That really cheap nasty stuff

Grain Whisky SMWS

I have spent the last week drinking a spirit that suffers from two problems. Either it is unknown, or people assume that it’s disgusting. You know what I am talking about. That stuff that goes into Bells, Famous Grouse, Johnny Walker, Grant’s, Cutty Sark etc. The really cheap industrial nasty stuff (apparently). The stuff that whisky wars have been fought over.

What is Chris the riddler talking about? Grain Whisky, that’s what!

What is it?

The Main ingredient to a blend, Grain Whisky is cheap and quick to produce. This means it can be distributed worldwide and makes blends cheaper.

Blends, by law have to contain a percentage of single malt and a percentage of grain whisky. There are a couple of key differences between grain whisky and single malt whisky.

1. Ingredients

Grain whisky is corn, wheat and small amounts of barley. The Single malt is all barley.

2. Distillation

Single Malt Whisky in Scotland tends to be double distilled in what is commonly known as a Pot Still. This type of distillation tends to produce a spirit heavier with flavour. The Spirit comes off the still at between 65 and 70 percent alcohol. The new spirit from each distillery exhibits a house style for that distillery

Grain Whisky is distilled in a grain distillery in what is known as continuous still, column still or Coffey still. Very efficient and productive distillation, perfected by a gentleman called Aeneas Coffey in the 1830′s. The spirit comes off the still at over 94% ABV. This is a very clean and versatile spirit and it can be used for vodka (shock) or matured for the 3 years to become Whisky.

3. Volume

Single Malt distilleries produce roughly between 0.5 and 8 million litres per year.

Grain Distilleries can produce up to 70 million litres of Whisky a year. Tiring.

grain whisky

The Tasting

Ok, so that is a simple guide to Grain Whisky (I hope) written by a simple man. So, why did I decide to go out of my way to taste grain whisky? Surely it’s horrible?

Well, no it’s not. It’s a very light spirit, so tends to need a longer maturation and a fresh(ish) barrel. I think it tends to, in the ones I have tried, show nuttiness, maltiness and sweetness.

So, let’s get on with the tasting. For this one, I sat in the comfort of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. They have an excellent selection of Grain Whisky and I like a comfy seat (snob).


Invergordon 34 years old
‘Velvet Fun’
Ex Bourbon Cask
55.1% Abv
206 bottles

Colour: A concoction of caramel mixed with apple juice and orange juice

Nose: Rum Raisin chocolate and fruit’n'nut dairy milk. A delectable aroma. With Water: Tar, nuts and white chocolate.

Palate: Vanilla and heather honey. A slight dash of chocolate, coconut and marzipan. With Water: Lemons and Tonic.

Finish: Liquorice finish, tiny amount of bitterness and oak

Overall: I thought this was a cracking dram. Lots of sweetness and depth.

Person: Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge


North British 18 years old
‘Dessert served under cedars’
Ex Bourbon Cask
64.2% Abv
213 bottles

Nose: Vanilla, banana cream and citrus. Very fresh.

Palate: Orangey, tangy, spicy a dash of sweet and leathery. It is surprisingly different from the nose.

Finish: Quick and fizzy.

Overall: Stereotypical grain whisky. Very clean, fresh, pleasant but lacking depth.

Person: Fearne Cotton


Port Dundas 28 years old
‘Spicy Cologne’
51 % Abv
223 bottles

Colour: Pear Juice

Nose: Soft, sweet and perfume on your collar the morning after. Fruit salad soaked with lemon juice. With Water: Very sweet honey.

Palate: Spicy dark chocolate, leathery and cigar shops. A luxury drink.

Finish: Continuous and enticing. Makes you want more.

Overall: A classy dram. Rich, fruity and awesome

Person: Lady Zara Phillips


Cameron Brig 29 years old
‘Mellow Menthol’
53% Abv

Nose: Paint thinner. Mint but mainly paint workshop.

Palate: Mojito with extra limes and extra mint. Kind of like a menthol cigarette, in a good way.

Finish: Cuba Libre

Overall: I do not know what to think about this one. Just into the thumbs down category for me.

Person: Tom Cruise in Cocktail


G3.1 Caledonian
‘Hours of entertainment’

Nose: Nutty, peppery fizzy. Chips with salt and vinegar.

Palate: Finished. It’s not fair to comment on this whisky after several half-and-half’s. Has anyone out there tasted it who can give their opinion?

So what do we at EWB think about Grain Whisky? Thoroughly enjoyable to taste. It’s easy drinking, but it is a misconception that it has no depth. The Invergordon and the Port Dundas were fantastically complex whiskies and would stand toe to toe with any single malts. In my tasting, there really wasn’t a sour note. No sulphur, very little bitterness. It does seem to be a spirit that needs age and strong flavoursome casks though.

Anyway, what do you guys think?


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