...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: Famous Grouse Blended Whisky

This is a grouse:
This is Famous Grouse:
This is a grouse hugging a bottle of Famous Grouse:

Easy way to tell the difference:  In Scotland they shoot grouse.  But they sip Famous Grouse.

This is a grouse with braised cabbage:

Sorry, that was cheeky.

The red grouse is not in fact the national bird of Scotland -- that's the golden eagle -- though the Edrington Group tried to campaign for their whisky's bird during the voting in 2004.  But the red grouse is very prevalent in Scotland and very popular to bag on the hunt.  In fact the first day of the "shooting" season has been named The Glorious Twelfth (as in August 12th).

Anyway, whisky.

According to Charles MacLean's excellent Scotch Whisky: A Liquid History, The Famous Grouse blend was created by Matthew Gloag & Son Ltd around 1896 in Perth, Scotland.  Ownership and management remained in the family until the 1970s when Highland Distillers took over.  In the late 90s, a group led by Edrington purchased Highland Distillers.

Today, The Famous Grouse remains The Edrington Group's flagship brand.  It's amongst the top 10 best selling scotch blends in the world.  And it's been #1 in Scotland since 1980.

Its recipe include malts from Macallan, Highland Park, Glenrothes, and Glenturret (all Edrington properties).  Its visitor center resides at Glenturret's little distillery in Perthshire, but much of its blending occurs at Glenrothes.  They've now expanded the brand to Black Grouse (peated), Snow Grouse (blended grain), Naked Grouse (includes sherried Macallan and Highland Park), Gold Reserve (12 yr), and a pair of blended malts.

Distilleries: include Macallan, Highland Park, Glenrothes, and Glenturret
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

With so many potentially nice ingredients in The Famous Grouse, I don't know why I waited so long to try it out.  Though a full bottling of this may be in my future, I picked up a 50mL mini to give it a spin...

The color is a darker gold than most blends, approaching a maple syrup hue, likely due to caramel colouring.  The nose is full of oak, maybe a touch of sherry and dried fruit, vanilla bean, soil, and cinnamon.  The texture is very soft and creamy.  A decent palate with almost no cheap grain notes.  Instead there's vanilla, coconut, custard, and sugar cookies.  It finishes sweetly, molasses and caramel, much more pleasant than most blends I've tried.

Maybe this is mental shorthand, but the Grouse is remarkably similar to the Macallan 10yr Sherry Oak I'd tried in the UK.  Slightly simpler and weaker, but...

The nose becomes prune-ish, dusty, oaky, with some sulphur sneaking in.  Seems like water stirs up the sherry wood.  The palate stays sweet and creamy with vanilla and salt.  It finishes quietly with more of the vanilla and salt.

I'm going to double-down and say that it now noses like that Mac 10 Sherry.

Keeps some of the character through the club soda and ice.  It's a little buttery, some grain whisky slips through, as well as some caramel.

Last year, I brought back a mini of the Mac 10 Sherry from the UK.  When I'd polished it off I didn't take any notes, but I was surprised at how sleepy it was for a young whisky, and how significantly less exciting it was than the 12yr.

In the UK, Famous Grouse sells for half the price of Mac 10, but it has enough similarities to make it a frugal alternative.

What I like about Famous Grouse is that it tastes less of cheap grain whisky than most sub-$20 blends I've tried.  Its malt content holds up much better.  I know "Wow, It's Okay!" won't make for a good marketing blurb, but it's a full step more enjoyable than any of the blended scotches that I've reviewed this month (up to this point).

Trader Joes has a one liter bottle of it selling for $19.99.  I'm intrigued.

Availability - Wide, though much wider in the UK
Pricing - Good at $18-$20
Rating - 74