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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Jim Murray

Dennis Malcolm celebrates 60 years at Glen Grant

Last month master distiller Dennis Malcolm celebrated a scarcely imaginable 60 years in the business. We sat down over a virtual dram to discuss his long and varied career in…

Last month master distiller Dennis Malcolm celebrated a scarcely imaginable 60 years in the business. We sat down over a virtual dram to discuss his long and varied career in Scotch whisky, and his enduring love for Glen Grant.

People use the expression man and boy to describe a long career but in Dennis Malcom’s case it’s true because he started at Glen Grant at only 15 years old. This was back in 1961 when stills were coal-fired, dramming was a perk of the job and the filling process required a team of men. 

Glen Grant Distillery

Glen Grant Distillery, where it all began

A different time

For every cask that you filled, you would weigh the casks empty and then weigh them full,” he explained. Then you had to calculate, in the days before calculators, the “proof gallons of alcohol in the cask.” Furthemore, there were no forklift trucks, so each cask had to be man-handled. These included bourbon barrels, hogsheads and sherry butts which weighed half an imperial ton (around 500kg). “It was very, very labour intensive,” he said. That’s an understatement.

The two things that haven’t changed, though, are Malcolm’s love of Glen Grant and the quality of the whisky: “I’ve been here for 60 years and I can tell you that the process parameters and the procedures that we have in place have not changed,” he said. Even over Zoom, Malcolm’s energy and passion for the distillery that he calls home is palpable. Can he really be 75 years old?

To the manner born

He was literally born on the grounds of Glen Grant in 1946 so it was somewhat inevitable that he would follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps and work at the distillery. Malcolm’s first job was an apprentice cooper. He found the whole idea of casks fascinating: “Purely because a cask is an odd shape and I was always intrigued, how did it hold a liquid which is thinner than water, with no glue!”

He did five years coopering and “I spent the next six years going through all the different process of the malting, the mashing, the distillation, the fermentation,” he said. A brilliant education in whisky making.

By the time he was 25, Malcolm was production manager which made him the boss of men much older than him. “I was the young boy really, so I had the energy and the willingness to do the job and they had all the experience, which was a big benefit for me,” he said.

Glen Grant Distillery

Look his tie matches the flowers! What a class act

Corporate shenanigans 

When he started, Glen Grant was a family business, part of a small group with Glenlivet and run by Douglas MacKessack, a descendant of the distillery’s founder John Grant. But the ‘70s and ‘80s was a time of mergers and multinationals. The company, now called Glenlivet Distilleries, joined with Longmorn and Benriach in 1970. Then in 1978, it passed into the hands of Canadian giant Seagram in what Malcolm called an: “unfriendly takeover.”

Despite this, Malcolm stayed on and in 1992 became general manager for all nine distilleries in Chivas Brothers group, under the Seagram umbrella, plus three farms, and an animal feed plant. “So I still had my link with Glen Grant, I never lost it.”

But he wasn’t so happy when Pernod Ricard took over in 1999 following the collapse of Seagram. “They wanted their own people there. And I didn’t really like that because I had been in production all my life,” he said. 

Malcolm is candid about how he thinks Glen Grant was neglected under Pernod Ricard ownership. The distillery was mainly used to provide malt for Chivas Regal with the only single malt visibility being the 5 Year Old for the Italian market and “the 10 Year Old in the visitors centre at the distillery. That was us, nothing else,” he said. “Glen Grant almost disappeared from the single malt arena”. 

A change of scene

So, Malcolm took some time away from his beloved Glen Grant and went to work for the Inver House at Balmenach Distillery. “It was a hands-on operation. It was eight people and if you wanted to move a cask you pushed it. If you wanted to turn the steam onto the stills you had to go and turn it on and turn it off. That appealed to me,” he said. There was a family connection too: “my wife is the great-great granddaughter of Janie Macgregor, who was the daughter of James Macgregor, who built and founded Balmenach Distillery.”

