant label shows two Scottish gentlemen sitting beside a barrel, drinking their whisky. Pleasant nostalgia.

As for the whisky itself, I must admit it doesn’t excite me too much. I file it under OK but I have hopes for the future, with the anticipation that they will introduce some older bottlings as at the moment the range is a little sparse. There is the 5 year old (sold in Italy), a NAS ( The Major’s Reserve), a 10 year old, 16 year old (sold in America) and that seems to be it for official bottlings. If you go the the major online retailers and look at the Glen Grants they have available it is one of the strangest profile of any distillery. The NAS and 10 yr old are quite reasonably priced but all the others are old and rare bottles with ridiculous prices. Compare that to the range of somewhere like Balvenie but Balvenie has had long-term, stable management whilst Glen Grant is coming out of a bad marriage. As I said, I hope they are building up stocks for future releases (nothing was said on the visit and I was very lax in not asking). If they do I think it could be interesting.

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