Monday, May 13, 2013

Review: Grant's "Cask Editions" Sherry Cask Finish

I am not a fan of Grant's Family Reserve.  A bottom shelf economy blend that brings to mind what it must be like to lick a rust encrusted copper pipe.  Besides the copper plumbing notes, it's grainy, thin and lacking in character.  Let me be more precise, it is a blend that exhibits the character of no character.  Capisce?

For a couple of years now, the people at William Grant and Sons Ltd. have been releasing what they call "Cask Editions."  The concept behind the Cask Editions is to take the not so delectable Grant's Family Reserve and age that blended Scotch whisky briefly (up to four months) in casks that previously held another alcoholic beverage (beer, sherry, etc.).  The aim of this finishing process is to hopefully impart interesting and pleasing flavors upon the exceptionally unexceptional Family Reserve.

So, their first experiment was to age Family Reserve in casks that previously held Scottish beer (Innis and Gunn - good beer by the way).   Hence, the release was unimaginatively entitled: Ale Cask Reserve.  An interesting experiment that improved upon the Family Reserve, but not to the point of lifting the blend out of mediocrity.  The most recent release is the "Sherry Cask Finish."  Given the genealogy of Grant's Cask Editions Sherry Cask Finish, I was not expecting much.

Nose (undiluted)
Apple juice & honey.

Palate (undiluted)
Lots of apples, sweet malt, and honey oats.

Finish (undiluted)
Grainy, off-putting heat, pearl onions, and some acrid smoke.

General Impressions
The nose on this entry level blend was not bad.  Basically apple juice.  That's okay.  Moving to the flavor profile, again, it was not terrible.  A decent delivery of apple pie, malt, honey, and some breakfast oats too.  What surprised me was that for a blend that was supposed to be finished in sherry casks, I did not detect a lot of sherry in the flavor profile.  Really quite faint.  Hell!  Very faint, practically absent!  For those seeking lots of sherry notes, look elsewhere.  Grant's Sherry Cask reads like a typo.  It really is a stereotypical Speyside fruit cup style blend.  Hardly sherried at all in terms of flavor.

Of the fruit cup in syrup flavors that are presented, the delivery is simple.  Very linear, but at this price point, such a style of whisky is not breaking any rules.  So, so-far, so-good right?  Yup, until you experience the 'finish.'  Once this baby is down the hatch, your plain-jane chevy sedan of a blend will suddenly veer off the highway, through a Do-Not Enter, One-Way barrier and straight off a cliff a la Thelma & Louise.









What happened?  This blend started out okay, but once swallowed you encounter a cheap, boozey heat, and stale cigarettes.  The interesting thing about this whisky was the longer the bottle was open, I mean as I returned to it a week later, and another week and so on, that finish became less grainy and acetone, but only up to a point.

I had two bottles of this blend.  One I purchased a while back and another given to me from a friend over the holidays.  So, the first bottle was gone. No review written as I pondered what to say.  My first reaction was just to trash this whisky and move on, but it did have some redeeming value.  I just found it hard to put my finger on it.  It was easy drinking as blended Scotch is purposely designed.  It had some charm, but what exactly was the charm?

I had to sort all of these thoughts out.  So, in order to be fair to the whisky and my review, I and the bottle went for a walk in the park, earlier this Spring.  No drinking involved on this jaunt to the local forest with groomed trails, just the bottle, a camera and myself.  Took a few pics and tried to figure out how to articulate the charm of this blend.  There was a piece to the puzzle that I was missing.

I walked for about 45 minutes, occasionally setting the bottle down, snapping a few photographs, attracting puzzled looks from passerbys, and then moving on.  I was getting warm, tired and thirsty.  And then I had an epiphany.  This whisky would probably be refreshing if paired with some fruit.  What fruit?  Apples?  Nah.  Over kill.  What could be paired with this whisky that would compliment it and take that nasty finish away?  Watermelon I thought.

Quick trip to the grocery store, and back home, I sliced up some watermelon and paired it with the Grant's Sherry Cask.   If I took a sip of this blend and then a bite of watermelon, there was no acrid finish to contend with.  Instead a nice, refreshing taste of honey whisky notes meeting watermelon.  A marriage worth celebrating.  It would make an excellent food and whisky pairing to start with before progressing into a meal of salmon with couscous.

