The Famous Grouse is a classic name in blended Scotch whiskies.
Renowned for being the best-selling blended Scotch whisky in Scotland, the Famous Grouse is also highly regarded among whisky aficionados. In 2007, the Famous Grouse launched a line extension called the Black Grouse, a more heavily-peated version of Famous Grouse. More recently, the company launched Snow Grouse, a blended Scotch whisky designed to be consumed on the rocks.
Blended Scotch whiskies are a combination of malt whiskies from individual Scottish distilleries (called single malts) and basic grain whisky. The idea of blending Scotch whiskies together was first developed by London grocers who, while looking for ways to create more of a market for their stocks of whiskies, blended them to round the whiskies out and make them smoother and more palatable. Johnnie Walker, Dewars, Cutty Sark, and Famous Grouse all come from this tradition, although many of these traditional blenders have created bolder, peatier blends to compete against the increasing interest in single malt Scotch whiskies.
Enter the Black Grouse. Perhaps better-known in Europe than the United States, the Black Grouse is the smokier and peatier cousin to Famous Grouse. Competing against marques such as Johnnie Walker Double Black, Black Grouse is designed to appeal to single malt drinkers who appreciate smoky whiskies and blended Scotch enthusiasts looking for a bit more bite to their whisky.
On the nose, Black Grouse offers a lightly smoky bouquet with undertones of sherry wood, brown sugar, and vanilla. Surprisingly, the nose on Black Grouse isn’t more aggressive; rather, it only offers a subtle suggestion of what is to come.
On the palate, Black Grouse surprises, being far lighter and less smoky than expected. Dark chocolate, dried chili pepper, brown sugar, and penuche combine with almond and hazelnut notes in a veritable banquet of dessert notes. Smoke and peat notes are perceptible, but only along the edges of the other flavors found in this whisky. While brands like Johnnie Walker Double Black may opt for sheer aggression with peat, the Black Grouse is a study in deftness and balance. If Johnnie Walker Double Black is heavy metal, the Black Grouse can be described as a symphony.
The finish of the Black Grouse is especially pleasing. Chocolate fudge, pecans, halvah, and divinity notes cap off the dessert-like quality of this whisky.
While the Black Grouse may not be familiar to most Americans, those who enjoy a well-balanced, rich, and slightly sweet blended Scotch whisky would do well to add a bottle of Black Grouse to their home liquor cabinets. This is a masterful blend, utterly delicious and complex, and it deserves more appreciation here in the United States.