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 gigantic Johnny Walker, but the popularity of the spirit and its broad appeal remain to this day.
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 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. 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 in oak casks to “marry” the flavors and ensure that the flavor profile is sufficiently delicious.
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.
The spirit is a beautiful light amber color in the glass, almost the color of gold. Softer than the American whiskies and less viscous as well.
The first thing I smell in this glass is a ton of fruit. I can clearly smell some pear, and I think I also get a bit of citrus-y orange and apple. Mixed into the background is a good bit of that smokey peat that is typical of a scotch whisky, but only just a hint.
The liquid is very light on the tongue without a lot of weight to it. Again, pretty much the opposite of the American bourbon. I can make out almost all of the flavors that I smelled originally, but only very faintly before they disappear. The only lingering flavor after the spirit is gone is a bit of that peat smoke.
I think comparing this to the Johnnie Walker Red variety is pretty apt — much like that (better marketed) spirit, this is a blended scotch whisky with a very fruit forward flavor profile. In fact, the two perform almost the same in tasting with the primary difference being that the Johnny Walker Red is a little heavier on the fruit scent, in my opinion.
With the addition of some ice, the fruit flavors drop straight out of the smell of the glass. All that’s left is a lightly peated scotch whisky with the usual scotch whisky flavors, in this case mainly some light hints of vanilla and peat.
It’s not bad. It’s not amazing, but there are actually still some flavors in the drink that are interesting and delicious. I personally like it and think it makes for a fine sipping whisky in this form, but I am a bit disappointed that the more delicate flavors are nowhere to be found.
Normally a scotch whisky stops there when we review it, but in this case I think it bears a little further investigation. The Penicillin is a drink made with blended scotch and typically an Islay floater (although this Speyside does a fine job), and in this format I think the Famous Grouse really hits its stride. The flavors do a great job of blending in with the ginger forward drink, and the fact that it’s a blended spirit means I’m not as heartbroken about using it in this manner (like I would be if my Lagavulin was anywhere near this concoction).
This, in my opinion, is why the spirit exists. Cocktails that need a bit of peat without breaking the bank. And in this format, I think it does just as good a job as Johnnie Walker at a fraction of the price.
There’s nothing remarkable here, it’s one standard unit of blended scotch whisky. But then again that’s probably why it’s famous. This spirit strikes the perfect balance between flavor, provenance, and price, and is exactly worth every cent that you spend on it.
The Famous Grouse
Owner: Highland Distillers
Classification: Blended scotch whisky
Grain bill: 100% malted barley
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $19.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
It’s cheaper than Johnnie Walker but performs just as well. A solid scotch whisky.