Not everyone is a fan of smoky and peaty scotch whisky. Its definitely an acquired taste, but one that I’m happy to have acquired. And while I love the richness in a good Lagavulin, I’m not personally wealthy enough to drink it on the regular. This is where a blended peated scotch whisky substitutes well, like this Famous Grouse Smoky Black that aims to provide a similar experience at a fraction of the price.
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 the smaller 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 made from 100% malted barley, produced entirely within the borders of Scotland, and matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years.
In this specific case, the blended whisky (which is probably just their normal blend) has some peated whisky added to the mix which adds the smoky flavors.
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 biggest difference between this version and the original version is that the Smoky Black has a black label and overall darker color pallet for its branding, echoing the supposedly darker and richer flavors.
From the first whiff you can tell that there’s something deeper and smokier going on here. I get the same fruity notes as with the original version, but its as if I’m sitting in front of a peat-burning fireplace trying to enjoy them. There’s certainly tinges of that smoky aspect creeping in around the sides and providing a bit of depth that was missing from the original.
Taking a sip, the flavors deliver exactly on the promise of the aroma. Its a smooth experience with no bitterness or other unpleasantness — just some sweet honey, fruits, and the peat smoke curling around the other flavors. There might even be a bit of black tea in here, making me think of a Scottish breakfast in front of the fire.
With the addition of a bit of ice, the peat smoke flavors start to take a backseat to the original show. The fruit is more forward in the presentation, with some vanilla and honey flavors taking center stage. The smoke is still present but, just like you’d expect with any spirit, the added ice and dilution has had a significant impact on the potency of the major players.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the ice has completely eliminated the smoke. In fact, I think it still contributes significantly to the flavor profile. It just isn’t as potent as it was before, and is more of a subdued part player.
For those who might be considering trying a peated scotch whisky (or if you like your peated scotch on the milder side), this might be something to consider since the ice allows you to adjust how much peat you are getting to your specific taste.
The flavors are solid and delicious, and the spirit performs well. There’s nothing here that will knock your socks off, but you won’t be negatively (or positively, honestly) surprised either. And for the price, its definitely worth picking up a bottle to enjoy.
|Famous Grouse Smoky Black Blended Scotch Whisky|
Produced By: Famous GrouseOwned By: Highland Distillers
Production Location: Scotland
Classification: Blended Scotch Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $25.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
Well worth the minor upcharge for the added peat experience.