Words by: Simon Difford
Until the 1830s almost all Scottish whisky was made exclusively from malted barley and produced in pot stills – i.e., it was what we would today call ‘malt whisky’. However, two developments brought about ‘Scottish grain whisky’ and ‘Scotch blended whisky’. The first was the development of a new type of still, the Coffey still, the second was the repeal of the British Corn Laws.
The Corn Laws were a protectionist tax on foreign imports of grain to Britain. Before their repeal in 1846, Scottish distillers could only use locally grown grain - almost always barley. With the abolition of the Corn Laws, distillers could use imported grain such as wheat or maize which, unlike barley, did not require malting and so was much cheaper and easier to use.
Thanks to cheap grain and the new continuous column stills, distilleries could produce a light 'grain' whisky very cheaply. Small independent Scottish distillers sought to prevent the new grain distillers calling their produce 'whisky' but in 1909 a Royal Commission was appointed and ruled against the malt distillers. The grain distillers were free to call their grain whisky 'Scotch whisky' - but 'malt whisky' must be made from barley using a pot still.
Continuous stills are far more efficient compared to traditional pot stills. The spirit from a malt whisky pot still (termed 'New Make Spirit'), leaves the still at around 70%abv while the spirit made in continuous stills can be up to 95%abv.
Like all distillates, grain spirit is clear when it leaves the still - it smells rather like rum and raisin ice cream. Before the clear spirit can be termed Scotch whisky it must (like malt whisky) be aged in oak casks for a minimum of three years.
Very little single grain whisky is bottled and sold as such. Grain whisky is mainly used for blending with malt whisky to produce Scotch blended whisky.
Distilled in Cameronbridge, Clubman is a single grain Scotch whisky matured exclusively in American oak ex-bourbon casks. Released 3rd August 2016, Clubman is the second iteration of Haig Club, a brand Diageo launched in 2014 in partnership with David Beckham and British entrepreneur Simon Fuller. Vanilla fudge, butterscotch and toffee with light white pepper and faint desiccated and toasted coconut.
Named after the Roland TR-8o8 Drum Machine, 8o8 Whisky was launched by DJ TommyD (real name Tommy Asher Danvers) and entrepreneur Paul Pullinger in late 2015, helped by Warner Music UK Chairman & CEO Max Lousada, whisky expert Jonathan Driver and ex-Red Bull chief Harry Drnec. Light honey, freshly milled buttery wheat with faint charcoal and white pepper.
Released in September 2015 “in strictly limited quantities”, this single grain whisky was distilled at the Port Dundas Distillery, Glasgow, which closed in 2010. Weetabix, walnuts, black pepper and vanilla fudge.
Released in September 2015 “in strictly limited quantities”, this single grain whisky was distilled at the Port Dundas Distillery, Glasgow, which closed in 2010. Baguette crust, sandalwood, dark honey, milk chocolate, floral honeysuckle, eucalyptus and nutty wood varnish.
This 40 year old single grain Scotch whisky was distilled in 1974 (probably from maize) at the Caledonian Distillery which closed in 1988. This whisky was filled in refill American oak casks (probably second fill) at 68.5% alc./vol. and this release was drawn from 42 casks from one fill date. Bourbon-like with generous vanilla, pencil shavings oak and nutty praline. Water reveals nougat and cream-of-soda vanilla.
Scottish Leader Signature is described by its makers as being a “special blend, adding Scottish island malts to create a distinctively rich and complex whisky with the signature hint of Hebridean smokiness.” Leather, nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper and bonfire smoke with butterscotch, vanilla fudge, chocolate and toffee.
A limited edition celebratory release (5,689 bottles) of Compass Box’s Hedonism to celebrate the company’s 15th anniversary. Hedonism Quindecimus is a blend of grain whiskies from five different distilleries and of varying ages. Bottled in February 2015 without chill-filtration nor added colour. Caramel, vanilla fudge and desiccated coconut with toasted pineapple and citrus fruits. Faint clove and gingerbread.
Distilled in 1988 at Invergordon and aged 26 years. This single ex-bourbon barrel was bottled in 2014 yielding 220 bottles. ‘Lemon Cheesecake’ is part of a range of single cask whiskies from Wemyss (prounced 'weems') with names inspired by each whisky's flavour. Fresh lemon zestiness, putty-like toffee/vanilla fudge, buttery almond and icing sugar.
Launched in September 2014 as the second permanent expression in Compass Box’s Great King Street range of blended Scotch whiskies. A blend of 67% malt whisky from Islay (Laphroaig), Highlands and a sherrried Speyside with 33% single grain from the Cameronbridge Distillery. Salty sea air, lightly smoky peat and apple with baking spices and faint nutty sherry. Water releases more apple fruit, honey, vanilla and clove spice.
Unveiled in London 8th April 2014, the launch of this whisky by Diageo lit up the global news networks. Not due to its being one of the few mainstream bottlings of a grain whisky, but because of its being marketed in partnership with sporting celebrity David Beckham and pop impresario Simon Fuller. Vanilla fudge, toasted almond, almond croissants, acacia honey and dried mango with mild light white pepper and buttery oak. Water enhances toasted almond and buttery almond croissant.
Distilled in one of the original stills at Girvan Distillery, this grain whisky benefits from a 30 year maturation in predominantly American oak barrels with some European casks in the blend. Girvan Patent Still 30 Year Old is bottled without the addition of caramel colouring. Vanilla, creamy caramel, spicy oak and ripe banana with toffee, lemon and freshly shelled walnuts. Water releases oaty Horlicks-like notes.
‘Apps’ is a distillery term for ‘Apparatus’ and No.4 Apps at Girvan Distillery has been producing ‘vacuum distilled’ spirit since the column still was installed in 1992, including the spirit which matured into this Single Grain Scotch Whisky. Milk chocolate, vanilla fudge and toffee with peach, ripe banana, pear drops and white pepper spice.
Released on 7th October as a UK only exclusive, as the name suggests, this 25 year old grain whisky was distilled in the original Girvan Patent Still, known affectionately as “No 1 Apps”, a distillery term for apparatus, which was built in 1963. Caramel and creamy vanilla fudge with mild cinnamon spice, faint orange marmalade and grassy notes.
Distilled at Glasgow’s Strathclyde Distillery in 1990 from 75% maze then aged 23 years in a refill hogshead cask which yielded 280 bottles which were released by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society on 5th July 2013. Fudge and nubuck leather with very delicate clove and nutmeg spice. Water amplifies the spice with cracked black pepper and vanilla emerging.
Distilled at the North British Distillery with 85% maze and 15% barley on 20th December 1991 then aged in a refill sherry butt for 21 years. This single cask yielded 384 bottles which were released by Scotch Malt Whisky Society 5th July 20013 and made exclusively available to the society’s members. Pungent, toffee sponge pudding and nubuck leather with strong spice. Waxy evergreen leaves and potter’s clay emerge with water and the toffee notes turns more fudge-like. The spice is also subdued by hydration.