Snow Grouse, eh? To begin with I thought it was a new ad campaign for its more famous cousin: you know, a blank white poster with 'S'No Grouse' as the tag, but apparently not. This, the latest addition to the Grouse family, comes in a frosted bottle with instructions to serve 'seriously chilled'. It's a "blended grain". (Does anyone else think that looks, well, wrong? "Blended with what?" "Grain." "No, with what?" "More grain." 'Oh...") Anyway, the lovely PR department at Edrington talks about it being for "consumers looking for something new and different." of how it is "a light, delicate and vanilla sweet whisky [sic] with a uniquely smooth taste," that it's been "smoothchill filtered" (TM) and has a "sweet gloopy mouth-feel" [sic] and a cool taste sensation when served 'seriously chilled'." The words seem to echo another whisky, long forgotten, one I'd shelved in the dustiest corner of the mind, until it seemed to leap into my hand when I was faced recently with the remnants of Michael Jackson's whisky library. If it was hard to believe that it's a year since that great heart stopped, then this sight brought that fact home with depressing finality. Is this collection of halfempty bottles all that's left of my old friend? Can I read them like runes, trying to piece together the man from these liquid fragments, these puddles of spirit?
Then one bottle seems to levitate out of a box filled with nondescript malts: Jackson's Row it's called. It sports a yellow label. saying that it's an "All Malt Blond Scotch Whisky". I remember it now: a vatted malt from the early 90s made by Diageo or whatever they were called at that time.
I also recall the slightly too high-pitched laughter from that firm's older whisky hands when its name is mentioned.
Here's MJ's take on what he called "a marketing-driven curiosity": "Described in its publicity as 'an authentic Scotch...that breaks the rules.' A blond all malt...based on Glenkinchie...Old enough to be mellow and heavily filtered for a 'pure, smooth, unforgettably clean [sic] taste," to be served cold to compete with vodka on the youth market." Sound familiar?
By the way, this most generous of men scored it 55, the lowest score in his Companion by some distance.
With Snow Grouse, Edrington is doing what distillers have been attempting to do since the late 80s, turn vodka-drinking youngsters onto the charms of Scotch by changing the liquid. It's a shaking up of preconceptions and therefore should be applauded.
The downside is that the pack dictates the serve. Although the direction to serve frozen opens up (new-ish) possibilities for Scotch, it also closes as many down. Frozen whisky is hardly new. Other have tried it either as a part of a whisky dinner or as a new serve. It works, I love the slow release of flavours and the change in texture when frozen Dalwhinnie is paired with chocolate, but it's a dinner party trick that's never made it onto a restaurant list.
Equally, the frozen serve has real dangers attached to it and I can't help but wonder whether Snow Grouse will end up like Walker Gold, forgotten in the freezer like a mammoth encased in Siberian ice. The frozen serve, while hugely interesting and fun is also, as Gold showed, fashion led. Hip for a short time then forgotten because someone forgot to say the whisky also worked perfectly at normal temperature. Having tried Snow Grouse at both I prefer it at close to room temperature which makes me wonder whether if you're going down the grain route then why not open up the discussion to talk of versatility?
What would MJ think of this new Jackson's Row? He'd have smiled and said. "There's nothing new under the sun buddy. Write about it.That's what we do." So, please, re-read his words. The secret of a man does not lie in his possessions, but in his actions and MJ's still soar.