Friday, October 16, 2009

Grant's Family Reserve Scotch Whisky

If you take a look at most of the tasting notes I have posted in this blog, you will observe that I praise most of the different scotches. Reviewers of scotch, amateur (myself) and professional (ie. Jim Murray) tend to heap praise on every spirit evaluated. Trouble is, we may give the impression that it is all good. Not so! There are some dogs out there and the question for this post to consider is whether or not Grant's Family Reserve Scotch Whisky is one of them.

Whisky expert, Jim Murray, in his book, Classic Blended Scotch, described Grant's Family Reserve as "A stunner of a whisky, one of the most complex blends the industry will ever produce."

Ok, that is saying a lot. Too much in my opinion. It's one thing to like a blended scotch, but when you make statements like ". . . one of the most complex blends the industry will ever produce" you catch my attention. For me, Murray had thrown down the gauntlet and challenged me through his words. Me, being a big fan of blends, decided to try this blended scotch and see if it lived up to his high pitched praise. I had tried this blend in the past and did not like it one little bit, but in light of Murray's eloquent admiration of the highest order, which is trumpeted on William Grant's & Sons website ( I decided to second guess my earlier judgment and revisit this very popular brand (4th best selling blended scotch in the world).

Nose (undiluted)
Faint malty notes. Not picking up much else. Not overly inviting.

Nose (diluted)
Water added to this blend seems to accentuate the malty notes.

Palate (undiluted)
You need to take a big slug of this to get any flavor. Don't be shy. This is not a 25 year old single malt that rewards the tiniest of sips with an explosion of splendid flavors. Not so here.

Once you take the medium to big sip, you will be greeted by light/thin flavors of cinnamon stick, cloves, and nutmeg enveloped in an unmistakably grainy, unadulterated alcohol bear hug.

Drank neat, there is no complexity of flavors. I am dumbfounded as to how Jim Murray can say ". . . one of the most complex blends the industry the industry will ever produce." There's truly nothing here.

Palate (diluted)
I added a splash of water (ie. one teaspoon per shot) and was able to detect some creaminess in addition to the malty/cinnamon flavors present when drunk neat. The water lessened the grainy, alcohol soaked backbone of the flavor profile. Bottom line: Water improves this blend.

Finish (undiluted)
Almost non-existent. The finish is gone in a flash and while it lasts, it's mostly a grainy alcohol imbued couple of seconds.

Finish (diluted)
Strangely, the addition of water adds some body to this scotch that translates into a finish with more depth and even a richness to the aforementioned flavors than when drunk neat.

General Impressions
Served neat, this blended scotch tastes cheap mainly due to the alcohol hanging in the background like a groupie at a rock concert. How Jim Murray can praise this blend at all is beyond my comprehension. This is not a stunner of a whisky. It has virtually no complexity of flavor.

Served with a splash of water, this blend improves. Alcohol is toned down, the grainy character is still there but more tolerable, and there is a creamy richness that emerges. Does the addition of water transform this blend into a "stunner?" I think not. It still tastes cheap, but simply more tolerable. Maybe on a very hot summer's day with ice, it would be pleasing or as a base ingredient in a mixed drink.

Whether consumed neat or with water, there is no peat flavors. The constitutent single malts used are Speyside classics: Balvenie and Glenfiddich. You can taste the Balvenie, unfortunately, not enough of it. There is a great deal of grain whisky in this blended scotch, and that is not a good thing.

My lasting impression from tasting this on several occasions is that it Grant's Family Reserve is cheap, bottom shelf, blended scotch, that is not worth the low price charged. For the same price, there are significantly better blends out there like: Black Bottle, White HorseTeacher's Highland Cream, Johnnie Walker Red, and Cutty Sark.

So how come this blend is one of the top world leaders in sales? I think the combination of the low price, a weak flavor profile that lends itself easily to mixed drinks results in it being a staple of bars around the world.

