Famous Grouse is a famous and storied brand of scotch whisky, one that has a stodgy reputation and isn’t quite as appealing to the millennials (or the elder Gen Z-ers who are of drinking age). This is something their Naked brand of spirits is trying to change — with a bit of an edgier name and a more interesting, stylized bottle. But are the contents updated too? Time to drink some and find out.
The Gloag family started as wine merchants in the early 1800s in Perth, Scotland, with Matthew Gloag purchasing wines and whisky from distillers around the country. When the queen visited Perth in 1842, he was asked to provide the wine for her banquet.
His son William took over the business in 1860 and, following the Great Wine Blight of 1875, they started looking into other ways of generating revenue. One of the ideas was to call on their contacts as a distributor of scotch whisky to produce a house blend that they could sell at a higher profit margin than the existing brands they were peddling. William’s nephew took over in 1896 and launched “The Grouse” as a blend offered for sale by the business for the first time.
In 1905, Matthew spun off a new corporate entity named Matthew Gloag & Son to manage the production and distribution of house blended whisky, moving to a completely new building purchased for that purpose. At the same time, the existing line of whisky was renamed to The Famous Grouse and Matthew’s daughter Phillipa designed the first label.
In 1870, following Matthew’s death, the company was sold to Highland Distillers (the same company that owns Macallan as of 1996). From there, the whisky has gained a much wider appeal, becoming the most popular whisky in Scotland in 1980 and being awarded a Royal Warrant in 1984.
William Grant & Sons, the company which owns a significant chunk of Scottish distilleries including Balvenie and even Tuthilltown Spirits in New York, helped take the company private in 2000 where it remains today.
As a blended scotch whisky, this spirit starts as finished scotch whisky produced from a number of undisclosed distilleries. By definition, Scotch whisky is made from 100% malted barley, produced entirely within the borders of Scotland, and matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years.
What makes this different from the other versions of the Famous Grouse line is that they use “first fill” ex-Sherry casks in the aging process. These are barrels that have been used only once prior for the aging of sherry, and now are used for the first time to age the newly blended combination of scotch from multiple sources.
This bottle is a bit of a departure from the normal version, and I’m a pretty big fan.
The first thing I like about this bottle is that there is practically no label! One of my biggest pet peeves with whiskey bottles (and especially with the Famous Grouse brand) is that you can’t really see what you are buying. That amber colored spirit is the star of the show, and the bottle should accentuate and display it as much as possible. A huge label like the typical Famous Grouse varieties sport just hides it, but with this version the whiskey is large and in charge.
The bottle itself is a more stylized version than their usual slender and tall design (more like what you’d expect from an American bourbon bottle). The body is wider, but still features straight walls that lead to a curved shoulder and a somewhat short neck. The whole thing is capped off with a cork and wood stopper.
Something to note about that body is that, rather than the eponymous Famous Grouse being an illustration, now the grouse is molded right into the glass of the bottle. It’s a very cool and very interesting design feature.
I like that there’s the bare minimum labeling on this bottle, and I like that they did a bit of work coming up with that embossed grouse design.
Just like with the original, the very first thing I smell coming off this glass is fruit. There’s some apple and pear that’s readily apparent, but also a touch of citrus. It’s all backed by a dash of honey sweetness that blends the whole experience together. It’s like smelling a delicious brunch.
Taking a sip, that fruit-forward flavor persists. This version seems to be a bit more “punched in” in terms of the saturation of those flavors than the original Famous Grouse edition (probably thanks to those sherry casks used in the finishing process). The first thing I get is actually a bit of orange citrus, followed by some melon and apple.
Usually, with a little bit of ice, the flavors in a fruity whiskey start to fade away… and in this case, that’s unfortunately happening a bit.
I can still taste that fruity aspect, but it’s more like dried apricots and orange slices at this point. Much less lemon or melon, which are lighter and weaker in intensity by comparison. I can also taste much more of the traditional scotch whisky flavors — specifically, that almost bread-like malted barley flavor with a touch of honey. On ice, this is significantly closer to the original Famous Grouse.
It isn’t as bold or powerful as an American bourbon. Instead, this is a more fruit-forward, easy sipping spirit. Still not quite as strong as Johnnie Walker Red, but this is something that is downright enjoyable even sipped all on its own. The flavor does break down a little bit when added with some ice, but there’s still plenty of flavor to go around.
|Famous Grouse Naked Grouse|
Classification: Blended Scotch Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $29.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
Not just Steve Buscemi with a skateboard — this actually is a scotch with a flavor that should appeal to the younger crowd. And everyone else, for that matter.