Hamish Guthrie was the woodwork teacher at my primary school. Those days when the boys took home crudely constructed letter holders to their admiring mothers while the girls took home needle-worked gingham aprons, baked scones or curried sausages.
Mr Guthrie was from Scotland. To our untrained ears his speech was almost incomprehensible. To us boys, he may just as well have come from Saturn.
But Mr Guthrie taught us about grain. His catch phrase, delivered with a broad brogue, was “always go with the grain”. You cannot argue with that kind of logic. Especially from a Scotsman.
Sadly, he was referring to the grain found in pieces of pine tree, rather than grain found maturing in oak casks.
A potted history of grain whisky:
Grain whisky was once only used for blending as it tended to give the blend a bit more body. As grain whisky was generally cheaper than malt, its use also helped to keep the price down.
But grain whiskies in recent years have become a “Thing” in their own right.
Grain provides a flavour profile different from traditional malt whiskies – for example, a barley whisky will have a sweeter flavour and provide the caramel and brown sugar notes of a bourbon-matured malt. Grain whisky is also more mild and lighter tasting than malt. And is less likely to be influenced by geographic factors in the growing.I have read comment that grain whiskies could be a threat to malted whisky. I don’t see a threat; I see two whisky types. Like blends and single malts, I feel they can survive side by side perfectly amicably. They complement each other: when you don’t need a powerhouse malt dram, pick a grain.
Let 2019 begin!
To welcome 2019 with style, we tasted some grain whiskies that were handy: three from Bruichladdich distillery, a blended offering from Grants, and a Springbank release of a local barley.
To round out this tasting, a Caidenheads bottling from a 2018 tasting is included in the notes.
Without further ado, let me introduce ….. the Grain Whisky Tasting!
Caidenhead’s North British Grain
1985 32yo. Alcohol by Volume (ABV) 55.2%. Colour: 1.2
Nose: Softly milky with a very slight sour note, but very attractive.
Palette: Sweet, a leather chair, a sugar sack and brown sugar,
Comment: This was from a tasting last year of Caidenhead’s bottlings. Of the seven expressions in the tasting, this was top.
Next come three samples from Bruichladdich. All the samples were non-peated and bottled at 50% abv.
Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2010
Aged 7 years in oak casks. Colour 0.7
Nose: The first nose was strong raisins – similar to a PX sherry whisky. There is the sweet smell of a freshly-opened pouch of pipe tobacco.
Palette: New cardboard, and a lightly sour note.
Comment: This whisky didn’t really catch my imagination.
Bruichladdich Organic Barley 2009
Aged 8 years in oak casks. Colour 0.3.
Nose: sweet and dusty, the aroma of an oak furniture factory.
Palette: sweet, with a late sourish note.
Comment: Again, it didn’t really grab my attention but it is getting better. Score: 7.9
Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008
Aged 10 years in Oak casks. Colour 0.4.
The barley used in this whiskey is reportedly harvested on Orkney.
Nose: sweet sweaty socks (a poor mental picture, perhaps, but the nose is actually quite pleasant), cooked peas and creamy.
Palette: Aromatic, dry, a crepe bandage.
Comment: This was the best of the three samples, and worthy of further investigation.
Grants Elementary Blended Grain Whisky
8 yo, 40% abv. Colour 1.1
Nose: from the bottle, it is sweet with a light nose of lemonade. From the glas, the nose is soft and pleasant, but with not a lot to note.
Palette: The whisky is light. There is a delicate rock melon flavour and a slight grassy note. Pink candy floss from the fairground.
Comment: This dram holds together well and could be good for a long evening with friends.
Springbank Local Barley
Aged 10 years, 57.3% abv. Colour 0.8
Nose: Sweet, with heaps of golden syrup, and baked apples in the winter.
Palette: sweet, smooth, caramel and raisins.
Comment: Pat describes it as ”heaven in a bottle”. There is an enduring warmth, a comfort for a cold night.
Finish: long, warm, with hot pepper.
Footnote: I purchased this bottle after a tasting 10 months ago. I had the intention of anticipating its opening for a year or so. But it did really have to come out to join this tasting, if only to show what can be done!
Overall comment: A great tasting, a wide range of experiences and a determination to experience and enjoy more grain whiskies!
Slainte, Mr Guthrie, wherever you may be. Always go with the Grain!
A side note: my sister took home curried sausages that displayed a definite tinge of olive-green. My father proudly (and, in retrospect, foolishly) ignored the unusual colour and ate some.
He was violently ill.