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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Single Malt Report: Grangestone Double Cask

Total Wine & More has an interesting approach to whisk(e)y.  Their locations (or at least their California ones) have excellent selections of single malts, including an extensive number of independent bottlings.  So they clearly have a knowledgable spirits buyer.  But they staff their stores with folks who don't know anything about these products.  Either they'll admit that whisky isn't their strong point or they'll just make up information.  And this includes the managers.  The first two times I heard the tall tales, I waited until the staff member left and provided some actual assistance to the customers.  In both cases, it was a middle-aged wife looking to get her husband something for his birthday.  After that, I had to ignore it.  They're far from the only liquor retailer with this problem, in fact they're in the majority.  But find it funny that they work so hard to get Exclusive Malts, AD Rattray, Berry Bros. & Rudd, Battlehill, Montgomeries, etc. onto their shelves but are not set up to move the actual bottles.

One of my friends used to work for Total Wine.  This person confirmed that product education was not valued while she worked there.  But what was/is prioritized foremost is the selling their own exclusive labels (I think they're called Spirits Direct products).  For instance, Grangestone is one of their whisky labels.  There are Grangestone blends and single malts, from NAS to 30 years.  And their because Grangestone's prices are very reasonable, I've stared at these bottles for longer than I should have.  But I don't know what's inside the bottles and (due to my experiences) I don't trust their staff to accurately inform me.  It's too bad that SoCal has so many liquor permit issues because a full public Grangestone tasting would be very useful for them (Total Wine) and us (the customers).

Happily, one of my other whisky friends (J.L.R.) received a bottle of Grangestone Double Cask as a Christmas present.  "Happily" for me, not for him.  He was not a fan, but he was more than amenable to part with a review sample.
Photobomb by someone who is not J.L.R.
Listed as "Grangestone Bourbon Cask" on Total Wine's website, the Double Cask is all of $24.99, a reasonable price for an NAS whisky.  The label is sort of vague.  It says that the first maturation happens in "handcrafted white oak casks", while the second maturation happens in "bourbon oak casks".  Since "bourbon oak casks" are in fact handcrafted from white oak, and the vast majority (and least expensive) white oak casks previously held bourbon, we might as well call the whisky, Grangestone Tautology.  Their website is of a little more help, noting that the first pass happens in "traditional American oak", then the second in first fill bourbon casks.  So let's just go with: 1st maturation is refill ex-bourbons, 2nd maturation is first fill ex-bourbons.
Warning: high quality photo!
Label: Grangestone
Retailer: Total Wine & More
Distillery: ???
Type: Single Malt
Region: Highlands
Age: no statement
Maturation: probably refill ex-bourbons and first fill ex-bourbons
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Thank you to J.L.R. for this sample!

It has the dark orange gold glow of added caramel colorant.  The nose starts of with a bit of orange candy.  Then switches directly to cardboard.  Then more cardboard and microwaved plastic fumes.  That's followed by cassia cinnamon, chives, mint, and hay.  After some airing out, notes of vanilla and pear, um, appear.  The palate has a weird amount of heat for a 40%abv whisky.  There's some vanilla and caramel up front.  Then notebook paper and Nilla wafers.  It doesn't air out well, growing sour and developing a case of The Turps.  It does have some texture to it, though.  It finishes with caramel and lemons.  It gets grainier with time and picks up some chlorophyl-ish notes.

Gah! Awful, awful, awful bitter poison. Cutty Sark reborn! Kill it! I tried to stab it with my United boot knife, but succeeded only in cracking the tumbler.

Refreshing, but that's due to all of the club soda I dumped in it.  There may be whispers of apple and vanilla in there though.

I'll start with the positives.  It's not an utter failure like Lismore NAS.  Aside from all of the cardboard notes, the nose isn't bad.  It doesn't taste too poorly as long as one drinks it immediately.  And the highball was consumable.  It's better than Dewar's White and JW Red (as if that was a feat).