Anyway, you deserve better! Avoid this.


© Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved.


  1. I am not a whisky fanatic but my first choice of drink is whisky.

    In my county G cost 105 and the whiskys you compare it to is at least 150 -600 dkr.

    Just nippin a Glenfiddich 12 yr I apreciate the differece in both quality and price.

    But - I belive - G is one of the better cheap whiskys.


    1. spot on.....Grant's is not one to avoid. but i would use the phrase 'oddly inexpensive' to describe it. it should actually cost $25+ a bottle. glad to have gotten a 1.75 bottle or $27 here in Media PA. and yes, i appreciate plenty of fine single malts and top shelf bourbons and ryes.

      it amuses me when folks rage on Grant's being 'swill'

    2. Jason I guess you are comparing a standard whisky with premium... if you compare Grant's Family Reserve with other "similar" "scotch blended", in my opinion you will find Grant's is superior.

    3. "For the same price, there are significantly better blends out there like: Black Bottle, White Horse, Teacher's Highland Cream, Johnnie Walker Red, and Cutty Sark."

      Virginia, the above paragraph appears in my review and all of those Scotch blends are in the same price range as Grant's.

      Glad you like it though, and thanks for commenting.

    4. Cutty Sark? You will remain the only reviewer that would even try saying that. CS is awful. Everyone knows it. Black Bottle is a reformukated sherry bourbon spice nightmare, Teacher's is great but inconsistent, and White Horse breaks down quickly once opened. Grant's is a well crafted value Speyside blend and not grainy at all or off putting..

  2. Hi! LunJyde. You do make a good point that I did compare this to some more expensive blends like Johnnie Walker Black and Ballantines 17 yr old. Both are quite a bit more expensive. I have deleted the reference to Ballantines 17. Comparing Grant's Family Reserve to Ballantines 17 is not really fair. One is an economy blend and the other is a premium one.

    Nevertheless, if we compare Grant's to blended whisky in the same price range, I think many others are superior. Examples include: Teacher's Highland Cream, Johnnie Walker Red Label and Ballantines Finest.

    The chief weakness of Grant's is that the flavor is weak and thin. Some people (typically infrequent drinkers of scotch) like this because there is little or no "bite." If a dram is totally inoffensive it is usually not very interesting either. Grant's is not only boring but just down right bad in my opinion.

    So, in light of the above, I encourage to try say Teacher's Highland Cream and compare. You might change your mind. If you do, please post here again!

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.


  3. hi

    i just tried Grants as my first whisky, after years of drinking beer and hearing people make a big deal of whisky. Got to say wasn't impressed with it. Personally there is more flavour and texture in a certain australian larger but that could be because my palate is more used to that.
    I read a few other reviews before this one & eveyone else seems to be following the "marketing line" on the Grants website. I think you summed it up perfectly by saying this one maybe better for mixing drinks rather drinking it as it is.
    However i'll try the other drinks you have suggested and hopefully that will be a better experience.

  4. Hi Anonymous! Thanks for your comments. Yes, I have no doubt that you are correct in saying that a certain Australian lager has more flavor and texture than Grant's Family Reserve. Grant's and J&B have got to be the two thinest, weakest in flavor scotches currently available.

    Try Teacher's Highland Cream if you want to enjoy a great blended scotch at an economy price.

    Thanks again for your comments.


  5. I love a good single malt but I'm also of Scottish descent and tend to keep the pricey stuff for special occasions. For an everyday drink Grant's is a good sipper and a great value.

    Will it knock your socks off with a mouthful of peat? No. But you will get some nice smoke that instantly reminds me of the real deal - the unmistakeable pungence of a peat fire in an open hearth. Combined with an off-dry mid-taste it's a very pleasant way to enjoy a flavorful Scotch without feeling like you're breaking the bank.

    I may be flattering myself but I'm a foodie, I'm in the wine business, and I've got a pretty decent palate. I've tasted my way around much of the world and I've gone through many fine bottles of both single malts and blends.

