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The Black Grouse

Review: The Black Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky  86/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on October 7, 2010
(Revisited February, 2014)

The Black Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky is relatively new whisky from the makers of The Famous Grouse. The company has a history in Scotland reaching back in time to 1896 when Wine Merchants, Matthew Gloag and Son, first blended what they called their ‘Grouse’ Whisky.  Over the next century The Famous Grouse would become one of the most popular brands of whisky in Scotland.

The Black Grouse is an offshoot of its popular cousin, The Famous Grouse, which is a blended whisky containing premium Single malts such as The Macallan and Highland Park. These single malts (as well as others in the blend) are married with a selection of fine grain whiskies in fully seasoned oak casks. The Black Grouse begins where The Famous Grouse ends, and is the result of a further blending of the Famous Grouse Whisky with Islay Malt Whiskies. The resulting whisky has a peated flavour profile with a reportedly dark smoky character.

As a side note, The Black Grouse, Tetrao tetrix, is a rare relative of Scotland’s national game bird, the Red Grouse. When the new blend was launched, The Famous Grouse made a commitment to preserve this rare game bird by donating 50 pence from each bottle sold to the conservation efforts of The Black Grouse habitat.

This information is expanded upon on The Black Grouse Website.

In the Bottle 4/5

The Black Grouse whisky arrives in an attractive display box which has a nice balance of graphic design and useful information. I especially like that the box clearly identifies the whisky as one with a smoky, peaty character to serve as an invitation to those who like the peat and the smoke and a warning to those who do not.

The bottle presentation, shown on the left,  is fine except for the annoying metal screw cap which crowns it. I remain firmly convinced these caps are inferior to plastic caps as they allow evaporation from the bottle to occur more easily and are subject to warping when the metal perforations must be broken to open the bottle the first time. I have been forced many times to find corks in lieu of these caps to preserve the whisky on my shelf.

In the Glass  8.5/10

When I poured the Black Grouse for the first time I was somewhat surprised by the light smoke and peat rising from the glass. I was expecting far more. This prejudice on my part was based upon the stereotype I carry in my mind for Islay Whisky. The facts (which I well know) are very different from the stereotype. Some Islay whiskies carry that overwhelming peat and smoke into dram, but many others  have a much more gentle profile to offer. The nose of the Black Grouse, is indicative of the more gentle style. The peat is there to be sure, as well as a trailing smoke-filled with raisin and prune.  But we also have a punchy caramel sweetness here as well which seems to invite us to explore further.

In the Mouth 52/60

The initial impression in my mouth is of beguiling sweetness coupled with a ribbon of soft smoke and organic peat. As I noted earlier, the peat and smoke are gentle rather than forceful. The sweetness manifests itself as a honeyed caramel. The smoke shows evidence of a sherry influence with dried fruit (raisins and prunes) and soft pops of cherries. The peat seems organic coming across as soft and chewy with a distinctive boggy taste.

The whisky also seems to presents a nice backdrop of woody spiciness, which enhances the flavour of the whisky but never becomes too sharp. I like the overall structure and balance which seems to have flavours which coexist nicely.

In the Throat 13/15

I like this just fine. The exit is long and smooth with a nice chocolate fade. There is perhaps one last punch of boggy peat at the end which bodes well for the winter days ahead.

The Afterburn 8.5/10

I could not help, as I was sampling The Black Grouse, to think that the blend could be raised from being very good to outstanding with a little more time spent in the barrel. All of the elements are there in the whisky except for the character that only longer time in oak can provide. My suggestion for The Black Grouse is to enjoy it as a dram to visit perhaps a little less frequently than your regular whisky. Let yourself be surprised and delighted by the beguiling sweetness, and the chocolate charcoal fade. But don’t return so often that the whisky loses it special appeal.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.

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Suggested Recipes

I avoided discussing the mixabilty of this whisky earlier and that may have been a mistake. As this is a whisky that handles cocktail expressions in an outstanding manner. At a friend’s suggestion, I made myself a Rusty Nail early in my tasting regimen. It was very tasty.

Rusty Nail

The official IBA formulation for the Rusty Nail is nine parts of Scotch Whisky to 5 parts of Drambuie.  This is a rather awkward formulation, so Instead I will suggest a simple 2:1  formulation:

2 oz Black Grouse Scotch Whisky
1 oz Drambuie
ice
lemon slice

First fill an 8 oz tumbler glass with crushed ice.
Add the Scotch Whisky and the Drambuie
Stir gently until a the outside of the glass frosts.
Garnish with a lemon slice.
Enjoy!

Since the whisky works so well with Drambuie, I decided to try Amaretto next.  The resulting Godfather I made was also a treat to my palate.  Again, I found that the subdued peat and smoke of the Black grouse combined well with the sweetness of the Amaretto. The only change I made to my version of the cocktail was to lessen the sweetness a bit by using a little more Scotch than Amaretto (The normal ratio is 1:1).

The Black Grouse Godfather

1 1/2 oz Black Grouse Scotch whisky
1 oz Amaretto
Ice cubes
Lemon Slice

Place 2 or 3 large ice-cubes into an old-fashioned glass
Pour the Black Grouse Whisky and the Amaretto over the ice
Sir gently
Garnish with a lemon slice

My last cocktail expression was another Whisky and Amaretto drink this time lengthened with Ginger ale and enhanced with bitters. I call it The Black Cove.

