I was there a bit early as I came directly from work, but our hosts let us wait for the other guests at the upstairs scotch bar (win!) and served two delicious cocktails mixed with Famous Grouse whiskey to stir our appetite for the whisky to come (double win!).
I tried both cocktails (of course), starting off with the Black Grouse Julep, which was a great blend of grape juice, fresh mint, and the Black Grouse whisky. The drink itself was mellow, with a refreshing bitter flavor and a long finish of Black Grouse. I haven’t been the biggest fan of julep cocktails in the past but this one nailed a perfect balance of sweet and bitter. Something I’d never hesitate to order again in the future!
The second cocktail was the Famous Smash, which was a stark contrast to its julep counterpart. This cocktail was fused from black currant juice, simple syrup, Famous Grouse whisky and topped with fresh fruit. This one had a potent fruity presence, tart and sweet, with that same warm soothing finish of delicious Grouse whisky.
When our compliment of guests had all arrived and settled down with one or two cocktails (or more, I had another julep!) we were invited upstairs by Dan Volway, the Canadian Brand Ambassador of the West Coast. We all settled into a prepared lounge as Dan introduced his colleague, the Edrington Portfolio Ambassador for the East Coast, Nicolas Villalon.
Together, the two gentlemen gave us a quick overview of the history and purpose of Famous Grouse, and a hint at our upcoming task as whisky blenders, before introducing us to the four glasses of whisky each guest had sitting in front of them at the lounge.
Dan guided us through a simple tasting of the four, starting with the Famous Grouse, the whisky that we would soon attempt to replicate in our whisky lab. He gave us a few good hints on how to properly taste a good whisky, how to pick up on all the subtle notes, before moving us onto the mysteriously labeled ‘Spicy’ glass. The challenge of whisky blending, he explained, was the ability to take several components, and balance their individual notes and flavors, into a drink that would bring out the best in each. Famous Grouse, for example, has two well known components in its blend; Highland Park and Macallan. What other whiskeys it contains, and their ratios, is all, of course, a well guarded secret.
After our mysterious ‘Spicy’ whisky, he had us try the Black Grouse whisky, which is a newer label, but holds an unbelievable amount of flavor. It just might be one of my new favorites, and for all the flavor you get out of the whisky, it isn’t as expensive as its peers!
We finished the tasting with another mystery whisky, ‘Smoky’ which I believe, being an avid fan of Highland Park, was that very same whisky.
After the tasting, we were all shuffled into the next room, which was set up as a ‘whisky laboratory’, complete with beakers and graduated flasks to help us in our given task: to recreate the Famous Grouse whisky we had tasted moments before.
Each station had its control, a tasting glass of the true Famous Grouse, as well as our beaker and flasks, empty tasting glasses to test with, and six mysterious bottles labeled after the dominant flavor of each whisky we’d blend with (Grain, Spicy, Citrus, Fragrance, Vanilla, and Smoky).
The event was absolutely fun. My team consisted of two other lovers of the drink, and we went through a meticulous process of adding each flavor into our blend slowly, keeping the largest portion of our blend as ‘Grain’. After two failed batches (which we drank of course. It’s still whisky!), we felt pretty confident with our third. It wasn’t perfect, and we would have loved to make another attempt, but our ‘Grain’ bottle had run dry.
In the end the team right next to us won first place! But, really, who can be upset in a competition of blending and drinking whisky. We all won that night.