Campari takes over

In 2006, Campari bought Glen Grant, it’s first and only single malt Scotch whisky distillery. “They asked if I would come back and head up Glen Grant for them. Well, I didn’t need to think twice about that because I think the biggest part in my life and my heart is Glen Grant.” he said. “Campari were Italian, they’re very passionate people and I’m passionate about Glen Grant. It was a great combination.”

Malcolm set about turning the distillery into a single malt powerhouse. “Campari invested heavily behind it and allowed me to create new expressions.” There’s now a core range of  10, 12 and 15 year olds, plus various special editions. But it’s the all bourbon-cask 18 Year Old that has whisky fans in particular raptures and is considered the quintessence of the Glen Grant style with its combination of fruit, sweetness and delicate nutty complexity.

The stills at Glen Grant, the heart of that fruity taste

The stills at Glen Grant, the heart of that fruity taste

The Glen Grant style

I asked Malcolm to describe the style: “Glen Grant is very much a light, fruity, estery, whisky on the nose and on the palate it’s creamy and fruity. Because we’re using quite a high percentage of bourbon casks, you get this toffee-vanilla note from it. It’s got a fruity sort of nutty taste. When we see younger expressions it’s more like hazelnut and as it matures longer and gets softer and refines better, it’s more a soft almond, marzipan sort of note.” He describes really old Glen Grant as tasting of “Christmas cake.”

“The two important things for defining character in a single malt is the distillation style, the stills, and the wood that you put it into,” he said. His coopering background gives him an intimate knowledge of what makes a good barrel.” He was delighted, therefore, when Campari acquired Wild Turkey, giving him the first pick of ex-bourbon casks. “Bourbon does play a big part in Glen Grant and having our own bourbon distillery guarantees supply for us,” he said. 

Award-winning whisky

Glen Grant now has a groaning trophy cabinet most famously (or perhaps I should say infamously) from Jim Murray who named Glen Grant 18 Year Old Scotch Whisky of the Year three years in a row. Now, of course, Murray isn’t quite the name to conjure with that he was before last year’s accusations of sexism. Though, I noticed that the Jim Murray Whisky Bible logo still sits proudly on the box of the 18 Year Old that the distillery was kind enough to send me.

Malcolm was diplomatic when I brought up Murray, though I could see the PR people hovering nervously on the video call. “Jim Murray was very good at marketing Glen Grant,” he said. But, he went on to say, “the brand speaks for itself. You get press and you get recognition, which is really good, but it doesn’t matter what you do, if you’ve got a successful product it will always be there.”

Malcolm is particularly proud of how fondly Glen Grant is perceived in the industry. When the 15 Year Old Batch Strength won a best Speyside single malt award at the Spirit of Speyside Festival in 2019, “that one gave me more pleasure and accepting because it was all my peers in the industry that voted for it,” he said.

Casks at Glen Grant Dennis Malcolm

He knows a fair bit about casks

60 year old release

Later this year Glen Grant will be releasing a special limited edition 60 Year Old single cask bottling to celebrate Malcolm’s anniversary. Naturally, Malcom himself chose the particular barrel: “I looked at quite a few 60 year old casks there and selected one that I thought was the best. l selected one that I thought reflected or recognised the characteristics of Glen Grant base, this liquid Christmas cake, this fruitiness, the softness..” He was keen to find something that wasn’t too woody. “The aroma, the taste, has got to be in harmony.” It’ll set you back around €25,000.

To celebrate his 60 years on 3 April, however, Malcolm chose something a little more down to earth, the classic 18 Year Old. “It’s very, very delicate, it’s floral on the nose with nice fruitiness. There’s oaky overtones and hints of spices there but it’s got a long, sweet and a hint of nuts and spice in the finish.” He described it as “really sophisticated and refined.” In other words, classic Glen Grant.