    To my palate Grant's is just fine and I wouldn't hesitate to offer it to any guest at any casual occasion. Sure, for special celebrations I'll haul out the single malt. But if a blend is called for - and 95 percent of the time it is - Grant's is a great choice.

    I agree that a few drops of water - I add about six drops to a shot - smoothes out the edges of the alcohol heat. It also releases some very pleasant aromatics.

    I enjoy a whisky that has some hot alcohol - after all, I didn't pour it expecting a smoothie. These whiskies that have all the mouthfeel of a glass of glycerine are fine if you don't want to feel the brace of the alcohol warming your tongue and throat on the way down. But what's the point of that?

    I'd suggest that anyone looking for a house brand blended scotch give Grant's a try. It's actually my favorite blend.

    1. excellent remarks all around.

    2. I've been sampling just about every affordable whiskey on the market and making comparisons. I've found Grants to be one the best blended whiskey's available for the price. After all Grants also makes Glenfiddich single malt, and 35% of Grants family reserve is made from their single malts. I also enjoy Teacher's and White Horse.

    3. While I agree with you that Teacher's and White Horse are great blends, I differ with regards to Grant's. It just doesn't appeal to me.

      The fact that it is composed of 35% single malt doesn't really distinguish it as most blended Scotch whiskies have approximately the same percentage. Teacher's of course has a higher percentage, and it really makes a difference.

      You should try Glenfiddich 12 some time. Affordable, approachable and I suspect you will really enjoy it.

      Thanks for commenting!

  6. Anonymous, if you are looking for an affordable blended scotch for weeknights, try Ballantines Finest or Teacher's Highland Cream. While you are clearly a fan of Grant's Family Reserve, it never hurts to have a little variety. Cheers!

  7. Ahoy Jason!

    I have just returned from a mini vacation (just downstate...), and decided on the way to the hotel, that I'd check a local liquor store and grab an inexpensive scotch blend I have never sampled before, (Blends I have sampled before Grant's include JW Red, Teacher's, and Chivas 12 yr.)

    Now, I indeed was in a tad bit of in a mood to take a bit of a risk, as the price tag was not putting too much of a dent on the "vacation fund". I had remembered you were less than ectastic about Grant's, but also recall relatively positive to quite positive reviews and remarks by other respectable bloggers. My impressions? Perhaps of a bit more favor than how your opinion detailed, but indeed, I'd take Teacher's and Chivas 12 yr over this blend any day of the week. Indeed, water certainly helps it quite a bit. I was kind of kicking myself for not just picking up a fifth of Teacher's, but, well...more experience under my belt, I suppose.

    Keep up the quality blogging!


  8. Hello Yochanan! Most whisky bloggers like Grant's Family Reserve. Why? I dunno. When it is compared to other economy blended scotches, my main complaint or rather question is: "Where's the flavor?@#$$%!" It's thin and grainy. Compare it to Teacher's Highland Cream and you will see what I mean.

    Another cheap blend that you may want to consider sometime is Whyte and Mackay. I am going out of town and will be picking up that one for a future tasting note. Very low price, but good flavor.

    Anyway, have a good one!


  9. Hola Jason,

    Thank you for your fine site. I am just making my way through it and look forward to trying some of the other brands you recommended in this blog.

    I was given Grant's as a gift and found I rather enjoy it over ice which led me to wonder about all the other brands filling the shelves... While my taste's have not grown yet to appreciate the finer flavors of single malt (so I'm told). Grant's seems great for a weeknight warm down as I watch the last quarter of the game.

    I don't see the point of mixing anything with scotch, if you want a mixed drink, I recommend a Mai Thai. The craftsmen of scotch deserve better even if the distilleries are trying to get more women to drink their wares. Not that I blame them, I'm still trying to get women to drink my wares...