The Black Cove

1 1/2 oz Black Grouse Scotch whisky
1 oz Amaretto
Ice cubes
Dash of Angostura bitters
Ginger Ale
Lemon Slice

Place 2 or 3 large ice-cubes into a Collins glass
Pour the Black Grouse Whisky and the Amaretto over the ice
Add a dash or two of bitters
Sir gently
Lengthen with Ginger ale
Garnish with a lemon slice

Please enjoy these cocktails as well as the Black Grouse Whisky responsibly, the aim of my blog is to help your drink better spirits not to help you drink more spirits.

* My Thanks to the Folks at Beam Global who provided the sample for this review.

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As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74   Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79   You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84   We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89   Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94   Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+        I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

11 Responses to “The Black Grouse”

  1. Yochanan said

    Hey Chip, decided to revisit this review to compare notes once I finally got to sample the Black Grouse for myself, as I remembered you had reviewed it and I made the comment recommending Black Bottle (which I still do!)

    I was mighty impressed with the Black Grouse, especially since the Famous Grouse is so highly mediocre to me now. Quite refreshing, and an excellent choice if one wanted to make an Islay-based cocktail. Do you know which Islays make up the core of that component of this one? I was thinking hints of Bowmore, but little else in terms of distinct Islay malts.

    Hope all’s well.

    • Hi Yochanan

      I do not know which Islay Whisky(s) are used to blend the Black Grouse although based upon what I know of Morrison Bowmore and their recent unwillingness to sell their whisky to other distillers or blenders, it is unlikely that any Bowmore is in the Black Grouse Blend.

      • By the way I still haven’t had a chance to try Black Bottle, this comment of yours is a good reminder to me that I need to seek that one out.

        Cheers!

  2. Kevin said

    I really disliked the Black Grouse. Poorly integrated flavors almost like someone dumped in wood flavoring to an already cheap blend, not worth the money. I give this one a 6/10. If you want a cheap blended scotch try the Grant’s Family Reserve. It is better than most of the cheap blends, but still is poor value compared to Canadian Whiskey. If $ 23.50 for Alberta Springs 10 year or $25.50 for Grant’s Family or any other cheap blended Scotch which would you buy?

    • My friends and I really like this one. I suspect the Islay influence is putting you off. Then again in my whisky group we love to mix, even more expensive Scotches, and this particular Scotch mixes really well. That Black Cove recipe I created is one of our favourites.

  3. Yochanan said

    Hey Chip, been impressed by your Blog for a bit now, first time commenting. Have you ever sampled any Black Bottle offerings? It’s a similar “philosophy” to the B. Grouse blend- A gentle and accessible taste of Islay…as well as an Excellent value for money. Keep up the good work! Cheers!

    • Hi Yochanan

      Thank you for the kind words. :)

      I haven’t tried any of the Black Bottle line-up but your description sounds really nice. For many persons new to peat and smoke, these ‘gentle’ offerings are are great way to acclimatize the palate to a new experience.

  4. Andrew said

    In reply to Mike, the Famous Grouse is still available at the LCBO, and is in fact on sale until the end of the month. I’m really a novice whiskey drinker myself, especially when it comes to scotch, but I do love the relative complexity of blended scotch whskeys in comparison to canadian ones. I haven’t tried any of the Grouse line yet, but I plan on going out today and picking up a bottle of the Famous version today, based on the evaluation of Chip. I don’t have a very developed palate and judging from the value and popularity you guys are prescribing the drink, I look forward to tasting it. Thanks for the great reviews, if I like the Famous Grouse I’ll be sure to pick up the Black sometime soon!

    • Mike said

      Andrew,

      Yes, the Famous Grouse blend is still available but the range of blended malts (12, 18, and 30 year old) have been dropped one by one. Which is too bad because where else will you find a 30 year old malt Scotch whisky for under $200?

      In case you are wondering, blended malt differs from blended Scotch in that it does not contain grain whisky, only a mix of single malts. Therefore it is much closer to a single malt than a blend. Speaking of which, if you enjoy the complexity of blended Scotch just wait till you get into malts! Try to find Glendower Pure Malt if you can, for a good value. Also look for the Robert Burns Single Malt if you are on a budget. One need not spend big bucks to get a decent malt Scotch.

      Finally, don’t write off Canadian blends until you’ve tried some nice aged ones. They may not give you the same flavour as Scotch but something like Century Reserve 15 year old will give you superior body and smoothness compared to entry-level blended Scotch, which tend to be a little harsh due to their youth.

  5. I think the Black Grouse represents good value for money. I agree that it is not something most consumers would want to have as a daily drinker, but nice to have on the odd occasion when one desires a peat and smoke bonfire in the glass.

  6. Mike said

    Nice review of a very good whisky. It seems that any time a bottle indicates peat on the label unrealistic expectations result. Another good example is The Peat Monster. People want it to be the peatiest whisky ever while overlooking how good it actually is.

    Black Grouse is a great value and it is too bad the the LCBO discontinued the Famous Grouse blended malt range.

 
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