Otherwise this is really young whisky.  And while it's possible to have characterful zippy baby single malt, this ain't it.  In fact, this is almost exactly like the current NAS iteration of Canadian Club 1858, with its Nillas, orange candy, caramel, and turpentine.  But what is this whisky in actuality?  Well, the label does say "Highland" on it.  My top three guesses would be in this order: Tomatin, reject Glenmorangie, and Dalmore.

And finally, though the price sounds tempting, there are better things to be found.  At Total Wine (in CA) one can get Glenfiddich 12, Tomatin 12, Glenmorangie 10, Speyburn 10, Chivas 12, and JW Black Label for almost the same amount (or less).  So it's difficult to recommend this on any level.  If the older Grangestones are any better, please let us know in the comment section!

Availability - Total Wine & More
Pricing - $24.99
Rating - 70


  1. This is not a "Master Distiller's Selection" or a "Master Blender's Selection"; it's "Master's Selection". You'll like it or you'll be whipped.

    1. I just bought 2 bottles because the price was right and the grngestone 12 was decent enough for the money. Let me confess that I am a scotch snob. My peronal favorites are Abelour Abunah and Laiphroig. This scotch is to my normal dram what a Honda is to a Ferrari. They both have wheels but that is where the similarities end. That said, this scotch is not too bad for the price. It is drinkable, generally inoffensive and....absolutely nothing special. It is the Honda of scotch. Something for everyday.

    2. Thanks for your comment!

      My Honda Accord weeps. I'm just kidding. I'm clearly a schnob too. I don't doubt that there's some good stuff within the Grangestone range. There are great surprises everywhere if one looks and keeps faith that low price doesn't mean low quality. I wish Grangestone 12 was still around because I would certainly try it.

  2. Thanks for this. My experience with Total Wine staff in Maryland is limited but similar, down to the pushing of Grangestone.

    1. Hey Tom. Hmm, so this doesn't just happen here in California. It wouldn't hurt if they provided their employees with a modicum of whisky education. There's so much bad info out there and they're only adding to it. Better informed employees lead to better informed customers. Well informed customers gradually turn into whisky dorks and spend way too much money on booze. The end. See, everyone wins.

      I'd actually like to review more of Grangestone's stuff. I'm still searching for good cheap whisky, so once I get my mitts on some samples I'll review 'em promptly.

  3. Grangestone brand is owned by William Grant, so chances are you drank Glenfiddich. In fact it used to be that the 12yo and 18yo Grangestones in TotalWine were cheaper than their Glenfiddich counterparts at TotalWine, but no longer. Given that Glenfiddich is a known quantity, with less colorant, and at 43% instead of 40%, I found no good reason to spring for a Grangestone so far. At the TotalWine I go to the Grangestone is always some 23 year old employee's favorite.

    1. Ah ha! William Grant. That's some good investigating. Curious that they didn't call it a Speyside since Speysiders are still the biggest sellers. Maybe they hope that "Highland" makes it sound tougher? Could they have found some other distilleries' casks in their warehouse that were too crappy for Grant's?

  4. I received a bottle of Grangestone Double Cask as a gift. I normally don't like scotch, but I like this. That of course bolsters the argument that this isn't great scotch. Won't try to convince anyone otherwise. BUT, evaluated on it's own I find it to be a good drink. It has the body of a liqueur without the cloying sweetness, goes down smooth, and has just enough heat to remind you that you are drinking an adult beverage. This stuff seems to get a lot of hate online, but I found it worth my time. Will be keeping a bottle around for the occasional nip...

    1. Thanks for your comment! Total Wine does seem to sell quite a bit of this whisky, so it's finding its fans. And it is better than most of the world's best-selling blends. If you have a chance to try any of the other Grangestone whiskies, let us know what you think because I would like to review another one someday soon but I can't seem to find too many people who've bought them.

  5. Rated 93 by the Beverage Tasting Institute (Tastings.com). Valid statistical methods using blind taste testing by a panel of scotch experts. It rates higher than Laphroaig 10 on BTI's site. Look it up be my guest. I'll use BTI instead of YT videos and bloggers who are biased in their (a) resentment that this is a TW store brand, (b) that's it's "pushed (supposedly - not my experience, it's just there on the shelf) by TW employees", (c) it's NAS, and (D) at $28 it's "too cheap to be good". None of this has anything to do with the liquid. The Beverage Testing Institute conducts formal, scientific, blind testings. This rates a "93" when you strip away the biases and pretension. I'm inclined to agree. Yes, Virginia, there really is an affordable high-quality malt.

