The humble game bird may just be one of the most underrated creatures in the animal kingdom, in culinary circles or as a quarry. In cooking terms, one would say “poultry”, another’s response would be “chicken”. If you pressed them for a second or a third you may hear “duck” or “geese”. Bygone are the days of noblemen and dukes, who own castles or estates whom would order their kitchen wenches or dogsbodies to fetch for them a dozen pheasants or a parcel of grouse. In still life paintings, we observe scenes of a Georgian Era kitchens in which we would see clay pots and pitchers, wicker baskets of fruits and grapes, pewter goblets of wine, and game birds, in any state of preparedness. Depictions of luxuriant attires, the indulgence of which the game bird was featured therein and exalted. Although thankfully, so too gone are the day where birds such as pheasants, grouse and quails were merely beheaded after they were dispatched. Old literature will instruct us to leave them to age in the kitchen with their internal organs left unremoved. During such a time, that without proper treatment and dressing of a game bird, or in fact any game animal for that matter, the meat would fall victim to the negative effects of the stomach acids, assuredly accelerated by the numerous puncture wounds from birdshot. Something that in medieval times was common practice and made the meat very gamy. Assuming it was still fit for human consumption at all. Something no self-respecting commercial butcher in the twenty first century would allow to occur, and therefore is something I have never tasted. Nowadays however, game birds are called such for a reason. In that only hunters, and those who go out of their way to raise them have the pleasure of consuming them. And while the humble game bird, as a meal or as a prospect may go underrated. There are those who use it as a mascot. The grouse, a decorated and usually colorful game bird. With a bearing and build not unlike the domestic chicken, and have a meat yield just short of one too. Hunting, in actuality, has a surprising significance in the identity of a number of well-known spirits. The crest on the label of Gordon’s dry gin bears a boar, in depiction of the legend that on a hunting trip, a member of the Clan Gordon saved the King of Scotland. Wild Turkey, was named on little more basis than an executive at the then Austin Nichols distillery, taking samples of bourbon the distillery had made on a hunting trip in nineteen-forty. For which his friends requested “that wild turkey bourbon”, and so the name stuck. And somewhere in Scotland, there is a label known as; The Famous Grouse. The Red Grouse, being the national game bird of Scotland.
Matthew Gloag was a grocer and wine merchant from the Scottish town of Perth who purchased whiskies from distilleries around Scotland to sell in his store, who was notable for supplying wine for the Royal Banquet when Queen Victoria visited Perth in eighteen-forty-two. In eighteen-sixty, his son William Gloag took over the company and began proceedings to create his own brand of blended whisky, after the advent of the phylloxera virus crippled the wine industry, and the drinking public’s supply of vin was tightened. The world’s attention, naturally, swayed to other liquors. In Scotland, whisky is the obvious answer. In eighteen-ninety-six, William’s nephew, also named Matthew Gloag, took over the family business and created a new label of blended whisky he christened – The Grouse. In nineteen-oh-five, the company grew and it came to be known by the name we know it by today. And then in nineteen-seventy, it was bought by the Highland Distillers, another company that was eventually purchased by that spirits conglomerate the Beam Suntory group. It has genuinely been sometime since I have actually tasted the whisky in question. The last time I remember having tasted The Famous Grouse, appropriately was the night following an afternoon of shooting. You’d almost think that the nostalgic wholesome aroma of ignited gunpowder and peated whisky were made for each other, complimenting one another. Not that the two were ever enjoyed in close proximity to another, mindyou. I say that in precaution, that much should go without saying to anyone of sound mind, but we all know the sorry state of the world we live in nowadays. I remember The Famous Grouse, as a pleasant, lighthearted and relaxed whisky but of masculine profile. With earthy character, and extremely subtle peat. I needed to mix the malt with water, to detect any peat at all. A very enjoyable tipple. So what of this bottle in variation of the Famous Grouse; The Naked Grouse. The name self evident, the body of the bottle in question, is completely clear. Going to big lengths to exhibit the malt within. The only opaque labelling at all, is at the very top of the neck, so as those unfamiliar have a fighting chance to actually place it’s identity. Engraved into the glass is the image of a grouse. The dark deep red of the whisky. Curiously, something on the blurb on the back caught my eye. And so I read. What I had come to possess, is yet another Scotch, aged in Oloroso sherry barrels. “We call them ‘naked casks’ because it’s the first time they have ever held whisky”. Fairly redundant, given last week’s article. Something that I hadn’t noticed before, on the shelves it appeared no different in color than the other whiskies. But perhaps, I should not view this as unhelpful repetitiveness, and more of a comparison. The Chivas Regal Extra, although took on some of the flavours afforded to it by the sherry barrels, in my opinion, fell short of the hook it publicized. The taste properties carried on from sherry, were so subtle and mild, were you not purposely seeking them out, would go completely unnoticed. Maybe then, the Naked Grouse, following in the shadow of it’s namesake, can succeed where Chivas Regal fell short.
Starting towards the bottle, from the naked exterior, we can easily observe that in this case the closer is a cork. A reassuring sign. The nose upon opening, is one faintly of peat, but also of ground coffee and chocolate, a soft rich fruity nose. Fair warning to those using speed pourers, the neck is a larger one, use your big ‘uns. On ice, the nose is mostly unchanged, the thicker fruity and coffee pungence present before scarcely seems worth mentioning. And finally, the moment of truth, the palettes pulls through a rich fruity taste, surely contributed by the sherry barrels. Laden with tastes of strawberry, red wine, chocolate, oak, sour and dry tastes interspersed with the sweet.
In summary: This, albeit, incidentally chosen sherry barrelled Scotch, is the whisky that the Chivas Regal should have been. Combining the easy-going leisurely character of The Famous Grouse, with Oloroso. A Scotch perhaps, beneficial for Christmas time, in the company of the traditional holiday trifle. You’ve heard a partridge in a pear tree, we’ll call this a grouse on a grape vine. Love it three thousand times. Cheers