By Richard Thomas
Grand Old Parr is one of the key fixtures of the upper shelf in many a watering hole, supermarket, and liquor store in Europe, North America, South America, and Japan. My guess is that if a bar stocks 12 year old blended scotch, it will be one of two brands, if not both: Johnnie Walker Black and Grand Old Parr.
Yet for something so ubiquitous, hardly anyone knows anything about Grand Old Parr. Even people who drink it don’t actually seem to know much about who made it, what’s in it, or who it is named for. The brand doesn’t have a website, and other offerings, such as the 18 Year Old, are as rare and the main 12 Year Old is commonplace.
First, Grand Old Parr is named for Thomas Parr, a semi-legendary Englishman reputed to have lived for 152 years, from the late 15th to the mid-17th Centuries. “Old Parr” was certainly a real person, and undoubtedly lived for a very long time by the standards of the day, but stories of his century-and-a-half lifespan or fathering bastards at the age of 100 should be taken with a pinch of salt. His remains are in Westminster Abbey, so you can visit them on your next trip to London. The Grand Old Parr brand dates back to 1909.
Nowadays Grand Old Parr is owned by Diageo, the drinks conglomerate that owns the aforementioned Johnnie Walker, Cardhu, J&B, and a couple of dozen other blended and single malt brands. Little information is available on where the blend comes from, or how it might have changed over the years, but running down the Diageo list of distilleries will provide a good starting point for guessing what might be in it.
I usually don’t go for brown glass whiskey bottles, but Grand Old Parr’s is undeniably cool. It’s turtle-shell surface and squat, squared design come together with the labeling style to make it look like something straight out of a pirate flick. I can easily imagine Graham Chapman swinging into the rigging on the set of Yellowbeard guzzling from a bottle of Grand Old Parr… and if you believe the Parr legend, somehow that timing seems to fit. It is bottled at 43% abv.
In the glass, the scotch has a gold and slightly coppery appearance, suggestive of more body than the typical 12 year old blend. That point complements the 43% abv, which is also somewhat more than one expects from the typical blend of this type.
The nose is mellow and rich with musty oak, plus a generous helping of malty cereal, with notes of dried grass and sea breeze, and a little candied dried fruit. It’s rich and malty sweet on the palate, with some toffee and dried fruit flavoring, and a dash of spice. The finish is a long, lingering one, but only slightly warm and slightly peppery.
This stuff has a rich, full-bodied, but understated character to it. For a plainly mass market 12 year old blend, Grand Old Parr is actually a very pleasant and enjoyable scotch. If you haven’t tried it yet, do so. It’s easy to find, so there are no excuses.
In the U.S., expect to pay around $30 to $35. Strangely, I’ve seen it priced more expensively in Europe, around €35, but that might be due to high local VATs.