Some of the spirits we are reviewing this month are scary because of the contents, the brand, or the price tag. And this bottle of Grand Macnish hits all those points and more — even the label looks a little scary and intimidating. With that black, red, and yellow color scheme, it feels like this belongs in a haunted house. But does it actually belong in the trash bin? That’s what we’re here to find out.
While we might think of single malt scotch whisky as the “norm” today, historically speaking the most popular and common way that scotch whisky has been prepared and sold is as a blend of different sources concocted by a trading company of some form or another. Brands therefore weren’t about the distillery, but instead about the blender. That’s where brands such as Johnny Walker started, and they remain popular to this day.
One of the less notable brands of blended whisky is Grand Macnish. The brand was founded in 1863 by Robert McNish (note: the spelling of the name differs from source to source), who was a Glasgow-based tea, tobacco, wine and spirit merchant. He decided that he wanted to create a lighter flavored blend of scotch whisky and designed the brand specifically to support that new venture. His sons eventually joined the business in 1887, and took over ownership when Robert died in 1904.
The brand saw some success prior to the outbreak of the First World War, and after serving in the military the McNish brothers sold their business in 1927 to H. Corby Distillery Co of Canada. The brand would bounce around for a while, eventually ending up being owned by Macduff International.
Founded in 1992 by Charles Murray, Stewart MacDuff and Edward Thomson, Macduff International is a relatively modern Scottish whisky company focusing on building quality brands. All three founders had previously worked at Scottish whisky giants such as Whyte & Mackay and United Distillers and brought those skills together to try and develop some new brands in the industry — and revive some older ones as well.
- Learn More: What Is Scotch Whisky?
On the one hand, I’m really annoyed when a whisky isn’t as forthcoming as I’d have hoped about its contents. I want to know what I’m buying beyond just a pretty label. But as someone who’s reviewed over 500 spirits over 5 years, now I tend to see that as an opportunity to go searching for clues on the label to try and piece it all together.
The biggest clue we get is that the bottle says this was “distilled & bottled in Scotland”, which subjects it to some rather strict labeling requirements and helps us on our path. From there, the “blended scotch whisky” appellation adds some additional context to let us know that this is a mixture of different sources and likely not from a single distillery. In total, based the way they have it phrased here, this could really be a mix of nearly anything that’s grain based (including corn whisky), as long as it was distilled in Scotland.
One extra hint we get is on the label around the neck, saying that this was aged for at least three years. You might think that’s a mark of quality… until you realize that all whiskey in Scotland is required by law to be aged a minimum of three years to qualify as whisky. It’s literally doing the bare minimum.
I do appreciate that some effort has gone into the label here. I’ve seen other versions of this bottle online that seem to be much more ornate, so I’m not sure if this is just a lower end SKU of theirs that didn’t get the royal treatment and is designed for international export, but even in that case it still seems to be at least somewhat thought out.
The bottle is plain, simple, and boring: a cylindrical body, tapered shoulder, and medium length neck all topped off with a screw-on plastic cap. It’s a design we see time and again, but while it is common it is also effective and efficient.
One positive thing I have to say about the label is that they chose some striking colors for it. I don’t know if I’d have gone with a bold black, red, and yellow color scheme for a whisky designed to be mellow and chill, but it certainly makes a statement and stands out on the shelf. The logo of the bottle appears to be the emblem of a lion with a crown on it, which seems a bit generic and unfortunate.
I do want to note that, looking at some other examples online, it seems like this design might be on the way out. The older antique versions of this bottle have a fascinating design that I can only describe as “bubbly” with a very different label on it, and it seems like Macduff International might be in the process of swapping back to a callback of that design with their newer releases. Hopefully, this is just a bottle that has been sitting on a shelf in a warehouse for ages and not indicative of the latest incarnation.
The whisky is significantly darker than I’d expect from a blended spirit designed to taste young and light. Even some of the heavily peated Islay spirits are a pale straw color, but this is much closer to the dark gold or amber color you see with an American bourbon. It’s likely an indication that some artificial coloring was used (which is an allowed additive in Scottish spirits).
Taking a whiff off the glass, the aromas you’d expect to see from a scotch whisky are present but they seem to be buried in the background. On the front, there’s some brown sugar and vanilla which combine with some dried raisins and a hint of baking spices to give it this “oatmeal raisin cookie” vibe that I’m not opposed to at all. That dried raisin seems to have some other fruity shades to it, maybe some dried apricot and fresh melon, but it’s not entirely clear.
Those aromas translate almost perfectly to the actual flavor of the spirit. As soon as you take a sip, you’ll get those baking spices and dried raisins, followed by some vanilla and brown sugar. It’s all very mellow and smooth, with the flavors seemingly muted and watered down compared to what you might expect from the aroma. On the finish is where there’s a bit of a difference, as some dried apricot joins in and provides some needed variety to the flavors.
With the added ice in the glass, the dried raisins really start to become the predominant component in the aroma of this spirit. That, plus some of the brown sugar, is all I’m really getting in the aroma at this point, and it’s surprisingly well saturated compared to how we first encountered it.
Unfortunately, that saturation doesn’t follow into the actual flavor. Not only does this taste like water that has been filtered through raisins at this point, but there’s a distinct bitterness that has started to appear about halfway through the flavor of the spirit. There’s just nothing appealing about this whatsoever.
This is one of those situations where things seem to be okay on the surface level, but fall apart under scrutiny.
Taken neat, this is fine. There are some good aromas and flavors here — and while I might not associate these particular flavors with typical Scottish spirits, I’m definitely not complaining either. But as soon as the ice hits the glass, the whole flavor profile falls apart. There just isn’t enough saturation to the flavors to make it work, and the newly discovered bitterness is unfortunately ruining what little enjoyment is left.
Even reviewed compared to other scotch whiskies taken neat, this doesn’t have that character of a scotch that we’d expect. It’s more American than Scottish, and somehow still doesn’t bring anything unique to the table.
For a bottle that cost me $12, I’m not that mad. It has some redeeming qualities when taken neat. But I think personally I’d prefer to save up a couple extra dollars and get something that is actually delicious — of which there’s plenty to choose from.
|Grand Macnish Blended Scotch Whisky|
Classification: Blended Scotch Whiskey
Aging: 3 Years
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $11.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 1/5
Smells like an oatmeal raisin cookie, but falls flat on the actual flavor.