The Famous Grouse: Looking Back at History

Under the current ownership of the Edrington Group, The Famous Grouse has remained the highest selling whisky brand in Scotland since the 1980s. The Famous Grouse remains an old favourite with the Scottish crowd. The brand has as colourful a history as a kilt-- and all of it began in the Scottish city of Perth.

The Merchant of Perth

A wine and spirits merchant by the name of Joseph Brown settled by the River Tay in Perth. He opened a grocery store in 1800, selling a variety of luxury goods like wines from France, candied berries, and sweet delights. Brown sourced scotch from other parts of Scotland, but the Brown family was not involved in the whisky distilling business. Sales peaked. Soon, Brown shifted his shop to 22 Athol Street. This shop was the foundation to The Famous Grouse and was home to the brand for 99 long years.

A Girl Named Margaret

Brown’s daughter, Margaret, showed a keen interest in her father’s business ever since he opened a grocery store in Perth. She assisted her father with the accounts and procurement of scotch from different places. By 1824, the reins of the shop were in Margaret’s hands. And she, being the farsighted lady she was, did a phenomenal job of expanding the trade. Margaret Brown is one the few and rare instances of a woman helming a family business in spirits and wine. Her prowess was unmatched, not only during her time but even in the years following her death.

Margaret married Matthew Gloag in 1817, a man who had worked at the cellar of Sheriff Clerk of Perthshire for 30 long years. Gloag was a man of knowledge when it came to wines and spirits, but it was his talented wife Margaret who acquired a license to market wine, alcoholic beverages and snuff in and around Perth in the year 1831. Within four short years, Gloag was to join hands with his lovely wife in running her family business.  Although Margaret had handled the family trade till now, Gloag’s expertise and sharp business acumen suited the business temperament better than hers. Matthew Gloag was in the driving seat soon.

The Queen’s Visit

Her royal highness, Queen Victoria visited the Earl of Mansfield in 1842. She was accompanied by Prince Albert and Perth geared up for the royal visit. Now, with the Queen of England as a guest, Perthshire was busy offering the best of the very best to Her Majesty. Matthew Gloag had a good reputation among his customers and he was called upon to serve the Queen and the Prince during their stay. The Queen had a particularly soft spot for scotch and Scottish hospitality. Gloag’s decadent array of food and spirits won her heart. She commissioned the export of scotch to England. Matthew couldn’t have asked for more. Business grew by leaps and bounds, but it was still restricted to wines and luxury food items. After the death of Matthew in 1860, his son William inherited the property. He also walked the same path as his father.

The Nephew’s Gift

William Gloag’s nephew William III was the man who first came up with an in-house blended scotch, Brig o’ Perth in 1896. The scotch was hugely successful and a year later, in 1897, William launched the brand, naming it The Grouse Brand.  He’d soon add another brand, notable The Famous Grouse to his business repertoire later the same year. Although The Famous Grouse was sold at a lower price than The Grouse Brand, in about 10 year time, The Famous Grouse overtook The Grouse Brand in sales.

Philippa, William III’s daughter had drawn a sketch of Scotland’s favourite game bird and her sketch became emblematic of the brand’s identity. The US Prohibition of the 1920s may have affected their overseas whisky sales, but at the same time the brand a found an up and coming market in West Indies, Latin America and Canada.

The journey so far had been a rosy one. But tragedy struck when William III’s grandson, who also happened to be a major shareholder in the company died a sudden death. Estate duty was also at an all-time high. The sudden, severe monetary crunch lead the Gloags’ sell their business to the Highland Distillers in 1999. But, William III stayed on as an advisor to the company, carrying the family legacy till his last breath.

The Famous Grouse was purchased by the Edrington group towards the end of 1999. Since then, there has been no looking back. The Famous Grouse remains one of the oldest and most loved scotch brands all over the world.