I love bourbon. I love Scotch whiskey. I don’t love them for the same reasons.
But when I saw a bottle on the store shelves of my local liquor store that claimed to blend these two together I was intrigued. Could it be the best of both worlds? Or will it be the Thunderdome of flavor profiles? I needed to find out.
There’s not much to go on for the history of Grangestone. The first internet record we have of the website is from late 2014, and from the beginning it has been described as a “scotch whiskey collection” not a distiller or a bottler. Their business seems to be taking an existing stock of Scotch whiskey, doing something different with it during the aging process, and putting out the result as a unique spirit.
Thanks to some sleuths on Reddit, we can make a fairly competent guess that the folks behind it are William Grant and Sons, the same company that manufactures Monkey Shoulder, Glenfiddich, and Balvenie. Through a process of elimination they were fairly confident that the source distillery for this line is the Kininvie location in Dufftown.
William Grant and Sons is a well known Scotch whiskey producer, founded in 1887 and based in North Lanarkshire, Scotland. The third largest producer of Scotch whiskey behind Diageo and Pernod Ricard, it remains a privately held company.
The Kininvie distillation plant opened in 1990 producing solely for William Grant and Sons.
The base spirit for this bottle is a Highland-produced Scotch whiskey (probably from the Kininvie distillery). According to the bottle, the spirit is first aged in traditional American oak casks — and most likely this means that the spirit ages for three years and becomes a “proper” Scotch whiskey before being picked up for the next stage of the process.
What’s the grain bill for that base spirit? Where did it come from? Who knows, certainly not the packaging.
For this specific bottling, the Scotch is then poured into brand new bourbon casks, which basically just means they use the same stock of oak casks and use a blowtorch to char the interior before being filled. These are new “first fill” bourbon casks so there’s no contamination of bourbon with this Scotch whiskey, just the added char.
There’s no note on the bottle about a specific age for the whiskey, so all we can assume is that it sat in a combination of the two oak barrels for a minimum of three years, but how long in each and the total age of the spirit is a mystery known only to the bottlers themselves.
As is traditional with most Scotch whiskies the bottle comes in a cardboard sleeve capped with metal fittings to protect the bottle during transport and storage. The color, font, and embellishments on the sleeve are all consistent with other Scotch whiskies and seem to evoke an understated elegance. It’s good branding, making the bottle feel much more valuable than the price tag and perfectly at home next to the Macallan and Oban.
The bottle shape itself is pretty much a dead ringer for the Monkey Shoulder design, but without the wax seal on the cap or the bottle. Which makes sense since the same parent company also makes Monkey Shoulder. The branding from the cardboard sleeve is continued on the bottle with a relatively simple label for the brand and a second label to discuss the unique aging process.
You can tell immediately that this was once a scotch. Taking a sniff of the dark amber colored liquid and you’ll note the distinct smell of that peat drying process coming through along with some vanilla. Otherwise, there’s not much to distinguish the spirit from any other scotch on the market by smell alone.
Take a taste, though, and everything changes.
The liquid has a weight to it that’s much more typical of a bourbon than a lighter scotch, which is surprising for a 40% ABV alcohol content. Usually I’d expect that from at least a 45% or above.
There’s also a smokey richness that doesn’t usually come with a scotch. That charred oak barrel brings some additional spice and a more vanilla forward taste. The peat is still present but seems to take a backseat to the vanilla and oak flavors from that bourbon style barrel.
On the finish there’s not really any burn or unpleasant taste. It finishes smooth, but that’s where the peat has its revenge. Even minutes after your last sip the peat stays on your breath, a somewhat subtle reminder of what you just enjoyed. I actually kind of like it.
With a bit of ice, the spirit returns to its roots. The vanilla and charred oak flavors swap places with the peat and now the peat is the most prominent flavor.
That’s not to say that the other flavors disappear, but it changes the spirit to be a peat forward taste with some charred oak notes in support.
Thanks to that peat-forward taste, there’s actually a bit more acidity and bite to the spirit than if you have it neat. Which is an oddity, and a swap from the norm.
I like scotch, I like bourbon, and if you’d tried to sell me on a blended concept of two before today I would have told you to get lost. But in this case, the combination of the two manufacturing methods seems to have produced something noteworthy. When taken neat there’s a delightful mixture and an interaction between the flavors that works, but when you add some ice it collapses back to being just an okay scotch.
Gangestone Bourbon Cask Finished Scotch
Owner: William Grant and Sons
Production: Dufftown, Scotland
Classification: Scotch Whisky
Grain bill: Unknown
Aging: At least 2 years
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $28.99/ 750ml ($0.0387 / ml)
Overall Rating: 3/5
I like the taste, it’s a good product. I just wish I knew more about where it came from and what’s in it.