Scotch is an interesting category of whiskey, for me. There’s very few bottles that I love, most I find to be average or just ‘meh’, and very few I really dislike. Aberlour 12 is definitely one of the bottles I love, so I recommend you check that one out. However, I must admit that my experience with scotch is much shorter of a list than bourbon or rye whiskey. This brings me to this review of The Famous Grouse Smoky Black. I am in search of more scotch whiskies to add to my list of favorites.
In this review, we’ll discuss the history, taste, price, and more of the Smoky Black selection of The Famous Grouse. Will this scotch be just another one to fall into the average category, or will it join the ranks of the best? Let’s find out.
The Famous Grouse History
The Famous Grouse was founded in 1896 by Matthew Gloag. Originally named The Grouse, this blended scotch whisky got it’s namesake from the popular bird in the Highlands region of Scotland, a grouse. Phillipa, Matthew’s daughter, painted a picture of a grouse that went on to become the label for The Famous Grouse Scotch Whisky.
Gloag didn’t name his whisky after just a bird. It was named after an activity. Hunting grouse in the fields was a popular sport and way of food and sustenance. Gloag wanted to craft the perfect whiskey to enjoy after that activity. Hence, The Famous Grouse was originally meant to be enjoyed after the hunt.
The Famous Grouse Smoky Black Overview
The Famous Grouse has their original whisky and four other selections. Today, we’re going to focus on just one of them – Smoky Black. It is a part of their Blender’s Edition, and uses a blend of peated whiskies to bring out the smoky flavors.
- Whisky: Blended Scotch Whisky
- Owned By: The Edrington Group
- Blended By: Matthew Gloag & Son
- Aged: Minimum 3 years per Scotch Whisky requirements
- ABV: 40%, 80 Proof
- Blend: Glenturret, Macallen, Glenrothes, and Highland Park are among the whisky brands used in the blend.
One of the reasons for tis review of the Smoky Black Famous Grouse was their use of peated scotch. I was intrigued in trying a couple more peated whiskies without spending a lot of money on some of the top shelf options.
The exact blend and brands The Famous Grouse uses is unknown, but they do heavily market their use of a rare peated malt. The back of the bottle mentions that they are the only blended whisky in the world to use a rare peated version of Glenturret.
What is Peated Whisky?
A peated whisky is meant to give smoky flavors and attributes to the spirit. But what exactly is peat and how does it pertain to whisky? A peated scotch will cook malted barley in a peat kiln. Peat, itself, is essentially the surface layer of soil with decomposed organic matter.
Peat is cooked in kilns, and the smoke dries the malted barley. In turn, much of the smoke is attached to the barley that goes in a mashbill. A similar process takes place in the production of mezcal. The differences being that mezcal cooks agave over wood and charcoal, not peat. Both offer a smoky profile, mezcal is more woody and peated scotch is more earthen.
Famous Grouse Smoky Black Tasting Notes
Now that we’ve discussed some of the basics, it’s time to dive into the important information. Is The Famous Grouse Smoky Black good? What does it taste like? Let’s pour ourselves a glass and find out.
Nose: There’s a little bit of smoke here, but more sweet and earthy. Pine needles along with citrus and peat are most prominent.
Taste: Again, you can tell there’s some smoke but it’s masked by sweeter, floral notes. A touch of water or ice helps dull those flavors, but it also removes some of the smoke.
Finish: Fairly short and mild. Smoke fades into light spice and citrus.
Meh. The quality is okay – better than my recent review of Sensei Whiskey, but at about the level I expected. You can also tell this is a peated scotch, which is a good thing… I mean that’s the whole purpose of peat kilns and what not. However, I think the smoke is masked by sweet, earthen notes. While smoke in the background is okay, even typical, I think it would be better balanced with some stronger, darker flavors.
Overall, I don’t hate it, but It’s not going to be something I buy again.
Famous Grouse Smoky Black Price
Okay, the flavor was just a little off for me, and the quality was just okay. But, how much does a bottle cost? While the whisky isn’t my favorite, price can play a huge role in whether or not it’s something we’re willing to buy. We’ll take a look at prices across various Total Wine stores throughout the US to determine an average price range.
- 750ml The Famous Grouse Smoky Black: $25-30
For a $25 bottle of Scotch, this was as expected in terms of quality. Not superb, but not bad either. Ultimately, we can judge this to be fairly priced.
I don’t want to say bad things about this whisky. It’s okay, it’s fairly priced, it’s simply not the flavor I’m looking for. I think there are plenty of people out there who will and do like it, and plenty of people like me who don’t or won’t like it.
With that being said, I think this is one of those whiskies I’d recommend you try before you buy. At it’s $25-30 price range, it’s no big deal if you buy it first. You can always mix it in a cocktail, which I’ll cover next.
If you’re more of an American whiskey drinker and are looking to expand into peated scotch, I’d recommend starting elsewhere. You like floral notes? Maybe give this a shot.
Peated Scotch in a Mixed Drink? Smoky Cocktail!
The nice thing about trying different types of whiskeys, and unique ones at that, is that you get to try many different cocktails. This is especially true when it comes to liquor that isn’t your favorite. Find a good recipe, try it out, and make the most out of your bottle. This is precisely what I’m doing with my bottle of The Famous Grouse Smoky Black. Below are two of the cocktails I tried and enjoyed.
Pineapple and Peat
Combine peated scotch, in this case Smoky Black, with pineapple juice and lime. Use agave nectar or bitters to add a little extra flavor if you have it around. Smoky spirits and pineapple have a way of balancing together pretty well, and that rings true in this case.
Similar to the Pineapple and Peat, we use ginger syrup, honey syrup, and lemon. You can use Smoky Black as your base spirit here, or you can go the traditional route. Use a standard blended scotch as your primary whiskey with just a splash of peated scotch to top it off.
Famous Grouse Smoky Black Summary
The Famous Grouse has a long history of being a popular and quality blended scotch whisky. One of their selections, Smoky Black, is a peated version that packs a little smoke behind it, along with some sweeter and more floral notes as well.
The Famous Grouse Smoky Black is decent peated scotch for it’s price tag. I’d rather spend an extra $20 or so to get a better bottle, but it certainly works well in a cocktail. So, if you’re looking for a scotch to enjoy exclusively neat or on the rocks, this likely isn’t it. If you’re just making some mixed drinks, Famous Grouse Smoky Black will do just fine.
Ultimately, Islay is the region most known for its peated scotch, so you’re probably better off looking there for your next smoky whisky. Perhaps that is where I’ll set my sights for my next review.