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Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2021 winner announced

Jim Murray has spoken. The 2021 World Whisky of the Year is Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye! If only it was available in the UK. Autumn is a very exciting…

Jim Murray has spoken. The 2021 World Whisky of the Year is Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye! If only it was available in the UK.

Autumn is a very exciting time in the whisky world because everyone knows it’s when Jim Murray publishes a new version of the Whisky Bible. And with it comes the Whisky Bible Awards, where arguably the world’s most famous whisky writer announces his favourite drams of the year. And whether you’re a fan or not, his selections always provoke debate. This year is sure to be no different.

The theme of the 2021 edition (which will be arriving at MoM Towers very soon) is new releases, new distilleries and letting the past be the past: “But the one thing that tasting 1,250 whiskies a year for this book has reinforced in my mind, is that for people to really enjoy whisky of whatever type, then they have to let go of the past and learn to swim,” Murray says. 

But what you really want to know is which expressions make up the big four. For those who are new to all this, Murray doesn’t just announce a World Whisky of the Year, but a top three and single cask winner. So, here they are:

The 2021 World Whisky of the Year: Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye! (Sadly not available in the UK. Boo!)

Second place: Stagg Jr Barrel Proof (64.2%)

Third place: Paul John Mithuna

Single Cask: Glen Grant 1956 Mr George Centenary Edition Gordon & MacPhail

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2021 winner

The 2021 Edition will be available here very soon

It’s a huge victory for the Canadian rye whisky, which scored an incredible 97.5 out of a 100, and marks the first time it has won the coveted top prize. The Alberta distillery has long supplied high-quality rye to such lauded American brands as Whistlepig but has only recently begun bottling such magnificent whiskies under its own label. Made from a mix of malted and unmalted rye, Alberta Premium Cask Strength draws its water from the Rocky Mountains and was bottled at a massive 65.1% ABV. It’s also received the Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, so I’d chalk that up as being a pretty good year.

Murray, who tasted 1,252 new drams for the 2021 edition of the Whisky Bible, described the expression as being a “truly world-class whisky from possibly the world’s most underrated distillery. How can something be so immense yet equally delicate? For any whisky lover on the planet looking for huge but nearly perfectly balanced experience, then here you go. And with rye at its most rampantly beautiful, this is something to truly worship.” Alberta Premium was named Canadian Whisky of the Year in Murray’s 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 Whisky Bibles, so his love for the Canadian distillery is already well-established.

Fans of the Whisky Bible will have noted that, for the first time in five years, the US has been knocked off the World Whisky of the Year top spot. Kentucky distiller the Sazerac Company made have swept the board in 2020 with a unique 1-2-3, but the “mind-blowing” Stagg Jr Barrel Proof, had to settle for the runner-up spot in 2021. Arguably the most eye-catching podium entry of all is Mithuna, however. The Paul John expression, a distillery in the tiny Indian state of Goa, is the first South Asian whisky to have taken a top three gong in more than a decade. 

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2021 winner

Being named in Murray’s top list is a coveted award for whisky brands

All this means it’s another relatively barren year for Scotch as far as Murray’s awards go, although his love for Glen Grant clearly remains undiminished. The brand won three of the six categories Scotch whisky can compete in, including Scotch Whisky of the Year, Scotch Single Malt of the Year (Multiple Casks) and Scotch Single Malt of the Year (Single Cask). The category’s most significant win, however, was on the single cask side of things where the old and rare Glen Grant Mr George stole the show, which was dubbed Mr George Centenary Edition in honour of George Urquhart, creator of Gordon & MacPhail’s wonderful Connoisseurs Choice range.

The last time a Canadian won World Whisky of the Year was in 2016 when Murray selected Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye. Not only did it spark renewed interest in the category, but caused the demand for the bottle to be so high that police in Toronto were called as drinkers fought over the last bottles still on the shelf. Hopefully, we don’t see a repeat of such antics this year. We’ve got plenty of lovely Candian whisky right here that you don’t have to fight over.

