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Scotch with an American Pedigree

Posted on  | September 20, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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To taste The Grand Macnish, one might think it was tailor-made for the U.S. market: Vanilla-laden, fruit-forward, accessible and undeniably sweeter than many other Scotch whiskies, it suits the American palate to a T. In fact, that’s just a happy coincidence. The Grand Macnish was created in 1863 by Robert Macnish, designed for the people of Glasgow, who have historically shared our love of sweets.

“Macnish was a Glasgow businessman at a time when the city was the second richest city in the world—it was the industry and trade center of the British Empire,” says Alan Burns, sales and marketing manager for The Grand Macnish. It didn’t take long for Macnish to see the possibilities in North America, and soon he was spending nine months of the year promoting his blended whisky stateside. The Grand Macnish’s popularity spread quickly; it was exported by The White Star Line who built the famous ocean liners the Titanic and Queen Mary. And it later earned its crowning celebrity endorsement—Ernest Hemingway reported that he wouldn’t have survived his aircraft crash in the African jungle, had it not been for the two bottles of Grand Macnish on the plane.

An American Journey

The Grand Macnish has been part of Massachussetts-based M.S. Walker’s portfolio for just over two years—a new chapter which may turn out to be the brand’s most exciting since it hit our shores 150 years ago. “We wanted to raise our profile in the U.S. and remind people of The Grand Macnish’s great history,”says Burns.

Eager to showcase The Grand Macnish’s premium side, M.S. Walker unveiled the 12 Year Old and 15 Year Old expressions over a year ago. Both are bottled in Scotland in the distinctive, much-recognized traditional dimpled bottle (the brand’s entry-level offering is imported in bulk and bottled in the U.S., which contributes to its unbeatable value proposition). “We will never be able to compete with the marketing budget of Johnnie Walker, so we made the decision to come into the market several dollars below in order to get people to try it,” says Burns. “And it has
really worked.”

The Art of the Blend

Single malts tend to get most of the attention these days, but Burns reminds: “The Scotch industry took off with blends—blending allows you to smooth off the rough edges and end up with a better whisky. Blends represent 90% of the whisky produced.”  

The Grand Macnish is overseen by Master Blender Gilmour Burnett

Blending is also where the skill of the Master Blender comes in. Second-generation Master Blender Gilmour Burnett crafts The Grand Macnish from up to 40 different Scotch whiskies with a large proportion of single malts, primarily from Highland and Speyside; the whisky is then aged in American bourbon casks, which impart that signature vanilla-laced sweetness.

The Grand Macnish 12 Year Old is dual-cask-aged in bourbon and Sherry casks, and the 15 Year Old Sherry Cask Edition is finished in Sherry casks for the last six months of aging. Exceptionally smooth, fruity and nutty, it is a steal compared to the competitive set, at just $35 a bottle. “Single malts may cost up to three times as much for the same amount of age in the bottle,” Burns points out.

The brand has collected more than its share of medals of late, particularly The Grand Macnish 150th Anniversary Whisky, which was crowned “Best in Show” at the 2012 World Beverage Competition. This month, look for the newly released 1.75 liter Anniversary bottling.

After years of flat sales in the American market, The Grand Macnish has become one of the more exciting category entrants—both for its quality and the value it offers. “Consumers might not want to part with $100 for a single malt. The Grand Macnish offers just as much heritage and complexity for a fraction of that cost,” says Burns. “We are proud to cater to both Scotch connoisseurs as well as people who like to drink whisky on a daily basis.”


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