Pre-war whisky, it’s one of these things any serious whisky enthusiast should have experienced. The recent ‘Pre-War Whisky Tour’ that you may have seen on Facebook could make you think otherwise, but you don’t usually stumble upon these things easily. They’re lucky cellar finds or expensive auction items.
This Glen Grant 21 Year Old 70° proof is one of the best examples I’ve come across. It was bottled by Gordon & MacPhail in their semi-official distillery series.
We’re lucky when it comes to dating this bottle: it is sealed with a securo cap. That’s a special kind of screw cap, very effective and probably ahead of its time, but only used for a couple of years between 1961 and 1963. Gordon & MacPhail used it but you can also find it on bottles of Macallan or blends from this era.
The very narrow timespan of bottling, minus at least twenty one years of maturation, leads us back to a distillation date of 1940-1942 or earlier. Glen Grant was closed during World War II however, so the whisky inside the bottle is effectively 1930’s production.
Glen Grant 21 yo (70° proof, Gordon & MacPhail 1960’s, securo cap)
Nose: it’s a typical profile, but one we haven’t described too often on this blog. It starts with a rich, pastry-like sweetness. Honey, soft apricots and golden raisins. Bright citrus. Banana. This moves towards waxy notes (candles) and polished wood. But the unique part are old-style hints of camphor, heavenly silver polish and subtle peat. Such elegance. Also worn leather and dusty libraries. In the background, there’s a whole list of tiny aromas. Bay leaves, marjoram, ashes, dried chanterelles, almonds, pipe tobacco… Endless and priceless. Mouth: fairly savoury, with tobacco stepping forward again. Lots of oily things, huge wax and metallic notes. Then a vague fruity sweetness (fruit cake, maybe apple) and caramelized brown sugar. Plenty of spices and herbs (ginger, clove, cinnamon, menthol). Something of a herbal liqueur. Clear coal smoke and a ‘garage’ flavour towards the end, as well as the rancio side of an old Palo Cortado. Finish: alright, not huge, mainly a mix of herbs and bittersweet elements.
It’s difficult not to get nostalgic with such a whisky. It goes back at least 75 years. How did they achieve this complexity and these unique aromas? Were they originally present or is it a matter of half a decade of sublime ‘bottle refinement’? Will we ever witness the same effect with current production, after many years? A small masterpiece anyway, perfect to conclude 1500 blog posts.