Jul 152012

Black Grouse

40% abv

Score:  71.5/100

Unapologetically I have to be the dissenting voice here on the Black Grouse.Having read more than one review suggesting that this was a top notch peated blend, I truly found myself in a whirlpool of doubt. I even held off reviewing this for several months, trying this at various times, and with various company, concerned that my palate was perhaps just not up to snuff each time. I’ve knocked the hell out of half a bottle now…shared with many others…and finally, others’ opinions notwithstanding, I have to commit and say…This is not good.I know some of the malts used to weave this blend. More than one I truly adore. Others I at least respect. This motley collection, when presented as a unified front, is just not firing on all cylinders. As a result, certain characteristics of some of those malts, stick out at odd angles and make for a really uncomfortable ride.

Now. Please forgive my cynicism. There is a certain someone out there who holds a lot of sway in the wider whisky circles. I truly wonder if some of the published opinion of said individual hasn’t helped lead others to their own weigh-in on this one. I honestly have so much trouble with this Grouse that perhaps I’m grasping at straws to cover my own stunted palate. Who knows.

On to the juice…

The nose delivers an attack of cloyingly offensive peat. Overpowering directly out of the bottle. Kinda like a mulekick right to the beak. It’s hard for me to admit that, as I know what is supposedly contributing this peat reek. Here, for whatever reason, it is terribly sharp and dirty. It is smoky and cigar rich, qualities I normally admire, though here they just don’t quite work. it is bitterly prunish, almost like raisin fruit tarts, but…not. Pungently malty like a young Highland Park (hint hint), almost to the point of sticking your head in a mash tun.

The delivery brings that tangy maltiness and bitter peat right up front. Then those sharp almost-mincemeat fruitcake flavors hit the palate, but sour and marbled with what seem like off-notes. The fade is slow into tobacco and peat. Normally a long finish is a necessity in my whiskies. Here…shaving a few minutes off would not necessarily be a bad thing.

Hey…call me out on it if you think I’m wrong. Perhaps I have a faulty batch. The door is always open. I have a half bottle here only a few months old and any brave souls are welcome to have a go, and tell me I’m wrong.

Now…I gotta say something here to ease my conscience. There ARE some pleasant notes in here. It’s sort of like a faded old tapestry with the odd brilliantly colored thread woven throughout. In the end however…it still looks like an old rag.


Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:58 pm

  15 Responses to “Black Grouse Review”

  1. There’s a wide range of opinion on this stuff, far wider than there should be, in fact, without having to question product quality control or reviewer judgment. I’m not trying to be a mark fascist, but certainly there’s a strain at the edges of even subjective appraisal here. On one hand, Jim Murray gives the Black Grouse a 94, putting it comfortably above JW Blue Label (88). On the other hand, Ralfy won’t even review it because it doesn’t meet minimum muster for an 80-class whisky. In theory, there must be a camp of moderates, but I can’t count myself among them; Black Grouse is terrible. There’s too little malt surrounded by too much grain spirit in a whisky that’s simply too young. I give it a 66, would warn anyone away from it, and think that Edrington has a lot of nerve selling/promoting this as the “step up” from the venerable base model. One can damn with faint praise, by why use the wrong tool for the job?

    • I haven’t tried this, nor any other blends, since I bought a bottle of “Black Bottle” per Ralfy’s recommendation and found it to be no better than horse piss. I have tried three times over several months and still end up pouring it out. Luckily it didn’t cost much! I have since checked with Malt Maniacs and Serge doesn’t rate “BB” well (70, which is 20 more than I would give it). Guess we have to check all opinions, and then still it is buyers beware.

      As for blends, I’ll probably just make my own with the bottles of single malt I have, if and when I get the urge. Actually, I think I’ll just blend different drams in my stomach, like I always do.

  2. Good info, Robert, as Black Bottle was one that was on my radar. I’m not anti-blend per se, but it’s almost always a trade-off of flavour/power for simple drinkability. I liked Monkey Shoulder a great deal, despite the modest reviews, and I think Black Bull 12 is interesting. A 50/50 malt/grain spirit mix, bottled at 50% ABV, BB12 is as substantial as many vats (which I do prefer over blends), certainly a couple of the Compass Box products. But priced at $68.70 in Ontario, it’s not an easy choice to make over many second-tier single malts.


    • My apologies to Monkey Shoulder; it is a vat, or blended malt, made of Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie, and not a blended whisky.

    • I am a big fan of the PEAT MONSTER from Compass Box. It is a blended malt but has a full flavour and complexity and a great peat punch.

      However, having tasted JW Blue, I agree that one can do better than some blends with a cheaper single malt. I’d take an Aberlour (any of them) over a JW any day.

