Will the grouse fly in North America?
Friday, August 22, 2008 | 01:10 PM ET
by Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca
Famous Grouse has been offering free whiskey tastings on Prince Edward Island this summer, part of a plan to reclaim some market share in North America.
Famous Grouse bills itself as Scotland's favourite whisky, but sales have been a bit stagnant in the last few years in North America, and the distillery turned to the gentle island of P.E.I. for help.
The distillery was planning an entirely new way to market scotch in North America, as a base for mixed drinks. Generally considered verboten in North American, distillery spokesman John Muldoon told CBC News earlier this summer that it is not at all unusual in Scotland.
"Scotch has been mixed for many, many years, way back to the start of the Grouse brand the founder himself talked about it being drunk neat to warm you up, and mixed to refresh you," said Muldoon.
"There's a long history of serving scotch mixed."
But would the idea fly? This is where P.E.I. comes in. The thinking is the Island in the summer is the perfect test market for North America. Its high tourism traffic means it has representatives from all over available in one location. That turnover of people also provides an opportunity to change your strategy on the fly. If you find something isn't working one week, you'll have a new audience the next to try something different on.
Three whiskies — Famous Grouse No. 1, already marketed in North America; the Snow Grouse, billed as scotch for people who don't like scotch; and the Naked Grouse, easy drinking whisky — were part of the test market. Each was offered up straight (Snow Grouse ice cold) and No. 1 and Naked were also presented as part of a mixed drink.
The people who didn't like scotch didn't like it ice-cold either, it turned out. Snow Grouse was not doing well in the test market. A local restaurateur suggested it mixed well in a margarita instead of tequila, so that was added to the test.
So how is it? Well, all three whiskies are mostly unsurprising. Smoother than you might expect, but lacking in any depth. Pretty good as bar scotches go.
And mixed? The no. 1 went with ginger ale, leading to a generally muddy taste: smoke, spice, sweet coming together in entirely undefined ways. Ginger beer might have been better. The Snow Grouse was entirely drowned in the margarita mix. You might just as well put in vodka. The Naked cola…
May god have mercy on my soul, but this was actually pretty good. I'm not a cola fan, so I would never drink it, but the smoky peat and sweet cola actually blended quite nicely, far better than the sweet and sweet of a rum and coke.
For Prince Edward, the important reviews on this pilot project will not be on the scotch, but on how P.E.I. performed as a test market for North America. If the reviews from Famous Grouse are good, regardless of the reviews for Famous Grouse, there could be more freebies for tourists and Islanders alike in years to come.
Would you drink scotch in a mixed drink?
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From trends and culture to politics and nutrition, Food Bytes serves up tasty tidbits about food and the issues surrounding it that flavour our everyday lives.
About the writers
Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.
Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.
Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.
Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).
Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.
Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.
Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.
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