How The Famous Grouse Became an International Whisky Icon

How The Famous Grouse Became an International Whisky Icon

Back in 1896, Matthew Gloag simply wanted to share a whisky with friends after a long day of work. His dream not only became a reality but led to the creation of The Famous Grouse brand.

A grocer by trade, Gloag made the now-iconic blended whisky in his shop on Atholl Street. Just like he blended his own tea, he began blending a variety of different whiskies together, intent on finding just the right blend of quality and flavor. The brand continues to use his recipe to this day. While his original intention may not have been to distribute his Scotch outside of Perthshire, in central Scotland, as time went on his ambition grew.

In 1897, Gloag launched his very own whisky brand: The Famous Grouse. Taking inspiration from his home’s verdant countryside and its favorite pastime, he named it for Perthshire’s game bird. He decided to put its likeness on the label, enlisting his daughter, Phillipa, to draw the first red grouse that would help make the brand an instantly recognizable, international icon. The Famous Grouse, according to consumer market research agency NielsenIQ, has been the number one best-selling whisky in Scotland since 1980!

So how did Gloag’s whisky, conceived in his modest grocery store, become an international sensation? While the brand’s distinct label and humble mascot have proven invariably recognizable, it’s the consistency and quality of the liquid inside the bottle that have kept loyal fans coming back year after year.

From the beginning, achieving a distinct and approachable blend was important to Gloag. Today, that obsession with quality and approachability—both on its own and as a base in cocktails—persists under the direction of master blender Craig Johnstone.

The distinct character of the whisky comes from the distillery’s use of hand-selected sherry casks and a hands-on approach to each element of the blend. Johnstone—one of the few people who knows the Grouse’s “recipe”—and his team are tasked with nosing and tasting each cask that will end up in a blend, totaling about 80,000 cask checks each year. Blenders nose around 600 samples each day to ensure each of the 43 million bottles enjoyed in Scotland and beyond are consistent in aroma, flavor and character.

Each element that goes into creating a bottle of The Famous Grouse, from the bottle design to the final quality check by Johnstone, stays loyal to Gloag’s vision that’s helped it remain relevant in an ever-changing spirits industry.

Professional and amateur bartenders alike consistently reach for The Famous Grouse as a flavorful base for decades-old classics like the Rob Roy and the Blood and Sand, as well as for newer creations, like the modern classic cocktail the Penicillin.

The Famous Grouse’s continued popularity after more than 125 years is a testament to Gloag’s commitment to quality and flavor—as relevant to modern drinkers across the globe as it was to Scots in Perthshire in 1897.

This article is produced in sponsorship with one of our spirited partners.

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