  10. Hi Raif! Hey, if you like Grant's more power to you. I find the taste just too light, but then again that may be the reason it has tremendous mass appeal. This particular blend probably is designed to be enjoyed with ice.

    In any case, thanks for dropping by!

  11. Fairly new to whisky and I just found your blog and am going to enjoy reading my way through it. Good stuff!

    I wasn't expecting much but I actually quite enjoyed my first taste of Family Reserve recently. I tend to like Islay single malts (being a definite Ardbeg fan) but welcomed a change to a less smoky drop. I actually thought it was quite rich, with raisins and dried fruits on the nose and a pleasant (if generic, Juicy Fruit-style) fruityness on the palate and a reasonable finish. Nothing outstanding, but I'd certainly consider a bottle on my shelf for the price.

    Does anyone have any recommendations for something with a similar flavour profile but of better quality then, for when I want a break from my smoky Islays? ie. Not really smoky/peaty, quite rich in flavour (rich fruit, honey, maybe even chocolate/coffee notes - not as light and floral as a Glenkinchie or Glenmorangie) and bearing in mind that I'm not a huge fan of heavily-sherried whiskies as I can find the finish on those a little cloying (e.g. the Macallan 12). Maybe a tall order, so thanks to anyone who tries! I tried a measure of Glenmorangie Signet and loved that, but that's a bit out of my price range for a full bottle!

  12. Tony, try Glenfiddich 15yrs "Solera" single malt. It will meet all your needs!

  13. Thanks for the tip, Jason. I've actually seen a 20cl of the Glenfiddich 15 Solera in my local shop so that will perfect to try.

    I'll also be sampling some more of the Highland Park range after reading your comments on the 18yo. I actually tried some of the entry level Highland Park 12 after dinner this evening and thought that was fantastic. Really does put some of the cheaper blends like Family Reserve (which I had enjoyed plenty) in the shade!

  14. I picked up some grants today... oddly enough, it was priced about on par as Balantines... as a new scotch admirer I hemmed and hawed and ended up picking up the Grants...

    I have to say... it's true.. it's great for mixing... but it's smokey flavor makes it stand out when mixed with a cola.

    I have to say also, that I thought about biting the bullet and getting some Dewars White Label instead... now I kinda wish I did.

    oh wait.. there is that alcohol bear hug... never mind :-)

  15. Jimmy,

    Never mind Dewars and other bottom shelf blends. Spend a couple more dollars and pick up some Chivas Regal 12yrs and load up your tumbler with ice, let it sit for a minute, and then take a sip, a tiny sip. A honeyed, fruit forward malt.

    For more prune, tobacco flavors, try Teacher's or Te Bheag.


  16. Frankly, I'm surprised to hear many of the comments on here. I've tried Chivas Regal and I wasn't impressed with taste or the money. I'd rather have a bottle of Grant's.

    I enjoy Ballantine's and I will try the Teachers at my first opportunity but in the meantime I'm probably enjoying my 12th bottle of Grant's.

  17. Jason, We were very tempted to include Grant's standard bottling (FR) in our value whiskey series course as "the" recommendation to folks new to Scotch whiskey for a starting point. It's reliable, true to type, high value, and widely available. Frankly for me, it beats the daylights out of anything else I can find under $16 US for 750ml, and it's often cheaper than that too. I don't drink it, but I tried it this year and recommend it heartily. I find it very preferable to JW Red, J&B, standard Cutty Sark, Ballantine's ... JK

    1. I have bought two bottles of Grant's family reserve over the years and regretted them deeply for the taste I sum up in my review.

      Most people like this blend. I am really out on a branch all myself with respect to this blend.

