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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Grand Old Parr 12 year old blended whisky

Every whisky we drink -- unless it's a single never-been-recasked cask bottled at its actual cask strength -- is a blend of some sort.  Like blended malts and blended whiskies, single malts are the result of multiple casks being combined and mixed together.  But it seems as if "blended whiskies", which still make up almost 90% of whisky volume, are treated by whisky geeks as an embarrassing cousin to or not even a relative of the single malts we obsess over.

For this snob, when it comes down to it, I'm not a big fan of the single grain whiskies I've tried.  Haven't hated any of them, but haven't discovered one that I'd buy.  And though there are many great blenders out there, quite often the grain whiskies in a blend mute the vivacity and depth of the malt whiskies.  Of course, that's no accident.  The major blends are designed to drink easily and not offend a large audience.

But otherwise, there are a number of blended whiskies (Nikka's From the Barrel, Ballantine's 17yo, JW Black Label, earlier versions of JW Gold Label, and Compass Box's goodies) which I like better than many single malts.  Many blends are very good.  Most are drinkable.  And they usually make for decent highballs.  My issues with lower shelf blends are actually similar to my problems with lower shelf single malts.  Most (if not all of them) have been watered down, filtered, and dyed.  It's only in the blends I really dislike (Cutty and Dewars White) that I start finding young cruddy grain whisky overwhelming the package.

But I'll always give a blend a try, whether it's a $10 bottle or a $100, though I'll go with the $10 bottle first every time.  That's not just because I am (trying to be) fiscally responsible.  A $10 bottle may prove to be a fantastic find or stomach churningly craptacular.

This week I'll be reporting on three Scotch blended whiskies, though only one of them drifts into the $10 range.  Since the Long Beach summer lasts through November now, I've been in the search for a good highball whisky.  So I'll start each one off as a highball before proceeding neatly.

Today, I'll start with Grand Old Parr 12 year old. There are three blends in the Old Parr regular range: a 12yo, 15yo, and 18yo. These blends are sold mostly outside of the US and UK, often in South America and Asia. While I've read positive reviews for the fifteen and eighteen, none of them match Jim Murray's declaration that the eighteen was the World Whisky of the Year in 2007. As usual, I haven't found a single person who agrees with his hyperbolic outburst. That doesn't stop me from wanting to hunt down a sample of it since old blends have, yes, old whisky in them.

The Old Parrs are named after Tom Parr who, legend has it, lived until the age of 152. He even got married at 122; and if they say he was still fulfilling his marital requirements at age 122, then I'd call bulls**t on that long before the claim of his final lifespan.

But if he was doing so, then it's about time we dig him up from under Westminster Abbey and beat the secret out of his corpse.


Brand: Old Parr (though it sells 1 million cases annually, it hasn't earned itself a website)
Ownership: Diageo (boo)
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: at least 12 years
Blend: malt and grain whiskies (Cragganmore might be a main ingredient, per Wikipedia)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chill-filtered? Yes
Caramel Coloring? Yes
(Thanks to Florin for the sample!)

HIGHBALL (1:2 whisky to club soda ratio)
A sweeter, more vanilla-ed alternative to Johnnie Walker Black.  A little bit of orange, a little bit of peat perhaps?  Has an extended finish of malt and citrus.

It's color is Diageo Gold™.  The nose leads with caramel and toasted oak.  There are also prettier elements like citrus peels and flowers sitting alongside some tougher young grain notes.  But with time, it grows richer with a big vanilla note, plum, sandalwood, and lime juice.  The palate has a good thick mouthfeel.  It's oily and sweet at first.  Then the vanilla and mild grains follow, and it grows more peppery as it progresses.  Some mint and toffee sneak in.  Brief moments of bitterness compliment the sweetness.  It might be maltier than the most recent version of Black Label.  There are cracked peppercorns and orange peels in the finish, then caramel and toffee.

Grand Old Parr 12 year old is an easygoing, well balanced blend which makes it a good option for a hot late summer.  It makes for a sugary highball and, when neat, the nose is the best part if you give it some time.  If you're a Chivas drinker and are looking for something similar but different, this is a good option.  In fact, it's arguably a more enjoyable drink.  Geeks looking for complexity and depth should look elsewhere.  And while it's not hyperbole worthy, there's probably nothing technically wrong with the blend.

Availability - Most specialty retailers and the occasional corner liquor store
Pricing - $30-$35
Rating - 81


  1. The oldest confirmed lifespan was 122. So yeah, skepticism is definitely warranted.

    1. He apparently convinced some earls and a king about his age (http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/people/thomas-parr). Says he cheated on his first wife at age 100 and hard partying in London did him in at 152. I'm sure that's all true.

  2. The Old Parr Seasons collection are the four rarities of the line (apparently Autumn is the rarest of the four).

    I seem to recall Ralfy quite liked the Old Parr 12. It's actually surprising to see Diageo is still selling a 15 and 18 year old considering their Johnnie Walker line is missing some age statements.

    1. Yeah, I saw those Seasons bottlings on Whisky Exchange. Kind of expensive. Must be "collectible".

      From what I gather about the Old Parr line is that the sales are pretty small, especially compared to JW, but no one should be too surprised if those age statements are replaced by precious stones or primary colors someday soon.