    1. Dear Unknown,

      Thank you for your comment. At no point on this website do I insult store brands. Most of my groceries are purchased at Trader Joe's and are thus a store brand. Most of the major scotch brands began as store brands 100+ years ago.

      Two of my friends have left employment with Total Wine to go to another retailer due to the misinformation (their word) they were pushed to use to sell Grangestone products. Spirits and Winery Direct products hold Total Wine's largest profit margin, so it is understandably in their best interest to get those products sold first. As long as they are honest in their methods, I see nothing wrong with that. In fact there are a number of very good whiskies amongst their Spirits Direct products.

      If you read my review, I have a paragraph wherein I write about how this whisky is better than a number of bigger sexier branded whiskies. And if you read in the comments above, I mention that I am always searching for good cheap whisky. And if you read many of my other reviews you will notice that I take issue with many expensive whiskies and how they are not much better (if better at all) than cheaper whiskies.

      At no point in this review do I state that NAS is a bad thing. $28 is not "too cheap to be good" and that has never been stated on this website.

      Finally, providing a number score for a sensory experience is logically mostly nonsense and to compare scores amongst other tasters or groups is troublesome because people and establishments have different scales. For instance, a number of spirits and wines publications mostly only use 90-100 to rank products. If they were using my scale, then they must be enjoying a lot of mind blowing drinks.

      Finally, this is all subjective. Different things appeal to different palates. The Beverage Tasting Institute gave Jagermeister a score of 96. Thus their palate is problematic to me.

      Unknown, you have a serious beef, but it is not with me or my readers. You like this whisky and I don't. Don't accuse me of things I don't do, or try to make me look like another generic lazy blogger, on my site. You can accuse me of writing reviews and comments that are way too long, and that I'll cop to.

      Enjoy Grangestone, I'm still hoping I find something of theirs I like.

      This blogger

  6. "Finally, providing a number score for a sensory experience is logically mostly nonsense and to compare scores amongst other tasters or groups is troublesome because people and establishments have different scales."

    Your assertion is incorrect. BTI incorporates "wisdom of the crowd", certainly LESS subjective and far MORE accurate than a single poster writing a blog or posting a revue up on YT if one wants to get a CONSENSUS about a particular liquid that's as impartial as possible -- this is self-evident. My points have not been attenuated in the least by your tepid attempts at rebuttal. I reiterate. WHEN you strip away the "noise" (marketeering, price, retail brand etc.) -- subconscious and otherwise, and judge this liquid only on its merits, the most statistically valid method available used by the most established and respected business in this industry that provides rating services to the industry for a living, rates this scotch quite high ("exceptional" -- certainly no "notes of cardboard" that I, likewise, did not detect), higher than many other "classic" scotch brands (Laphroaig 10). Your assertion that use of BTI's rating scale is "troublesome" because "other rating systems use difference scales" is irrationally argued. It should be fairly obvious that a score of a 93 on a 100 point scale is a very good rating in any 100 point rating system. Further, as long as BTI's own rating system is consistent within the categories it rates, and it is explained how this rating is derived (blind panel, using statistical mode) then that's all that matters. Other rating systems are irrelevant. An "A" and a 3.85 GPA... Doesn't take a genius to figure out both are pretty good grades despite "different rating systems".

    Your discussion of Jagermeister is both a red herring and an attempt to discredit the source. I shall not address these obvious and weak fallacies.

    1. Once again, "Unknown", you like this whisky and I don't. You could have just left this to a difference of opinions in our personal experiences. Instead you tried to accuse me of many things in your first comment. And I pointed how each thing you were arguing had nothing to do with me or my blog or my readers. And I happen to agree with most of the things you seemed quite angry about. And now you appear to be very mad about two sentences I wrote about BTI. I don't know who you are and you don't know who I am. So I don't know why you are bringing your anger here.