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1792 Full Proof is Jim Murray’s World Whisky of the Year 2020

Kentucky has come out on top in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2020, with 1792 Full Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon from the Barton 1792 distillery scooping the World Whisky of the…

Kentucky has come out on top in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2020, with 1792 Full Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon from the Barton 1792 distillery scooping the World Whisky of the Year accolade. 

1792 Full Proof  is a non-chill-filtered expression, bottled at 62.5% ABV. It’s hugely full-flavoured, bursting with toffee penny, burnt sugar and nutmeg notes – but as a limited-run, is sadly sold out (we’re trying to get more in – keep you posted!).

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2020 1792 Full Proof

Mr Murray’s top drop

Second place went to William Larue Weller 125.7 proof, an updated version of the winning 2019 expression, with third place nabbed by Thomas Handy Sazerac Rye 127.2 proof.

1792 Full Proof is made at Barton 1792 Distillery, while William Larue Weller and Thomas Handy are both made at Buffalo Trace. All three are owned by Sazerac. 

“To not only be named World Whisky of the Year but also to have our whiskeys named second and third finest is astonishing,” said Mark Brown, Sazerac president. “We could not be happier or more motivated to continue to strive for perfection in the American whiskeys we make.”

Murray chose his 2020 winners from 1,250 new drams. Sectional winners include: the Taiwanese Nantou Distillery Omar Cask Strength Bourbon Cask (Single Cask of the Year); Glen Grant Aged 18 Years Rare Edition (Scotch of the Year); Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare (Blended Scotch of the Year); Penderyn Single Cask no.M75-32 (European Whisky of the Year); and Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt (Japanese Whisky of the Year).

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2020 Scotch Glen Grant

Behold, Jim’s Scotch of the Year!

“There will be eyebrows raised and claims of favouritism which, of course, is never the case with the Whisky Bible: I call it exactly as I see it,” Murray said. “Once I knew the top three were from the same company, I spent two extra days running through my top ten whiskies once more…and the results came out exactly the same!

“For the 1792 Distillery to win World Whisky of the Year is extraordinary because when I first went there some 25 years ago, the then-owners had no interest in high-end whiskey. The oldest they produced was a six-year-old, which I thought was one of the most complex on the market but still under-cooked. I implored them then to bring out something much older.” He added that the team has “turned a potentially great distillery into something truly magnificent”.

Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2020 is due to arrive at MoM Towers imminently! 

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Why Glen Grant stays true to its roots

What does it take to creating world-class Scotch? Consistency, consistency and consistency. At least, that’s the approach that has served Glen Grant well. Master distiller Dennis Malcolm joins us to explain. Once…

What does it take to creating world-class Scotch? Consistency, consistency and consistency. At least, that’s the approach that has served Glen Grant well. Master distiller Dennis Malcolm joins us to explain.

Once again, Glen Grant 18 Year Old has been awarded the prize of Scotch Whisky of the Year in the 2019 edition of 2019 edition of Murray’s Whisky Bible. For the third year in a row, in fact.

It’s no small feat. Over 5,000 whiskies, a thousand of which were new entrants, were rated by Murray. In the end, only the 2017 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection release of William Larue Weller ranked higher to scoop the coveted accolade of World Whisky of the Year. In an official statement, Murray declared: “Once more the stunning Glen Grant 18 Year Old single malt carried the banner for Scotland, displaying Speyside Whisky in its most sparkling light.”

Providing the world with a refined whisky is what Glen Grant has been all about since 1840. That’s when brothers John and James Grant founded the site in Rothes in Speyside. Some will tell you the secret to its style is the innovative tall slender stills. Others will point to the revolutionary purifiers that James ‘The Major’ Grant, son of founder James Grant, introduced over a century ago. It was one of the first to be installed in a Scotch whisky distillery.

