Whiskey Review: The Famous Grouse Bourbon Cask Scotch Whisky

The Famous Grouse wasn’t always famous. Originally just “The Grouse”, it earned its name legitimately: through massive sales and popularity. It may not have toppled the giant that is Johnny Walker, but the popularity of the spirit and its broad appeal remain to this day.

History

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 they had 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.

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.

Product

The Famous Grouse has been a household name for quite some time, and in 2018 they decided to expand their line with two cask finished versions of their whiskey: this bourbon cask finished version and a “Ruby Cask” which uses port casks for the finishing process.

As a blended scotch whisky, this spirit starts as finished scotch whisky produced from a number of undisclosed distilleries. Scotch whisky, by definition, is produced from 100% malted barley, produced entirely within the borders of Scotland, and matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years.

Once the various distilled spirits have been brought together and blended, the final product is aged for an additional six months. For this specific version, the spirit is aged in a combination of American oak casks and “first fill” bourbon casks (which are previously used bourbon casks that are being filled with scotch for the first time).

Packaging

There’s nothing of note here, really.

The bottle itself is slimmer and taller than the typical scotch whisky bottle, more like a vodka bottle than anything else. But while it may be a generic shape, the bottle itself is unique to the brand with some embossing about the brand’s history on the bottom.

The label is straightforward, a large image of the eponymous grouse (unfortunately not the original artwork by Phillipa Gloag) is front and center with the legally required information about the spirit in the footer of the image.

The bottle is topped off with a screw-on metal cap.

What makes this bottle different from the normal Famous Grouse variety is that the color palette for the label has been shifted to a darker version, mimicking the charred oak barrels that are used in the aging process.

Neat

With the normal version of Famous Grouse, there’s a ton of fruit on the nose and this is no different. There’s a good bit of orange citrus flavor combined with some of that apple and pear elements that I saw earlier. But in the background seems to be more vanilla and caramel that wasn’t there before, typical bourbon flavors.

Those flavors continue into the taste of the spirit itself. Instead of fruit being the first thing to hit your palate, what I get first and foremost is something closer to salted caramel. It’s rich and smooth — and after the first shock of caramel, those fruity notes start to reappear. The flavor isn’t quite as well balanced as the original spirit, trending more towards the darker flavors from those charred oak barrels without the same citrus cutting through.

In general I think those caramel notes are a little too strong. It overpowers the spirit. But they might prove useful when you add it to a mixed drink or a cocktail.

On Ice

Typically, what you get with some added ice and dilution is that the richer flavors are toned down, and the more delicate notes disappear. In this case, though, nearly the opposite happens — the richer notes are certainly toned down, but the fruity flavors are accentuated and brought further to the front. I’d actually call this more balanced with a bit of ice than without.

Overall Rating

It’s a different expression, that’s for sure. But I don’t think that they’ve improved the flavor. It feels like they’ve gone a little too far with the bourbon and knocked things out of whack. I’m not saying it’s necessarily bad, but just that the original is my preferred version. If you’re looking for a blended scotch finished in a bourbon cask done right, then the Grangestone version might be a better bet.

Famous Grouse Bourbon Cask Blended Scotch Whisky
Produced By: Famous Grouse
Owned By: Highland Distillers
Production Location: Scotland
Classification: Blended Scotch Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $27.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:

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Overall Rating: 2/5
I appreciate them trying something new, but this just isn’t my cup of tea. Or scotch.

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