By Richard Thomas
Aged Scotch whisky has an expensive reputation, and very aged even more so. Ultra aged? Fughetaboutit!
But even so, it is possible to find an expression that defies your expectations, one way or another. Five decades old Macallans, for example, retain their ability to shock by costing as much as a high end luxury car. Yet sometimes a just-as-aged expression comes out that is priced, well, not inexpensively to be sure, but within reach. At a price point comparable to a nice vacation instead of a car virtually everyone reading this article can’t afford.
That is what I thought about the Rare Vintage Glen Grant 1954 from Gordon & MacPhail as soon as I heard about it. The notes I received describe this as a single malt of 59 or 60 years of age, and aged in a first-fill Sherry butt. So what we’re talking about is a very Sherried, very old whisky, and, as you will see at the end of this review, it is priced at a point that most whiskyphiles could say “hmmm… if I take the family to Florida instead of Rome next year, I could get that and have a 60 year old Scotch on the shelf.”
And you know what? Some people will make that call.
The age and cask stock of this whisky are right there, staring you in the face as soon as you make the pour. Bottled at a modest 40% ABV, it nonetheless sits in the glass with a dark and brooding amber appearance. It’s not so much a mixture of browns and reds and an inky red with highlights of black.
The nose is not so much balanced as juxtaposed. Dry red fruits, strawberries and raspberries in the main, seasoned with a generous helping of cinnamon, sit alongside dry winter spices and a pile of eucalyptus bark, with just a trace of ashy tea tannin, akin to gunpowder tea. This is a scent that is both vivid and complex, and the contrast between the fruitiness and the dry, woodiness and spiciness is just ever so slightly on the right side to being complimentary, instead of clashing.
A sip shows the velvety texture of the whisky, as well as a flavor profile that continues from the nose. Dried red fruits continue to share the stage with pepper, cinnamon and mint, and the woodiness takes on a hoary, leathery character. Coming up at the back and underscoring these two continuing elements is a note of toasty cereals, as the malt finally makes itself known in a clear fashion.
I found the finish delivered a tinge of pineapple, and ran long with moderate warmth.
This ultra aged Glen Grant bottling is a sherried whisky lovers dream, although not an easily purchased one. That said, if you adore sherried malts and have always wanted a four or five decades old bottle on your shelf, this one is a strong candidate for that once every few to several years buy.
As I wrote before, the price tag here is the equivalent of a nice vacation: $1,600 in the U.S. and £1,600 in the U.K. If that seems odd, given that the pound is still worth more than the dollar, don’t forget that the U.K. also has an astronomical VAT tacked onto that.