  18. Jason, Boy, do I understand how you feel. I agree that there's just no common set of valid meters among us all except the "assemblage", the construct of one's own personal taste, personal experience, and communication style. My own experiences have proven me a real "outlier" with respect to many bottlings of Highland Park, a result of an offensive element I often find in the aroma of their famous house signature, Orkney's heather peat. Few tasters I've met share this sensitivity for it (or rather, a lack of appreciation for it). Some examples I do very much enjoy, but for many bottlings, it's been a real negative for me. JK

  19. Yes, that Orkney heather peat is very distinctive, which I enjoy but can understand how some may not like it. I also think Orkney heather peat is a volatile quality of the whisky that can lead to flawed bottles though I have never had the misfortune of one.

  20. Well I tried this for the first time on a work trip recently (only scotch in the open bar and that is where the meeting was) and I had read this review long ago.

    I must say that I was impressed. Though your not wrong about the flavor being very toned down, I think it may also be based on how much of the good stuff you taste. As an economy blend I found it really pleasant. To me it tastes like Johnny Walker Black Label's lightweight sibling. A very similar experience of balance, slight smoke, and sweetness, just muted.

    One thing I liked about it, was that it didn't have that young almost rancid finish that so many economy blends have. Black Bottle is the biggest culprit (among the decent budget blends). GREAT flavor, but then it ends on such a sour note.

    I'm now a Grant's fan, though I don't argue with anyone who would call it boring.

    1. I had this Grant's Family Reserve again recently and it continued to disappoint. Really weak in flavor. Thin body, and well tepid. Kinda what I would imagine licking a copper pipe would taste like.

      But, I always like to hear and read opposing views. Thanks for commenting.

  21. After hearing Jim Murray waxing lyrical about this whiskey I decided to try it. Passing through a duty-free recently I saw a promotion on the Grants "Distillery Edition" which was just a little over a dollar more than the “Family Reserve”. It comes in a gold box/label. It is one of the finest whiskies I have ever tasted. Very balanced with delicious smoke and lingering taste. I bought another two bottles on the next trip. When I get home after work and survey my thirty or so single malts on the shelf I happily turn to this as my most favourite whiskey to date. Never thought I would go back to now more open to trying other whiskies where I was a faithful single-malt devotee in the past, so I guess that’s a good result!

    1. I have not heard of Grant's "Distiller's Edition" but am happy to learn you are enjoying it.

      There are some blends that can hold themselves in the company of single malts. Particularly, Japanese blended whiskies like Hibiki 17 or 21 yrs. For more widely available blends that I would encourage you to try, I would suggest Black Bottle or White Horse. Great value for money at like $22! Seriously good.

      Whisky and its enjoyment has a lot to do with what kind of a mood a person is in. If I am home from an exhausting day from work, and the wife and kids are at the in-laws, I will invariably reach for Teacher's or Johnnie Walker Black. Uncomplicated but pleasantly soothing.

      Thanks for commenting. Readers benefit from points of view other than my own.

  22. It is a good product for its price. I drink it on the golf course with my fellow golfers who enjoy it since they are concentrating on the next hole, not the nose or finish. One of our friends who drinks glenfiddich 12 year regularly could not tell the difference when he thought we have served him his regular.
    I agree Teachers is as good if not better but Grants is a value for the money.

  23. I wish i had read that before buying that, really for that price, buy ballantine's.
    This one has little to no flavor.

    1. I can do one better friend. Never mind Ballantine's. Step up tp Teacher's Highland Cream, Black Bottle and White Horse if you are looking for flavor at an affordable price.

      By the way, Grant's Sherry Cask is pretty bad too in the sense that there is no flavor. Like drinking Cream Soda.

  24. I've never tried Teacher's as I've never seen it in my area. As far as blends go Grant's is my favorite and I've tried many. Ballantine's would be a close second.

    I find Grant's superior to many higher priced blends including Chivas, JW Red or Black, Cutty Sark, Dewar's, J&B and numerous others.

    I don't understand the negative reviews this blend gets and have to wonder if we're drinking the same whisky.