      I see many of the points you are making about BTI's scoring system, but it's difficult to process your argument because you keep inserting insults and that taints the entire statement. I agree that a complete blind tasting is really the only true way to discern merit in a whisky. The reason why most bloggers don't do blind tastings is because very few people in their daily lives do blind tastings. They open a bottle and pour and drink. Thus their experience with a product does include all of those things you say BTI does not. I like blind tastings and do them occasionally as a sensory test to see where I truly stand. My point about Jagermeister was to illustrate that I do not use BTI's scores (nor any single source's scores) to tell me what to drink. Having had a number of German herbal liqueurs, I found Jager to be the least complex and thinnest texturally of them all, that's why I rolled my eyes at their 96 score. I recommend readers find writers whose palates match their own and seek out a number of them to weigh whether they'll buy something or not.

      My intent is different than BTI's. There's no money involved here. I'm chronicling what I experience. My friend, his friends, and I really did not like this whisky. People who have a palate similar to mine will agree. People with different palates will disagree. And yes, some people will like this whisky better than Laphroaig 10.

      What I meant about people using different scales (and the "troublesome" comment) is that there are bloggers and paid writers who toss out scores of 95 on an almost weekly basis. Meanwhile there are bloggers and paid writers who don't issue one score of 95 in a single year. Some say, Whisky A is middle of the road and give it a 50. Others will say it's middle of the road and give it an 80. But all these people use a 100 point scale. The problem that has been discussed on MANY sites is that most graders do not use 80% of the scale. I like the fact that BTI uses multiple tasters to get their scores. That's mathematically solid. Does BTI use the entire 100 point scale? I'm not saying it's bad if they don't. Most graders don't, but some do.

      But this doesn't matter. I don't sit around grading how good sex was or how strong the sun was. Grades of sensory experiences are difficult for me to take seriously. They clearly mean a lot to you. I make fun of my grades all the time. The point of the post is the review, the score is my best attempt to figure out how to quantify the experience. And I try my best to be consistent.

      I like the fact that you question whether "classic" whiskies are really the best stuff out there. And I like the fact that you like cheap whiskies. But, this is clearly not the right website for you. You seem to be very pissed at individual reviewers and dismissive of the subjective experience. Blogs and YouTube are probably the last place you'd want to go. So don't waste your time with us. Thanks.

  7. I think you made a very fair assessment. I have worked as TW, and agree that the staff is poorly trained on some of the product. It was up to us to seek information on it. I have tried, most of the grangestone line, and enjoy a few of them. I would say you should try the two newer products, the rum cask and the sherry. I find the rum cask to be a lower quality of the Balvenie Caribbean. Being that it's done by Grant, i assume it's some NAS batches. I think it's a nice daily drinker, for the price. I also still keep a bottle of Balvenie though. I was not a huge fan of the bourbon cask or the 12 year. I just found them underwhelming. I liked the 18, but there are other 18 years at similar price that I would buy instead. I do enjoy the 21 year, and really like the price point on it. However, as with the rum cask, if it's a real special occasion, i would probably get something higher quality at that age and spend the money. As I see it, from what I tried and recall from customers, the brand has some nice products for regular drinking, however, people need to remember, there is a reason you are saving so much money.

    1. Hi David, thank you for your comment. Looks like you and I agree on a lot of this stuff. I do tend to like rum cask whiskies so I'll keep an eye out for that one. I just moved out of California, so it'll be a while before I get to another Total Wine.

  8. Michael, I always seem to re-stumble on your site when I'm not trying. I just heard of Grangestone today and wanted to know who owns it. The legal address they list just happens to be the same as William Grant and Sons. Will I taste Balvenie, Kininvie, or Glenfiddich tomorrow? We shall see...

  9. The scotch is certainly fair at best for my pallate. One can get Highland Park or Laphroig for $40 and there's no comparison in quality. The amazing find is Talisker Storm up in Minnesota my son found it for $35! it cost $70 where I live.Total does have Russell 10yr small batch for $24 which is unreal