  3. I’m not a blend expert at all, so maybe I was harsh, but I doubt it. The last blend I experienced before this Black Bottle was Crown Royal, and that was a loooonnnnggg time ago. I’ve stuck with SM’s, beer and bourbon, in that order. However, I’d like to experience some blends that at least come close to the quality of my SM collection, or why bother? Serge liked the JW Double Black, but I can’t find it. He also recently gave a
    good review to Buchanan’s 18, but for the same price ($85) I can get a bottle of Corryvrecken and one of Ardmore TC. Not sure blends are worth the money compared to SM or even good bourbons. Let me know if I’m off course on this.

    • Always good to hear from you, Robert! I don’t personally think you’re off base on blends; I think that, as you’re getting less malt, and less ABV, the price should reflect that, particularly where there is no age statement (by the way, check out the Whisky Advocate Blog “Miscellaneous whisky news” note about Macallan possibly taking its Fine Oak range NAS). JW Blue and Gold Labels are good examples where hype, and price, has exceeded performance. One blend I do like is Islay Mist 8 (an 86 for me) because the malt is Laphroaig, it’s well-balanced, and inexpensive (LCBO – $29.95). I’m looking forward to Ralfy’s upcoming take on the Double Black, although I’ll probably do a bar sample rather than buy a bottle. Did the Macallan Cask Strength tonight – substantial!


      • I’m looking forward to Ralfy’s double black review as well. I have tried it once. Not too memorable. More of the same in my opinion.

        • That certainly jives with what I’ve been reading about Double Black, Dave: peatier and smokier than Black Label, but unlikely to impress an Islayphile. And it may be another example of the trumped up “black/rogue” whisky craze that gave us the Black Grouse.

  4. I found James Buchanan’s Special Reserve 18 at my brother in law’s store for $58 and decided to give it a shot, as Serge liked it. Poured a dram of this, Black Bottle and HP 12 for comparison purposes. Still think the BB is poor, but will up it to 65. Must have previously tasted worse in comparison to good Islays. HP 12 is a reference for me and there are similarities in taste to the Buchanan. Surprise is that the Buchanan was better than HP 12! It actually is quite good, especially after a bit of water and sitting for 30 minutes. Has spiciness/ burn of cinnamon, vanilla, orange, but is quite smooth. Also has an old wet wood nose/ taste to it (oak, of course). Does taste like old whisky! I give it 88.

  5. Nice surprise about Buchanan’s Special Reserve! Can’t get it here, but I’ll keep my eyes open. The high 80’s to 90 is where I normally find most blends top out (Blue and Black Labels, Chivas Regal Revolve 17, etc.) – smooth enough, maybe too smooth, but not enough ummph. On the other hand, it probably does take a superior nose/palate to find all the elements in a really good blend because of the muting from the grain spirit. Sláinte!

    • Keep in mind that I paid $58 for this bottle, which is $1 less than a bottle of Corryvrecken and about $14 more than a HP 12. It’s not a cheap one, but I do find it very interesting. Has the nose and taste of a bottle someone found on the shelf in their Granny’s back room closet that has been sitting there for decades. Definitely has old stuff, even older than the 18 on the bottle. Not a bit of “fresh” nor “clean” in this bottle.

      Interesting fact – apparently this is also a favorite of Latins in North, South, and Central America. My brother-in-law says he can’t keep enough of it on hand, as they really love it. Serge somewhat referred to this, but I didn’t understand what he was talking about. Not sure why, but it is good. Must be part of Diageo’s worldwide marketing strategy (possibly due to the absence of peat, which many northern Euros love).

  6. I certainly envy you your prices, Robert. HP 12 is $64.95 at the LCBO and Corryvrecken, when you can get it, is a mind-numbing $182.95, but it’s no secret that the Ontario whisky drinker is gouged deeply and repeatedly at every turn. I think I know what you might mean about the nose, maybe simliar to Blue Label – the reserved, old, “important” drawing room nose, kind of stuffy, complex and confused, but let me know if I’m off track. Your note about the absence of peat raised kind of a strange question to me: can peat be a “cheat” in that it conceals the flaws in otherwise inferior whisky?


    • I had to think about this one. Maybe, in some cases, although I understand unpeated Caol Ila is quite good. It’s too hot to try out your hypothesis, as most peaty whiskys don’t taste as good when you are sweating buckets. I had a dram of Corry last night from my older bottle and I didn’t enjoy it as I have in the past. Same goes for the other “Big Peats”. However, the Ardmore TC, which is sweet and fruity with a bit of peat coming in after, is very tasty. I’ll check again when the temp is more moderate, like October. Currently 41C here (2:30 pm), so my peat collection is safe for the time being. Also why I mention a bit of ice now and then.

  7. Waaaay late to the party here, but I believe Black Grouse has been rebranded as “Famous Grouse Smoky Black.” Not sure if the juice is identical, but the contemporary stuff is actually pretty quaffable. Given the attractive price point, I found this blend to offer just the right easy-drinking amalgam of fruit, light peat, cereal, and floral notes. It’s not amazing, but I’d definitely give it much higher than 71.5/100.

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