This is the first year I've paid a great deal of attention to London Cocktail Week, partly because I'm more into the exploration side of my liquids now but also due to the odd trade invite or two that pop into the inbox. Due to an insane schedule at the minute I had to prioritise and decided to accept the invitation of The Famous Grouse to join them for a flight and some blending.
The night started well enough with Kirsty and my first UK visit to Shake Shack, great burgers and wow what a peanut butter milkshake. We then casually sauntered through tourist-packed Covent Garden to The Thomas Neal Centre where The Famous Grouse had taken up residence in an unused retail unit and turned it into an oak emporium that celebrated not only the core SKUs but the component parts and boasted some rather fantastic glass wear.
Brand ambassador David talked us through the blending process in detail, noting some of the malts from the forty or so that make up each liquid in The Famous Grouse range, eloquently describing how the master blender weaves lots of different flavours together to create a consistent flavour that is both timeless and recognisable.
Two highlights, for those unaware, were that The Macallan is one of the forty, as is the great ‘topping malt’ Glenrothes.
Factoids such as 90%ish of all distilleries use the same barley, blends are essentially a skeleton of grain fleshed out with malt, The Macallan has ‘curiously small’ stills were all delivered with passion, eloquence and a very animated presentation.
What was also intriguing was how passionate The Edrington Group, who own The Macallan, Highland Park and The Famous Grouse amongst others was about wood.
‘The wood matters’, we heard along with how they had spent over £2million on used casks in 2013, more than the rest of the Scotch whisky industry combined.
Then we got onto the tasting.
A flight of three core The Famous Grouse SKUs:
I’m a sucker for The Black Grouse, always have been, and as David said himself; it is a blend that can turn malt snobs into blend drinkers. A nice, often unsung story behind the 50p of all bottle sales going to save the endangered black grouse was mentioned, apparently donations now top £200,000.
Finally, the main event. We were to become apprentice blenders (definitely not master blenders) for the night.
Everyone had their own blending station with various regular strength whiskies lined up in chunky glass decanters noted only by their flavour profile. Next to that was a measuring tube, a funnel and two bottles to pour your creation into once you were happy.
I had always wanted to have a go at blending, only doing so in the most amateurish fashion at home a couple years back and failing miserably and now was my chance.
Being a fan of peated whiskies I dived in to pour warmly half my bottle volume full of the ‘medium peat’, then a quarter of the spicy resinous profile and finally adding the one denoted as citrus to finish off. Kirsty opted to balance hers more with a quarter of medium peat, a quarter of spice, some vanilla and some citrus, calling hers Spicy Bog. Mine was the likely name of The Dramazing Blend, how droll.
Once the blends were funnelled and our bottles labelled one bottle went for judging, with the prize being a trip to the distillery and the other was slipped into our bags.
We enjoyed celebratory cocktails, some brand chat and eventually headed on our way.
Now the trade events are done, anyone can pop in for a dram, a cocktail and a lesson in The Famous Grouse. Well worth it if you’re in London this week and make sure you try The Black Grouse, you’ll thank me for it.