I’ve always liked the Famous Grouse, being one of the first blended whiskeys I ever tasted. A bottle can become empty quite fast, when in good company. This very affordable Scottish whiskey has three, maybe less famous, friends: Black Grouse, Snow Grouse and Naked Grouse. All three very fine blends, but you know what’s better? Making your own blend…
So a while ago we were invited to attend a Grouse tasting at The Egg in Brussels (a 5000 square meter event venue). The room was small, but awfully cosy and possessed a peculiar detail, a fancy quirkiness, that I wasn’t able to perceive the first five minutes I had entered it. I was distracted – as I often am – by the beautiful table before me.
Why is it called ‘famous’? Well, for starters, it apparently is one of the best selling whiskeys in Scotland itself since the ’80s. Especially round Christmas so it seems. And we fully agree with that, it’s perfect if you want to grab a quick bottle with a nice, smooth flavour and you don’t want to spend a fortune on it. Better grab two, because they’ll be killed quite fast. Secondly, the grouse was one of the most popular birds to shoot out of the sky and gobble up at exquisitely decadent hunting parties (it has a doomed tendency to fly quite low).
Why ‘Grouse’? Well, most importantly because ‘Gloag’ sounds like you’ve got something down your throat that doesn’t belong there in the first place. And Matthew Gloag, the Scottish father of Famous Grouse, realised this quite quickly. “If I want this whiskey to be something on the international market I can’t just name it after myself.” I better name it after the bird with the biggest violent death ratio in Scotland! And right he was, to the effect that the expression: “let’s shoot some Grouse,” has a very different meaning now.
By the 1920s Famous Grouse was an international product, going as far as the Caribbean. The blend consists – if I remember correctly – out of 1/6th part of grain whiskey, actually corn, which gives it that characteristic sweetness and the rest is a mix of Glenturret, Highland Park and Rhuidmore single malts. All this is aged in American sherry and bourbon casks and finished in Spanish sherry casks.
In the end we were allowed to make our own blend out of a selection of 5 single malts and 1 grain whiskey. This was great fun and at the same time it shows you how difficult it is to be a Master Blender. I baptised my concoction the ‘Famuzze Gruzze’. Which is how you would pronounce the brand in West Flemish dialect after you had a bottle or two.
Now Black Grouse is actually a more smokey, slightly peated version of Famous and is actually very nice and very affordable. Naked Grouse is something else entirely, extremely rounded and smooth, but long lasting in the end. It’s called naked not because it maybe has a grouse deprived of feathers on the bottle (it does not), but because there’s no label at all (except a small one round the neck and the back of the bottle with all the legal stuff). Snow Grouse is meant to be put in the freezer a few minutes before you drink it, to get that syrupy texture. Not really our thing, but I am sure students love it.
So, after a fun tasting, brilliant blending and a nice chat with Brand Ambassador Lucy Whitehall we were ready to go home again. And then it hit me, it wasn’t the Scotch, it was the room! Everything was reversed, you know, upside down, the paintings, books, lamps furniture, the whole shebang. Rather quaint.
Anyway, if you want good value for money without having to spend a lot and you need a quick bottle then remember the bird.