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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Famous Grouse Blended Whisky (bottled late 1980s)

My first bottle of the modern Famous Grouse was also my last.  It was a 1-liter bottle purchased at Trader Joes for $20.  I wrote the review, giving it 2-1/2 stars (later 74 points), when it was at its halfway point.  By the end of that bottle I hated Famous Grouse.  By the end of the bottle it was no longer "Wow, it's okay!".  By the end of the bottle it was aggressively crappy.

Two-and-a-half years later, while dusty hunting, I saw this 375mL bottle of an older version of the Grouse:

I didn't really know what I was doing at the time, but I did see that it was bottled at 86 proof and the label looked old.  Because it had no tax strip, it was from after 1985.  And with its "proof" measurement, it was from before 1990.  It also had this weird label issue on the back:

This brought to mind the double struck coins and miscut baseball cards from my youth.  Sometimes mis-struck coins were worth something (though, often not), but miscut cards were seen as flawed.  I knew this bottle of whisky wasn't going to be valuable, so I opened it almost as soon as I got home.

The first thing I noticed was that the whisky was good.  I mean, like so good I actually looked forward to pouring a glass of this Famous Grouse.  Because it was 375mL it was consumed quickly.  Luckily, I saved a sample just for this tasting.

Current ownership: The Edrington Group
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Bottled: probably between 1986 and 1989

The color is a dark orange gold.  Right up front, the nose is very fruity -- tangerines, loquats, and cantaloupe.  A little bit of brine, some honey, some caramel sauce.  Biscotti, the occasional peep of vanilla extract, and malt.  The moderately sweet palate has load of malt right up front.  Lots of salt.  Lots of spiciness -- yes, pepper and cinnamon, but also cloves.  Tart lemons and a wee musty note.  The caramel and musty note grow with time in the glass.  The lemons turn tangy in the medium length finish.  A hint of burnt raisins.  Toffee, malt, and a peppery bite that grows with time, filling the mouth.

This malt bomb doesn't even remotely resemble the current Famous Grouse.  Either its single malt element was enormous or the producers found a grain whisky that complimented it well.  I don't know where the fruity element comes from.  Maybe bourbon cask Macallan?  Or Glenturret?  Not only is it better than almost all of today's major blends, but it's better than many starter single malts (and basically any OB from Glenrothes, which is an ingredient of the current Grouse).  Though he has different notes than I, Serge was a big fan of a 40%abv 1985 French version of Grouse, so take that as you may.  I'm not going to make any grandiose statements, like this is better than everything, but it's a killer deal if found at a sub-$25 price and by comparison it makes the current version of Grouse seem gross.  What the hell happened, Edrington?

Availability - Happy Hunting!
Pricing - ???
Rating - 84


  1. I am fairly sure some of those spice (pepper) notes are coming from Highland Park which was already owned by Highland Distillers (the pre-Edrington owners of Famous Grouse). The last bottle of Famous Grouse 18 (the vatted malt) I owned had a very noticeable HP element too.

    1. I could see that. I always find HP to be a total chameleon when it comes to its indie releases. Each one I've tried is always noticeably different than the previous. Edrington probably makes sure to keep their claws on the consistent casks so they can hit that HP 12, 15 (R.I.P.), 18, etc. target every time.

    2. I'm pretty sure the 15 is still around. It's still listed as available for purchase at their website.


    3. You're right, technically. I shouldn't promote fear purchases. The word on the 15's demise has been mixed, even from HP's own ambassadors. See:

      While I see less of it on the shelves than I used to, it's still there on the shelves and is being restocked. Partially I hope that they intended to kill it in 2013/2014 only to have their volume sales fall (and the NAS's sales not being terribly strong) enough that they're rethinking its removal. It's the optimist in me.

  2. I am grateful to the universe (as well as bloggers like Mr. Kravitz) that I was able to snag about 8 bottles of the late great Famous Grouse 18 blended malt in the last 3-4 years. Have also left a couple of them on the shelves that were snapped up by other folks. I've drunk half of them over that time period and still have 4 bottles squirreled away. I highly recommend that if you see this in the wild --- grab it! Generally retails on the high side at around $75. When you consider that two of its core malts are Highland Park 18 ($150) and Macallan 18 ($250+) it is an incredible value and a complex and delicious vatted dram.

    1. Thanks for your comment! The 18yo Famous Grouse is/was great. I grabbed two bottles last year when a liquor store put it on clearance. Trying to stretch them out. Really good sherry casks in the mix.