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You could call it the infamous grouse.
It fell from the sky, hitting the late Queen Elizabeth II on the shoulder.
The Queen was hiking in the fields and hills near the River Dee near Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands in the early autumn of 1995. What troubled Her Highness was not a piece of space debris or a engine bolt dislodged from an aircraft above.
It was a grouse. A dead person.
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The poultry took flight. But then met its creator – and the Queen – virtually at the same time, plunging airs.
The queen was dazed and slightly bruised. But otherwise unscathed. It’s ironic because one of the Queen’s favorite drinks was The Famous Grouse, a blended Scotch whiskey produced at the Glenturret distillery in the southern Highlands of Scotland.
We don’t know if the bird that crashed into the queen was THE famous grouse itself.
But the incident made this particular bird perhaps the most famous grouse in all of Scotland.
Apart from whisky, of course.
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The Famous Grouse was one of the Queen’s most beloved whiskey drams. His late sister, Princess Margaret, loved The Famous Grouse so much that a few bottles were often shipped ahead of time when she traveled. UK embassies around the world also knew to stock The Famous Grouse if Margaret passed by.
Queen Elizabeth granted The Famous Grouse a ‘Royal Warrant’ in the 1980s. This is a special status the Crown grants to certain businesses and businesses to provide goods and services to the family royal.
The British people seem to have taken their inspiration from the Queen. Famous Grouse is historically the best-selling Scotch in the UK.
The Famous Grouse was known as “The Grouse” until the early 20th century. Then the name was changed.
And “The Grouse” became famous.
The other malts that make up The Famous Grouse come from Highland Park in the northern Orkney Islands, Macallan in the Speyside region and the aforementioned Glenturret.
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While The Famous Grouse may represent one of the most poured drams in the Balmoral saloons, the Queen and her predecessors have also embraced a more “local” libation.
One mile southeast of Balmoral Castle is the Royal Lochnagar Distillery. “Royal” tells you everything you need to know.
Prince Albert bought the land around Balmoral in the mid-19th century for his wife, Queen Victoria. The valleys and ravines of the Scottish Highlands allowed the royal family to escape from public view in London. It is said that Queen Victoria took a liking to the expressions produced on the road to Balmoral at the new distillery.
Victoria granted Royal Lochnagar a Royal Warrant in 1848.
Royal Lochnagar 12 Year Old is a creamy, custardy expression you’ll often find on American shelves.
The multinational Diageo now owns Royal Lochnagar. Diageo produces everything from Captain Morgan to Guinness to Pimm’s. It also has 28 distilleries in Scotland, each of which contributes to the production of one of the best-known blended scotches on the planet: Johnnie Walker.
You can find a few drops of whiskeys made from Caol Ila, Talisker and Cardhu at Johnnie Walker. But you can bet there are also a few splashes of Royal Lochnagar at Johnnie Walker.
Diageo has produced a special set of “Game of Thrones” whiskeys from several of its Scottish distilleries. Among them was “The House of Baratheon”, a 12-year-old malt that pays homage to Stormlands on the east coast of Westeros from the series.
Queen Elizabeth loved the Scottish Highlands and the grounds around Balmoral. She and her family retired to Balmoral from July to October each year. A skilled sportswoman, the late Queen enjoyed riding in the Highlands. She enjoyed fishing and even deer hunting.
But Scottish Highland malts aren’t the only drams enjoyed by the royal family.
Then head southwest to the islands of the Inner Hebrides. There you will find Islay, which advertises itself as “The Whiskey Isle”.
When it comes to whisky, Scotland basically has “two Napas”. Speyside is the larger region to the north. And then there is Islay.
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Bowmore (pronounced boh-MOHR, with emphasis on the second syllable) is one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries. The government first licensed Bowmore in 1779 – although Bowmore is believed to have been distilling illicit whiskey long before that.
Bowmore produced a special cask just for Queen Elizabeth in 1980. But it was never bottled until 2002. Known as Queen’s Cask, the Crown auctioned off a few bottles each year for charity.
The UK will undoubtedly witness a host of new customs and traditions under the reign of King Charles III.
This includes Scotch whiskey preferences.
Highland malts like Royal Lochnagar and The Famous Grouse are more floral and sweet. But expressions of Islay are invigorated with hints of peat, smoke, charcoal, rope and even nautical themes.
Laphroaig (pronounced luh-FROYG) is located at the southern tip of Islay. Laphroaig features one of the most distinct nose and paddle presentations in the industry. There’s a bit of banana, clove and a surprising sweetness in a pinch of Laphroaig. But Laphroaig is a powerful malt. Laphroaig devotees sometimes compare its tastes to magic marker, bandages, iodine, beach campfire, and seaweed.
Yours truly even characterized Laphroaig’s essences as “the wet math homework ink of the 1970s elementary school mimeograph machine”.
Laphroaig 10 is the standard version from this distillery and is readily available in the United States.
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King Charles – as Prince of Wales – granted Laphroaig a Royal Warrant in 1994. Charles visited Islay and Laphroaig specifically on several occasions. And while in recent years Charles has made visits to Laphroaig’s rival on Islay, Ardbeg, Royal Lochnagar and the continent’s most northerly distillery, Wolfburn, Laphroaig is said to be the sovereign’s favorite dram.
Specifically, Laphroaig 15 – if you can find it.
They can be royalty. But the visit of a member of the royal family to a distillery does not always have a royal impact.
The Queen opened the visitor center at the brand new Isle of Arran Distillery in 1997. It was the first legal distillery to open on Arran in 160 years. Elizabeth sailed to Arran on the final voyage of the royal yacht Britannia, now in drydock in Leith, Scotland.
The distillery displays a photograph of the Britannia heading for the island across the Firth of Clyde en route to Arran.
But the Queen’s visit may not have resonated.
During a visit to Arran in 2018, this reporter asked to see the location of the plaque noting the Queen’s pilgrimage. Several distillery employees rushed to see if they could locate the bronze sign, commemorating Elizabeth’s visit.
Alas, the embarrassed workers could not.
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I can only assume one thing:
Perhaps the plate was removed by an infamous grouse.