A friend of mine and I made our way through much of the bottle with the watermelon pairing and concluded that this whisky is most definitely enjoyed with this fruit and probably others.  Tasted neat with no accompaniment was a mistake.  Mind you the website for Grant's suggest serving this neat or with a little water.  I think not.  Try it with watermelon.  Very quaff-able when having lighthearted conversation and contests to see who can shoot watermelon seeds pinched between fingers the furthest!

Cheers!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission. 

16 comments:

  1. Where is the brown paper bag to go with this scotch on the park bench?

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    1. Yeah, the bag would be a fitting accessory to this bottle.

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  2. Enjoyed the review, although I probably won't be rushing out to buy a bottle.

    Maybe their next advertising campaign will be: "Try Grant's Sherry Cask: The Blend That's Not Too Bad with Watermelon."

    - Josh

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    1. Its ok if you are looking for a super cheap blend at a party or to drink with ice or mix, and of course pair with watermelon.

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  3. So, stick to Black Bush for a cheap sherry-cask fix?

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    1. Yes and no. Yes in the sense that it is the only sherry influenced blended whisky that I can think of that is good. Another possibility is Whyte & Mackay, but I am not a fan. Find it too cheap in taste.

      The problem with Black Bush is that as of late they only age it for 7 years whereas in the past it was aged for 8-10yrs. This change was discussed by another whisky blogger, Pete, on The Casks:

      http://thecasks.com/2013/03/17/bushmills-black-bush-review-2013-redux/

      Sadly, Black Bush really has lost a lot of its greatness with the change in aging.

      If there are any other cheap blended scotch or Irish whiskies with plenty of sherry notes, readers, give us a shout!

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    2. Well that's wicked depressing. Blackbush was a great "value-sherry." What else was as good at the particular flavor profile for $30? I'm kind of surprised this hasn't gotten as much play, what with the JW line alterations and even further back Macallan Fine Oak.

      I'm inclined to think this is a major mistake. Better to make the expression more premium, raise the price $5-10, put on an age statement. It'd still be more affordable than sherried single malts. I know Diageo sells some Bushmills single malt, but the expressions seem kind of overworked. Sticking instead with Black Bush and also a hypothetical "Silver and Black Bush" at 16yo age would seem like a better move. There had been a proven winner, but I guess this is just one more reason to shake my fist at Diageo.

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  4. Jason, The trend I see is a decade-plus long worldwide reduction in demand for sherry wines. Wine producers have been slow to react, but with gathering number they are now fermenting about 40% less tonnage of grapes than ten years back. Less wine produced, fewer barrels being made available to the second market. Pushes prices up for what barrels become generally available and makes distillers (and bottlers) more experimental about what they're willing to do. The ten year old (non-age statement) Black Bush essentially couldn't be produced any longer for its price slot. Bargain blend enjoyment may soon require us all to seek higher market products or to seek those without much decent (second fill) sherry cask influence at all. JK

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    1. It's a pity that decreased demand for sherry means such a negative impact upon Scotch whisky and well Irish (ie Black Bush)too.

      I am sure though that as one door closes, innovative and responsive corporations will react and deliver what the consumer wants.

      As usual, I always appreciate your insights.

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  5. Great review especially as you took your time to deliver this one. Too many whisky writers would have slated it after the first sip or single dram and not given it time. I see this more with 'cheaper' or less aged when these bottles can offer some interesting experiences

    So its a conundrum in a bottle. These special finishes are very hit and miss. Glenmorangie seem to have more than anyone and trying to keep up is difficult.

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    1. Yes, Glenmorangie do a considerable number of finishes and I think their challenge is to maintain quality assurance year after year, which is always more of a challenge for the single malt distiller than the blender.

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  6. I just cracked this one open and was pleasantly surprised by the smell and flavor. It was a lot more interesting to me than other blends I tend to buy. So I did a quick search for some other opinions and landed here. I've been reading your review as I sip this. I have to agree it doesn't finish as well as it starts. I think the key is not to put it down :) If you like Speyside's as I do, I think it's worth picking up.

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    1. Thanks for your positive view. The opinions expressed, the more informed readers can become before pulling the trigger to buy.

      Cheers!

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  7. I just opened a bottle of this, and in direct opposition to the prevailing opinion on here, I found the nose almost non-existent, the palate bland... but the finish... surprisingly long and not unpleasant. Bizarre. Still a good deal more tastings to go with this one.

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    1. Neil, if you can find some redeeming value to this blend, you are ahead of the game.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  8. I quite like this blend.
    I find it rather quiet and delicate with a heated kick in the finish.
    Not everyones cup of tea, lol whisky.
    I find it pleasant if a little subdued, just for a change from my favourite single malts

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