Awards & Events

Whisky and history make a perfect blend

Gavin D Smith provides an update on the Andrew Usher commemorations
By Gavin D. Smith
In Issue 36 we reported on the second annual Andrew Usher Event, held at William Grant & Sons, hosted by Peter Gordon, great-great-grandson of company founder William Grant.The occasion was designed to celebrate blended Scotch whisky, and in particular one of the key pioneers of blending, Andrew Usher.“The blenders are what I call hidden heroes, says Peter Gordon, whose family connections with Andrew Usher & Co date from 1890, when William Grant began to supply the Edinburgh blender with Glenfiddich single malt.During the Usher Event, William Grant’s very own pair of ‘hidden heroes’ David Stewart and Brian Kinsman attempted to recreate the company’s Standfast blend as it was in 1937, using a variety of single malts aged in European oak, along with grain spirit from Diageo’s Cameronbridge and Port Dundas distilleries.Existing records show that 1937 Standfast comprised 30% malt and 70% grain whisky, with Glenfiddich and Balvenie making up 50% of the malt content, which also comprised around 1% of Islay whisky.The year 1937 had been chosen because, thanks to Peter Gordon, there was a decent quantity of the authentic pre-war spirit for guests to compare with the modern replica. Gordon had been offered the chance to purchase a sealed, stoneware ‘pig’ filled with 1937 Standfast, originally supplied to William Heptinstall of the Fortinghall Hotel in Perthshire, and jumped at the opportunity. He recalls with a chuckle the
strange looks he received from staff in the accounts department when requesting a cheque for £1,000 to buy a pig! The 1937 pig of whisky underwent a ceremonial opening at the Usher Event, before guests were given the opportunity to sample it. Having nosed and tasted it for the first time, Peter Gordon observed that “it certainly throws down a challenge for our blenders today”.The hastily-assembled replica blend was also sampled, along with Grant’s current Family Reserve blend, and the consensus was that the original had stood up to the rigours of time remarkably well. Its distinctive sherry character was almost certainly due to the fact that American oak was not common in the Scotch whisky industry until the 1950s.Dave Broom has provided tasting notes below but you can try them for yourself too. William Grant & Sons have produced a‘Master Selection’ pack, which allows Whisky Magazine readers to conduct their own vertical tasting of these Grant’s blends.170 strictly limited, numbered edition sets of three miniatures have been produced, comprising of one filled with original 1937 whisky from the pig, one filled with the replica blend, and one filled with Grant’s Family Reserve. The selection is displayed in a luxurious presentation box, and is accompanied by a CD of historical images from the Grant archives, specially compiled for the Usher Event.The ‘Master Selection’ is being offered for sale exclusively to Whisky Magazine readers at a cost of £99.00 per set, with just one being available to each applicant on a ‘first come first served’ basis.All proceeds from their sale are being donated to the Benevolent Society for the Licensed Trades of Scotland – universally known as ‘The Ben’.The Andrew Usher Event, inaugurated in 2002 by Whyte and Mackay’s master blender Richard Paterson, looks set to become an annual event, with Bill Bergius of Allied Distillers having been charged with the task of following in the footsteps of Paterson and Gordon later this year.As a fifth generation descendent of William Teacher, Bergius has an outstanding knowledge of, and love for, the heritage of the Scotch whisky
industry, and can be relied upon to find an apt and entertaining way of flying the flag for blended whisky, and for Andrew Usher’s invaluable contribution to its early development. Dave Broom’s tasting notesGrant's 1937 blend, 47%Colour/ Nose: Full gold. Rich, slightly oily and soft: fruit compote, honeycomb. Cut flowers on top; oak, spice, tobacco below.
Palate: Light peat immediately. Smooth, long and rounded. Quince and honeysuckle in a chewy rich centre. Balanced oak.
Finish: Nutty.
Conclusion: Richest, softest (and finest) of the three. Lovely weight and balance.Andrew Usher Blend, 47%Colour/ Nose: Light gold. Slightly sappy (fresh oak) notes. Fresh citrus peels, camomile, florist shop, samphire, white chocolate. Younger.
Palate: Sweet: syrup on hot toast, vanilla, flowers again. Nutty centre. Rich tea biscuit.
Finish: Crisp. Oak and hay.
Conclusion: Plenty to interest you. Flavours still marrying together.Grant's Blend, 47%Colour/ Nose: Light gold. Floral (daffodil), green pear, white currant. A dry note like wheat chaff (combine harvester).
Palate: Very clean and light. Apple, cream, and flowers.
Finish: Creamy oak.
Conclusion: Avery gentle, light and well-made blend.To order your ‘Master Selection’ set for £99, call +44 (0)1340 822 066 quoting ‘Andrew Usher promotion’.We also have one set to give away to a lucky reader.
To win tell us: How many sons did the original William Grant, founder of Glenfiddich, have?Closing date 30th June.(Answers to the usual Magazine address - see opposite)