Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Almost Famous: A Review Of The Famous Grouse Blended Whisky

Budget-friendly blended scotch doesn't get much attention in the blogosphere. Most bloggers, yours truly included, don't pay much attention to the bottom shelf. We're passionate about our favourite single malts, peat levels, barley varieties and so on. We may be doing people a disservice though, since blended scotch whisky accounts for approximately 85 to 90 percent of all scotch whisky sales worldwide. All the hand-wringing and heated debates around age statements (or a lack thereof), chill-filtration and wine cask finishes, sulphured casks, is but a drop in the bucket (or barrel) of the actual scotch whisky market. The real money is in blends, and I'm pretty sure the brain-trusts at the big multinationals know this. I've reviewed a few budget blends and I have to say that most have been just ok. Save Teacher's Highland Cream, there are few blended scotch whiskies below the $35 mark (Ontario prices) that would cause an enthusiast to wax poetic. 

Not as outrageous as some actual things Axl has done
However, I'm nothing if not selfless, so I've decided to swallow my pride (and a lot of whisky) in order to help my ten or so readers make more informed choices, regardless of how much they're spending. Hopefully this review of Scotland's most popular whisky will be received better than Aldous Snow's "African Child" video was in the absurd yet hilarious Get Him to the Greek.  

The Famous Grouse

When it was first produced in 1860 it was just "The Grouse". This Grouse has been the No. 1 whisky in Scotland since 1980. Each year 43 million bottles of The Famous Grouse are enjoyed in no less than 94 global markets. According to their website:

It’s the magic of the cask that lends The Famous Grouse its unique flavour. The European oak we use in our sherry casks and the American oak in our bourbon ones make sure each dram is full of flavour. Each has its own qualities, and each adds its own subtle shades of character to the whiskies that go into The Famous Grouse. By choosing one over another, we can add a little sweetness, a rich, toasty undertone, or a bright fruity note.Our cask policy is key and one of the ways that we get consistent quality with every drop. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Not known for being subtle

So is The Famous Grouse a budget-priced champion, an unsung hero, like Stillwater's Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) in 2000s Almost Famous? Or is it a belligerent braggart like Axl Rose or Lars Ulrich? Will it gently caress you like a 1968 LesPaul Standard, or will it screech off-key like a vocalist reaching for notes he can no longer hit? There's only one way to find out.


Tasting Notes

Nose (undiluted): barley, red grapes, honey, light brown sugar
Palate (undiluted): medium-light body, malt, tea-biscuit-ish, honey, faint red grape notes
Finish: medium length, honey, a very faint hints of smoke and milk chocolate

Adding water did not change much about this whisky. The sweetness is cut a bit, and the milk chocolate notes become a bit more apparent, but this isn't any kind of flavour bomb. I wouldn't recommend adding water to this whisky. The Famous Grouse is light enough to mix in a highball, or a Rob Roy, but it doesn't make you sit up and pay attention the way some of the better blends, like Compass Box, do.


Blended scotch is incredibly popular, probably because of its price and accessibility. Not everyone is willing to drop $80 or more on something they've never tried. Canadian whisky is no different; Wiser's Deluxe easily outsells Lot No. 40, even though the latter is, in my opinion, superior dram in every possible way. The Famous Grouse won't change your life, but it is a solid introduction to scotch whisky. The single malt component is present, but it certainly doesn't dominate the blend. There is nothing unpleasant in the Grouse, but it didn't blow me away either. To further the musical analogy, Famous Grouse is far less Guns N Roses and more like Soul Asylum. While the former is (was) divisive, inconsistent, often great, often terrible, the latter was just kind of ok. I've never met any hardcore Soul Asylum fans. I've never met anyone who hated them either. The Famous Grouse, then, is a good all-purpose whisky to keep on hand. It's a solid, versatile, though not overly interesting, blend.

Rating: 2/5 moustaches

May we all have the chance to prove that money can’t make us happy!

Slainte mhaith !

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