Glen Grant 18 Year Old

Master distiller Dennis Malcolm

Malcolm appreciates the influence of both, but is keen to underline the importance of approach. “It’s all bout consistent quality through the whole process. I used to jokingly say milling, mashing and fermenting is an almost generic process! The secret is in your stills and your casks. Of course, they’re your big influencers. But you’ve also got to be consistent.” The distillery uses a standardised system so it’s easy to operate. Malcom explains that it’s broken into four pairs of stills. So one batch does a six-hour process from mashing into distilling. When the spirit comes off, the four pairs go into separate receivers and are checked individually. “Attention to detail is the secret”, he says.

Fans of the distillery will note how little it has changed over the years. That fruity, estery and refined spirit has been Glen Grant’s hallmark for decades. It’s one of the few distilleries where the DNA has remained constant. There aren’t many other distilleries that can boast that.

Nobody typifies the consistency at Glen Grant like the multi-award-winning Malcolm. He was actually born in the grounds of Glen Grant in 1946 and has worked for the distillery in various capacities for over five decades. “My grandfather worked at Glen Grant and worked for the son of the founder. Then my father worked there. I left school at the age of 15 and went to be a cooper”, Malcolm recalls, “I wanted to create casks. That’s helped me along my career. I know what casks are all about.”

Glen Grant 18 Year Old

The legendary Glen Grant stills

It’s clear how passionate Malcolm is that Glen Grant retains its identity and doesn’t change simply to satisfy the market. “You’ve got to hold your ground. You have to be careful it doesn’t just become a fashion item for that one year. I try to protect the DNA of Glen Grant,” Malcolm says. “The financial people obviously want to save money. So they say ‘use the casks four times. You’re using a million pounds for bloomin’ casks every year and that’s going on the bottom line! But I say, ‘hey, wait a minute. The only reason we’re here is because of our consistent quality. So we need to keep that’.”

The Campari Group were obviously wise enough to heed Malcolm’s advice. It acquired Glen Grant whisky distillery in 2006 for €115m. New expressions came with new ownership. Like the 12 Year Old and 18 Year Old. But It’s notable that these were additions, and not replacements.

So, how did it feel to be honoured with the title of Scotch Whisky of the Year? “Well, you can’t really print what I said when I heard it for a start!” Malcolm jokes, “I really liked it because I was going back in time with this one, back to our roots. It’s 100% bourbon cask. There’s no sherry there, there’s no colour correction there, it’s just natural single malt Glen Grant.”

Glen Grant 18 Year Old

Glen Grant Distillery

But what makes Glen Grant 18 Year Old stand out among all other Scotch whiskies for Jim Murray? Its complexity. He says it takes him longer to nose it then any other whisky. “You just watch every nuance come through. There’s a half-hour journey in every single glass. You never get it all on one nose”. Murray told us that the tasting note in the Whisky Bible is actually the shortened version. “You think ‘this could go over two pages, this is ridiculous’. Because it is that complex. That’s why it gets number two in the world.”

It’s clear that Murray feels a very strong connection to the Glen Grant distillery. “I’ve tasted a lot of Glen Grant over many, many years. I’ve tasted Glen Grants from before the Second World War, Everything about it is natural and it’s just utterly true to its roots. It is the true Speyside.”

It’s fascinating watching Murray be so intensely passionate about a Scotch whisky. Because he’s acutely aware of his and the bible’s reputation. “People say to me ‘oh Jim, you don’t like Scotch’ and I say ‘don’t I, really?! Have you ever seen what I’ve written about the 18 year old Glen Grant?’” he explains defiantly. “Scotland makes some of the best whisky in the world. Because there’s things like Glen Grant 18 that can just absolutely seduce you.”

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Master of Malt’s most read stories of 2018

As 2018 draws to a close, we reflect on the news and features that caught your eye the most this year. Well, we’ve reached the end of another year. The…

As 2018 draws to a close, we reflect on the news and features that caught your eye the most this year.

Well, we’ve reached the end of another year. The Earth has put in another hell of a shift in its orbit around the Sun. Now is the time where we reflect on all that happened in 2018.

