On the back of the trophy win for Famous Grouse 40 year old blended malt at this year’s International Spirits Competition, I spoke to Gordon Motion, The Edrington Group’s master blender since 1998 about the whisky, the win and blended Scotch.
Tell me a bit about what goes into making a 40 year old Famous Grouse?
For something of this age, you’re really limited in the stock. So, while generally you would call in all the samples of casks that you’d think would be suitable, in this case, there weren’t that many. There were only four. We had to test them all to make sure they were okay and get strengths on them and then say, ‘Right what can we create from this?’ In this case, just putting four casks together wouldn’t have left things in the right proportions so we decided to take a little bit out of one of the casks, and just use that small amount mixed with the other three casks. It’s not about saying, ‘Right we’ve got these four casks and all of that can go in’, it’s about figuring out what proportions they go in.
Do you think people will be surprised to see Famous Grouse with such an old age statement?
We did a 30 year old malt a number of years ago at very small volumes and we haven’t produced it for a while. So, yes, Grouse is probably better known as a blended whisky and I think there will be a certain amount of surprise but that’s what gets people talking.
You won an ISC trophy for the 40 year old – what was that like?
Very gratifying – all the judges were master blenders from around the world and the fact they chose that one to be the trophy winner is quite humbling, so I’m really pleased and proud of that.
Do you have any plans to do any other special releases for Grouse?
It’s certainly something that has come up a lot more in recent years across the Edrington Group. When I joined the company we had three or four new products a year over the whole range of the whiskies we had and now we’re getting three to four new products a month. The brand teams are always looking for something new so you’ll probably find a lot more specials coming out as limited releases, maybe one or two a year specifically for the Grouse brand, which gives me an additional challenge because I have to be continually coming up with something new.
Looking at the wider picture, some people can be snobby about blended whisky – what’s your take on that?
It all depends on your taste – we’re trying to cater for everybody here and some single malts can be too restricted in their flavour profile. I mean if something is really peated not all people will like that but if you can blend it, smooth it down with different malts, you start to appeal to more people.
We use the analogy that it’s like an orchestra: if you’ve got a single malt it’s one single instrument, playing a solo; if you start to put them all together you get an orchestra. And sometimes an orchestra can sound better than a single player.
Why would you recommend someone try a blended whisky?
It’s a whisky for a different occasion, I mean I drink both – it just depends what mood I’m in. If I’m looking for a nice light smoother flavour I go for a blend, or for something more complex I go for a single malt
Look out for a review of both the 40 year old Famous Grouse and the more widely available Black Grouse Alpha Edition on Monday.