    1. Hi Anonymous!

      Let me try to explain why I find Grant's and Ballantine's to be inferior blends. In a nutshell it is the flavor profile. These blends are grainy, very sweet and not very flavorful.

      Teacher's, White Horse, Black Bottle and a few other blends are superior in my mind because they are not overly grainy, sweet and thin in taste. That's just my opinion of course. But, when I compare Grant's to another entry level blended scotch like Teacher's, I will always opt for the latter.

      You and millions of consumers enjoy Grant's and Ballantine's. Is your choice wrong? Certainly not. It suits your taste.

      But for me, a guy who has tried a lot of entry level blends, I have different preferences.

      Anyhow, I hope this sheds some light on this topic.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I and other readers appreciate it.

  25. Grants has and will be my favourite. Teachers,
    Ballantines don"t even make the list to sweet.
    If I want byte ,I will drink a Canadian rye, If
    I want a sip it is Grants.

  26. Thanks for your blog and for all the comments. Very interesting for a beginner scotch drinker.

    Tasting my first Grant's now and I have to agree that it disappoints.

    Undiluted the ethanol whoofs the nose.

    Diluted is pleasant but lacks the flavour of Teacher's Highland Cream.

    Will be trying White Horse and Black Bottle next.


    1. Sir, you are going to really enjoy your next two blended whiskies! Welcome to the blog and please do not hesitate to comment or pose a question.

  27. Hi there. Just got a small bottle of this for Christmas and was hoping you could tell me how to drink it. I've never tried scotch so I"m not sure how much water to add(doesnt' seem like "neat" is the way to go with this one) Also, what kind of soda would it be best mixed with? Thanks.

    1. Hello Michael,

      If you find it not to your liking 'neat', you could add some water. Use distilled or brita filter water. I suggest adding half a teaspoon to one shot. The water may soften the flavors for you.

      A more popular alternative with whisky newbies is to add ice. So, try two big ice cubes to a single shot, wait about a minute and then take a tiny sip (imagine 1/4 of a teaspoon for volume). The key to enjoying whisky is to take tiny sips and enjoy the flavors that unravel.

      As for mix, Grant's is a blend that I imagine would work well with ginger ale.

      Hope this helps!

  28. Thanks for the advice. I'll give it a shot and see how it goes.

  29. I picked up a 1L bottle on sale for $15 in Austin, TX. I can definitely taste the Glenfiddich in here, and it is also quite smoky. Mostly, I think it tastes like scotch flavored vodka. I would consider this a couple notches below Cutty Sark (which I think tastes like sherry cask scotch flavored vodka). I think I will stick to JW Red for low budget blend scotch, or maybe Teachers if I can find it in anything less than a 1.75L. I agree with your statement "dumbfounded by Jim Murry."

  30. Tried this out after noticing it on the shelf for sometime. My local liquor store has been out of stock of my daily driver, White Horse (which is the best bang for the buck!) and I only buy 1.75L for non-single malts. Not too bad, a bit sweet and thin but will get the job done in the recent White Horse shortage.

  31. Okay, this is my very first bottle of blended Scotch (or any other Scotch, for that matter). I know absolutely nothing about Scotch. Generally I am a bourbon drinker. And what I have to say is: this is absolutely horrible. Why anyone would buy this when they could buy very good Bourbon (Evan Williams 1783, Wild Turkey 101, Four Roses) for the same price, blows my mind. This tastes diluted, dirty and artificially sweet. Aside from the rot and Splenda, there is nothing here. Perhaps this is a terrible Scotch, even for the price. I don't know. But if this is what Scotch is in this price range, I'm sorry, but I'm simply unwilling to spend more to get a decent Scotch, when I could spend the same and get a very good Bourbon.

    1. Haley, Grant's is pretty terrible stuff. However, there are good blended Scotch alternatives that I would encourage you to try:

      Black Bottle
      White Horse
      Cutty Sark
      Te Bheag

      Don't give on Scotch based on this one!

      We want you to be a fan.