Friday, June 4, 2010

Famous Grouse Scotch Whisky - You can never go back













When I first started drinking scotch it was blended scotch whisky that was my drink.  The first introduction was Johnnie Walker Black Label (a great blended scotch that I still enjoy!).  While enjoying that I also started sipping The Famous Grouse.  I used to have big ice cubes in a tumbler and pour in enough Famous Grouse to cover about 50% of the height of the ice cubes.  Let it melt for a minute or two and then sip. 

I drank Famous Grouse, Johnnie Walker Black and Teacher's Highland Cream fairly steady for about a year.  Every once in a while I would try a single malt and simply fail to understand what was the big deal.  Single malts seemed to be rougher, have more bite and burn whereas the aforementioned blends were always smooth, gentle and pleasingly sweet.

Times . . they are a changin'. 

Eventually, after continuing to try many single malts, there was one that intrigued me, I think it was Dalwhinnie at the time.  Thereafter, my blended scotch whiskies faded off into the distance and were replaced by bottles of single malts on the horizon.  Nevertheless, because of this history, I always have a soft spot for blends.

I pride myself on not being a scotch snob.  If you and I are sitting across from eachother in a bar and you declare that in your heart of hearts a preference for blended scotch whisky, I will not think less of you.  That is your inalienable right as a scotch lover.  The fact that you like blended scotch makes us brothers merely by other mothers.  Too many scotch snobs and well meaning enthusiasts dismiss blended scotch as for lesser beings and alley way lushes.  Not I!

So, I turn to this bottle of Famous Grouse in front of me and see if it still holds the fascination it once did for me all those years ago.














Nose (undiluted)
Malty and sherried.  Peppery too.  Not bad.  Nothing to write home to Mom about though.

Palate (undiluted)
Super smooth like 1970's soul singer Lou Rawls crooning "Lady Love."  Sugary, sweet sherry moving to a maltiness that frankly is on the cheap.  Reminiscent of Whyte & Mackay (not a good thing). 

Finish (undiluted)
Super short flavors of cloves and pepper.

Tasted neat, it's not sparking much passion.  Let's try it the way I did years ago.  That is with ice.

Nose (with ice)
More muted.  Nevertheless, some malt notes do drift out of the glass.  

Palate (with ice)
I gotta say I prefer this blend with ice.  Once it has melted a bit, the cheap sherry flavor is weakened while the sweet maltiness remains.  Refreshing and simple.  

Finish (with ice)
Pepper, cloves and carmelized onions. 

General Impressions












Well, I am disappointed to say that all the fond memories have not been revisited by this tasting.  Kinda reminds me of the saying that "you can never go back."  You can never go back to that great first love, the best time of your life, a favorite vacation, a hole-in-one or whatever it might be. 

I have moved on it seems.  My tastes have evolved.  I no longer love her, the Famous Grouse.  The embers have gone cold and I can't imagine how I liked her in the first place.  I'm a little saddened.

I used to like Ballantines Finest a lot, but now cannot tolerate it at all.  I think as a novice scotch whisky drinker I was pleased by smoothness, sweetness and a cheap maltiness.  If I continued to drink just blended scotch whisky maybe the affair would have continued.  Probably so.  I kinda admire that guy who can stick with one blend all his life, whether it be Teacher's or Bells.  I'm just not that guy.

Drinking Famous Grouse, Ballantines Finest and other bottom shelf blends is kinda like memories of highschool.  The memories are fond, but if you could go back you wouldn't and if you did it would not be the same.

Cheers!


Jason Debly

P.S.  Not all Famous Grouse offerings are as weak as the standard bottling.  Click here for my comments on the very impressive Famous Grouse 18 years, a blend of only single malts.

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved.

42 comments:

  1. HI Jason, have you tried The Black Grouse?

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  2. Yes, I have and was impressed. Good price for Islay blended scotch. I would recommend it.

