Scotch Whisky Producer of the Year 2020: William Grant & Sons

Spirit news

Thu 18 Feb 2021

By Stuart Peskett

When the first drops of new-make spirit started to flow from William Grant’s Glenfiddich Distillery (pictured above) on Christmas Day 1887, one wonders if he ever dreamed that what started off as a simple mission to make the ‘best dram in the valley’ would evolve into one of the giants of the whisky industry – and a company that still bears his name.

William Grant & Sons doesn’t have the largest line-up of whiskies compared to some, but it has two of the finest distilleries: Glenfiddich and Balvenie. Glenfiddich is one of the biggest-selling single malts in the world, while The Balvenie is credited as one of the first to launch whiskies ‘finished’ in a second type of cask – the prime example being Balvenie Double Wood, which is matured in ex-bourbon casks before being finished in ex-sherry barrels (it won an IWSC Silver medal this year, too).


The company is also behind Grant’s and Monkey Shoulder blended whiskies – the former an all-time classic first released in 1898 in its now-iconic triangular bottle, and the latter a hipper style of whisky designed to be mixed and used in cocktails, launched in 2005.

Brian Kinsman has the impressive-sounding role of Malt Master for Glenfiddich, and Master Blender for William Grant & Sons. He joined the company in 1997, and although he’s not part of the Grant family, he says that working for a family company creates a ‘special feeling of extended family’. He explains: ‘The culture is unique. The family ownership of the business…has a very positive impact on quality, thinking about the long term and ensuring everything we do today is for the benefit of the next generation.’

Brian Kinsman: Malt Master for Glenfiddich and Master Blender for William Grant & Sons

Kinsman is most excited about The Glenfiddich Grand Range. The 23 Year Old Grand Cru is a selection of the best American and European oak casks, finished in French cuvée casks for up to six months. The whisky scored an impressive 94/100pts in this year’s IWSC and wowed the judges with its ‘rich and buttery mouthfuls of apple pie and cinnamon spice with complex flavours of wild honey’.

A 22 Year Old Gran Cortes, finished in Palo Cortado Sherry casks, followed the Grand Cru, and more releases are planned for 2021. Of this year’s crop of IWSC results, the one that gave Kinsman most satisfaction was the Gold for Glenfiddich Vino Formosa Cask Finish 1992 Rare Cask Single Malt Whisky, which involved sourcing casks that used to contain Vino Formosa Rosso, a fortified wine made from a Taiwanese grape variety known as Black Queen.

Its innovations like these that excite Kinsman. He believes that ‘distillery-led innovation’ will be the next big thing, including ‘trends that track all the way back through the distillery, such as distilling conditions’. Recent Scotch whisky innovations have included blending it with Calvados (in the case of Compass Box Affinity) and shipping it to Spain to age in PX casks (Nomad Outland), so focusing on the distilling aspect could be the logical next step.

When he’s not being a Malt Master, how does Kinsman enjoy his whisky? ‘My own personal favourite remains an Old Fashioned,’ he says. ‘I enjoy trying new things, and in the numerous Zoom tastings in 2020 I have found myself mixing Highballs, Margaritas and Martinis, but I still prefer the Old Fashioned!’

Given William Grant & Sons’ performance in the 2020 IWSC, it’s fair to say he’s earned a couple.

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