Last week saw The Famous Grouse Masters of the Famous Blend Masterclass come to Leeds.
With The Famous Grouse Global Brand Ambassador Lucy Whitehall, Master Blender Kirsteen Campbell, Master of wood Stuart MacPherson and Master of mixology David Miles present, what better chance to delve into the world of blended Scotch.
Lucy Whitehall was up first and gave us an insight into the brand history, breaking it down into the four fundamentals that underpin The Famous Grouse: foundation, finest, flavour and fusion.
Famous Grouse goes all the way back to the early 1800s and a man named Matthew Gloag. Perth is central to the blended Scotch whisky category and it was here that Gloag worked as a butler and cellar man before taking over a delicatessen on Atholl Street in 1835, transforming it into a wine and spirit merchants. Gloag was extremely well respected, and even supplied the alcohol for a banquet in honour of Queen Victoria’s visit to Perth in 1842, the first royal link with the brand.
Following Matthew’s death William Gloag took over the family business, and in 1860 he introduced ‘mixed’ whisky, or blended whisky as we now know it. Prior to this each whisky in a blend would be taxed individually, however the change in legislation in 1860 meant that only the final product would be taxed, making the process of ‘mixing’ whiskies suddenly more affordable.
In 1896 William’s nephew Matthew Gloag (another one) took over and set about creating a signature blended Scottish whisky for the shop, focusing on quality ingredients and ageing in sherry casks. Rather than put the family name on the bottle as was commonplace, he wanted an iconic image. He chose the national game bird of Scotland, the red grouse, in a bid to appeal to wealthy visiting Victorians and The Grouse Brand was founded. Due to its popularity through word of mouth the whisky became know as the famous grouse and not one to miss a marketing opportunity in 1905 Gloag officially changed the name.
For Famous Grouse the use of only the finest ingredients is crucial, and applies to every stage of production. This means sourcing the finest malts and grains, specific peats and quality copper stills. It also applies to anyone who’s expertise they rely on- including barley growers, coopers- everything right up to the master blender.
The predominant factor in flavour in any whisky is the wood, and The Famous Grouse give this special attention too. Explained with the slightly cryptic equation ‘2+2=3’ they age in 3 different casks, ex bourbon and sherry, made from two different types of oak, but more of that later.
Fusion plays an obvious part in blending whisky, as so many complex flavour profiles are combined to reach one consistent product. For Famous Grouse this process takes months, as once the correct flavour is reached in blending, the whisky undergoes ‘marrying’, where it is rested again to allow flavours to fully integrate. This makes the eventual chill-filtering process less harsh, contributing to mouth feel and length of finish.
Now we were ready to start tasting, and who better to guide us through the process than Kirsteen and Stuart.
Kirsteen began by talking more about the importance of grain, and we were given the chance to sample two different ‘new-makes’ straight from the still. The first was malted barley, and the second North British grain. The high maize content in the North British grain gives it lighter, buttery notes and as we moved on to taste the Famous Grouse it was clear to see both influences working together.
Stuart went into more depth about the 3 types of cask used: ex-bourbon American Oak, sherry ‘seasoned’ American oak, and European oak ex-sherry casks. Again we had samples of each and saw how the ex-bourbon gave aromatic vanilla notes, sherry seasoned more fruit and toffee and the European oak rich cocoa and spice and plenty of tannins.
The Famous Grouse Mellow Gold followed, developed just last year, and it was easy to see how the increased ex-bourbon cask blends resulted in a sweeter, more vanilla led whisky. The Naked Grouse, extra matured in the European sherry casks packed plenty of spice. We finished up with the Famous Grouse smokey black, a pleated blend from the Glenturret distillery.
Last to take to the floor was David Miles of Mixxit and Maxxium looking to inspire a new wave of innovative blended whisky drinks. After providing the room with The Naked Grouse old fashioneds he stepped behind the bar to showcase 3 original drinks.
First up ‘The Grape Necessity’, a simple serve combining Famous Grouse, barrel aged bitters and sparkling red grape juice. Secondly, a drink starring The Famous Grouse Mellow Gold, Galliano, golden syrup and grapefruit juice.
The final drink of the day was Wayne Collins twist on a blood and sand, using The Famous Grouse Smoky Black, Cocchi di Torino and cherry brandy, garnished with a maraschino cherry we were assured was delicious but was also still at home in David’s fridge.
Everyone that attended set off with a whisky filled goody bag ready to set to work on their own creations after a great, interactive and informative training session.
Thanks again to the team at Shear’s Yard for hosting and all the team at The Famous Grouse.
A second session will be held on September 27th in Bristol at Milk Thistle, click here to register for a place.