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  3. Hey Jason,

    This review caught my eye as I was just given a bottle of the Black Grouse to review. I decided to go out and get the Famous Grouse and start from square one so to speak.

    Your notes on the Grouse are interesting. And I will have a lot of fun when I am done comparing notes again.

    Cheers

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  4. Chip, a lot of people love Famous Grouse, I used to be one of them, but as I mentioned in my review, my tastes have evolved. I look forward to reading your review on the Rum Howler site.

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  5. I have just been given a bottle of Famous Grouse and am looking forward to that first wee dram. Will let you know how it went down. I drink scotch neat at room temp.

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  6. Please do let me and the readers know your impressions!

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  7. Great P.S. I'm thinking of buying BALLINTINES FINIST I had 10 years ago as novice drinker. WILL this CHEAP GRAIN ake my headspin? I just know there was something tasty about it and mouth filling.

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  8. Hi Jason,

    You're blog is great, but I'm wondering if you're being a little hard on Famous Grouse here? Yes, it's true that it will not wow you, and if money was not an issue, then I can't imagine ever going for the Grouse, so I do know what you're saying. But now, imagine that you had to buy some bottles that are under $25 (US). I guess that you will say "Well, Teacher's is great, and even cheaper than Grouse..." OK I'm not going to argue that one. I will also say that I am a big bourbon fan, and there are some good bourbons in that price range as you know. However, some days, I'm just not in the mood for the intensity of a bourbon. And, that same feeling would also make me hesitate to reach for Teacher's, as I find Teacher's a little intense. Some days, I just want a nice easy sipper, that'll go down smooth and also will offer up a few interesting flavors rather than being all one note, or overly sweet. In other words, I think Famous Grouse is in a different category than Teacher's, and I'm wondering if there is any direct competition for Grouse that could beat it?

    Thanks for the blog,
    Ryan

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  9. Hi! Ryan, I think there is some competition out there that is going head to head with Famous Grouse: White Horse and Black Bottle. If you hunt around, you can get great deals on those very smooth, yet interesting and well, down right intriguing blends. They are more Islay influenced, but dont let that scare you.

    That being said, there is nothing wrong with being a fan of Famous Grouse. If that is your "comfort scotch" then the most important judge (that would be you) has rendered a decision.

    Cheers!

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  10. Jason,

    Thanks for the response. Unfortunately Black Bottle is not available in my area (state controlled liquor stores). White Horse is available in 1.75L only... we'll see if I'm feeling brave enough to try it in that quantity! I usually don't ever buy that size so that I don't get bored. I would have never thought to try it as a sipper since it is a shelf below Famous Grouse.

    The only single malts in my area in the same price range as Grouse are McClellands Highland and Tamdhu (no age). I saw you had a favorable review of the latter. Would you recommend either over Famous Grouse?

    Thanks,
    Ryan

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  11. Tamdhu is an excellent single malt that is very reasonably priced! Highly recommended. Do give it a try. You will not be disappointed, and if you are, please post your impressions here for the other readers too.

    Cheers!

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  12. Jason,

    Thanks for your advice! White Horse ended up going on clearance sale here, and I picked up the 1.75 L bottle for ridiculously cheap. And you are right! It is a similar taste profile to Grouse, but it is slightly more full-bodied and has a bit more going on in the finish. So, I concur with your recommendation to Grouse drinkers: go out and try White Horse. There's not much out there on the web about White Horse which is why I was hesitant to buy, but if you like Grouse, you will probably like White Horse.

    Thanks, Ryan

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  13. Just bought a bottle after reading so much lately about The Famous Grouse.
    I like it very much and especially with Ice & Soda.

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  14. Just bought my first bottle of Famous Grouse, in part because of a coupon, and then a bottle of MacCallan 12-year to offset the saving. The former tastes rough, with a burnt note that's not pleasing. Not nearly as well-rounded and complex as our house brand, Dewars. The MacCallan 12? I go along with the recent Michael Jackson guide, which gave it a 91.