It has been another 12 months filled with standout stories, all manner of incidents, and of course highs and lows. Among the articles you read most on our award-winning blog were round-ups of great booze, limited-edition whisky launches, and a sorry tale of a collapsing warehouse. We shed a tear for all that bourbon.

Without further delay, these are the top 10 stories that you read, shared and talked about the most in 2018.

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William Larue Weller takes top spot in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2019

America wins World Whisky of the Year again in the new edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible but the big story is the rise of English and Welsh whiskies with…

America wins World Whisky of the Year again in the new edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible but the big story is the rise of English and Welsh whiskies with a special section devoted to them.

The new edition of the world’s bestselling whisky book is out, and I’m afraid it’s bad news for the Scots with the title of World Whisky of the Year going to William Larue Weller (2017 Release) – the third consecutive American champion. Jim Murray commented on “its unique brilliance” and said it was the “the most delicious lesson in whiskey structure imaginable”.

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Colonel EH Taylor Four Grain 12yo top in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2018

The “sheer undiluted beauty” of Colonel EH Taylor Four Grain Bottled in Bond Aged 12 Years has nabbed it the title of world’s best whisky in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible…

The “sheer undiluted beauty” of Colonel EH Taylor Four Grain Bottled in Bond Aged 12 Years has nabbed it the title of world’s best whisky in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2018.

Just as it says on the tin, the expression is made using a quartet of grains – corn, rye, wheat and malted barley – and scored 97.5 out of 100 in Murray’s nose-taste-finish-balance assessment system.

“Nothing could match the astonishing beauty of its surprisingly delicate weight and complexity combined,” Murray said of the whiskey. “It was though time stood still in the tasting room; I just knew…”

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Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2017 Winners

Jim Murray has announced the winners in this year’s Whisky Bible, with a rye claiming top spot for the second year running and a Scotch whisky in the top three…

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2017

Jim Murray has announced the winners in this year’s Whisky Bible, with a rye claiming top spot for the second year running and a Scotch whisky in the top three for the first time since 2014.

Following on from Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Canadian rye, it’s an American rye whiskey that’s been named World Whisky of the Year in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible this time around: Booker’s ‘Big Time Batch’, aged for 13 years, 1 month and 12 days. Laid down by the legendary Booker Noe himself in 2003, shortly before his death, his son continued to watch over the casks and they were finally released earlier this year. Booker’s first ever rye, it was already described by Beam as an “extremely rare, limited edition offering, made from a very limited number of barrels” and will now become an even more sought-after bottling.

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Tasmanian Whisky – Everything You Need to Know! (Part 6: Nant Distillery)

This week we’ll be looking at Nant – one of the most critically acclaimed distilleries on Tasmania, with high profile fans including legendary whisky commentator Jim Murray. It began in…

Nant distillery

This week we’ll be looking at Nant – one of the most critically acclaimed distilleries on Tasmania, with high profile fans including legendary whisky commentator Jim Murray.

It began in 2004, when Brisbane-based property developer Keith Batt purchased the Nant Estate, just an hour from Hobart. This ancient estate was built in around 1821, and since the 2004 purchase, it has been lovingly and carefully restored with an investment of some $5 million. The result is arrestingly beautiful; a stunning estate surrounded by breathtakingly scenic countryside.

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#WhiskySanta Gives Away The World’s Finest Whisky

Since I began granting one Christmas wish per day, there’s been one product in particular that’s been rather popular on your wishlists. Some chap in a panama hat with fluorescent…

Whisky Santa Pug Yamazaki Sherry 2013

Since I began granting one Christmas wish per day, there’s been one product in particular that’s been rather popular on your wishlists. Some chap in a panama hat with fluorescent eyes said it was rather good or something. Not much call for panama hats at the North Pole, you know. Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned travelling all around the globe every year it’s that it takes all sorts!

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