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  15. Macallan 12 is a nice sherried single malt. No doubt about it. Trouble is the price is rather high compare to some other 12 year old malts like: GlenDronach 12 and Glenfarclas 12.

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  16. HI All,
    I first heard of Famous Grouse while reading WEB Griffin novels.

    In my younger days, I didn't like the taste of Scotch, Johnny Walker Red and White&Black being the only ones I'd tried.

    So after reading about it in numerous WEB Griffin novels, I bought a bottle to try.

    I like it.

    And.....it's fun to "Flip The Bird" to friends!

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    1. Haha I love the Corps Novels by WEB Griffin. I was also looking up Famous Grouse.

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  17. I do wish I tasted this before all others..
    If there ever was regret, it was that I did not expand my choices beyond the recommended before acquiring taste for a certain standard.

    I gave up on my acquired bottle..quietly disposed.

    NO to this, thank you for the confirmation Jason~

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    1. That's the excitement of whisky. Finding the gems among the bow-wows!

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  18. Found your blog after Googling "Famous Grouse review" whilst sipping my first Grouse!

    I've always been more of a neat Bourbon drinker (nothing fancy, just humble JD) but Tesco had the Grouse on special offer at £14 for a litre bottle - a steal! But it gets better: I ordered a bottle with my grocery delivery, and it turned out they'd run out - so they gave me TWO standard 75cl bottles instead! For £14! Get in (as we say in the North)!

    Anyhoo, I'm drinking it neat now, at fridge temperature (I always keep whisky in the fridge, it's nicer chilled). My first thought is how smooth it is. For a cheap whisky I was expecting something harsher. I'm no connoisseur (clearly!) so to my uneducated pallet - and low budget - this is really satisfying. Not sure about the "caramelised onions" (!) but it is certainly sweetish.

    I shall read more of your blog with interest.

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    1. I think the caramelised onion notes are apparent at room temperature rather than after chilling in the fridge (which is probably a good idea!).

      I used to really like Grouse but as I mentioned in my review, that affection has evaporated.

      You did get a great deal though.

      I checked out your profile and you mention you like Japanese films. Ever see Tokyo Drifter (1966) - way ahead of its time in my opinion.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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  19. Here, Here. I do say, of these lower of the barrell one's you mention that might be a bit better than the great Grouse, are any of them made in Scotland like the gander?

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  20. Having my first Famous Grouse after hearing about it on .NET Rocks. I like it... much better than the blended Scotch that I have had previously. Nice taste, I will definitely buy again!

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    1. The Famous Grouse that I am impressed with is Black Grouse, Islay influenced blend. Very good for the money.

      I used to the like the standard bottling of FG but not a fan anymore. I did this review a few years ago so I am tempted to pick up another bottle.

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  21. My single malt selection rotates, but for everyday drinking (well, not EVERY day but you know what I mean) I keep coming back to 3 blends, again and again despite having tried many others. Famous Grouse, Black Grouse and Johnnie Walker Black Label. All 3 have their merits. Black Grouse is probably my favorite of the 3, but Famous Grouse stands on its own as incredibly pleasant. There's this spiced raisin cake sort of note to it coming from a combination of the sherry, grain and maltiness that is very satisfying. Sorry to hear you don't like it anymore, personally I can see why it's the most popular scotch in Scotland. Is it overly challenging? No. But sometimes a comfortable simplicity is a virtue.

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    1. Black Grouse is excellent and I intend to review it very shortly. Black Label is a classic. What more can be said?

      However, the standard bottling of Grouse is one I used to really like but in recent years either my palate likes and dislikes has changed or the master blender has tinkered too much with this blend. I find it far more grainy than it used to be.

      I really like FG a lot at one point. So, to that end, I will buy it again and update this review.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  22. I just started drinking Scotch and really enjoy Famous Grouse. Maybe I will be like you and move on, but for the time being, I am enjoying a new drink and am excited for where it will take me.

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    1. Hi!

      I am going to buy another bottle of Famous Grouse and review it soon. I feel guilty beating up on it, but the last two bottles were disappointments. Maybe the blenders have changed the mix of grain and malt whiskies. This was certainly the case with Black Grouse which is essentially a peated and smoked version of Famous Grouse. I highly recommend you try Black Grouse eventually.

      Thanks for commenting!

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    2. Remarkably a coincidence that this thread continues. Last week I bought Famous Grouse for the first time. I am only allowing myself one whole bottle of scotch this year. I am regularly a vodka aficionado. Scotch is a special treat though. Other whiskies just seem too sweet, bland, or lacking. The peatiness is the balance I love. Famous Grouse smells great but seemed a little too "smooth" like Crown Royal. I was really hoping for more "bite." Jason M.

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    3. I am going to review Famous Grouse Black Grouse soon. I really like it. So, as a comparison and contrast I think I will get another of the standard bottling.

      The Black Grouse has changed dramatically in taste since it was first launched around 2007 and I am wondering if the standard bottle may have improved too since this last review was posted.

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  23. Have you considered reviewing the Black Grouse Alpha as well?

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    1. Black Grouse Alpha is not available where I am unfortunately, so it will not be getting a review anytime soon.

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  24. I started with Dewer's White Label and JW Black...

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  25. Hi Jason! Have you heard of famous grouse gold reserve 12y/o? What's your take on it?

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    1. I am not a fan of the Famous Grouse Gold Reserve. I find it to be too sweet and little else.

      However, there used to be and maybe there still is a Famous Grouse 12 yr old that comes in a green tube that is a blend of single malts and it is really good. Grab that one if it is still available.

      Famous Grouse 18 is a nice drop, and the Black Grouse is good value in its price range.

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    2. I came across this blog while looking up reviews for the Famous Grouse 12 year-old. I never saw this bottling until recently and quite liked it - in a mild, smooth, but rich, rounded and sherried fashion. Their website makes no mention of the 12 year-old nor the 18 year-old so I'm wondering if they have discontinued them. There is a 16 year-old but they don't say whether it's a blended malt - however the 40 year-old limited edition is.

      Out of interest there is a Naked Grouse, aged in "sun-dried sherry casks", and a Black Grouse Alpha that contains some older malt and is supposed to be richer and smokier. No sign of a Gold Reserve.

      Cheers...............Mahmoud.

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  26. After doing some amateur bartending for my lodge brothers I've found that Famous Grouse has a valuable place as a cocktail scotch- it's a sin to pour a single malt & pour Vermouth or Drambuie into it, but Famous Grouse makes a dandy Bobbie burns or a Rusty Nail.

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    1. Yes, good point! While FG may not be ideal on its own it may certainly work in cocktails.

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  27. Hi Jason,

    Im just wondering if you think the famous grouse is a good economy blend, I bought black grouse after reading your review and i love it. It tastes like JWB but much more bolder and richer. Anyways, does the famous grouse taste like black grouse just unpeated?

    Cheers,

    Tony

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    1. Hi Tony,

      The standard bottling of Famous Grouse is too grainy and a wee bitter. Stick with the black grouse but if that is too much money for you as i know we all have to watch our respective budgets, then consider maybe a bourbon. Jim Beam Black or something like that.

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    2. Tony, i should have added a final point that it is getting more and more difficult to find affordable Scotch whisky blends that deliver good quality. Johnnie Walker Black is getting expensive in many places and Chivas 12 is usually priced similarly.

      Turning to no age statement blends is becoming a grim prospect as of late if you are looking for bargain blends. Teachers is not so great anymore, Ballantines is terrible, Bells is unremarkable and frankly not very good.

      There are blended malts or pure malts that are good but are not cheap.

      Its getting rough out there for the economy consumer.

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