...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Grand Old Parr 12 year old blended whisky

Every whisky we drink -- unless it's a single never-been-recasked cask bottled at its actual cask strength -- is a blend of some sort.  Like blended malts and blended whiskies, single malts are the result of multiple casks being combined and mixed together.  But it seems as if "blended whiskies", which still make up almost 90% of whisky volume, are treated by whisky geeks as an embarrassing cousin to or not even a relative of the single malts we obsess over.

For this snob, when it comes down to it, I'm not a big fan of the single grain whiskies I've tried.  Haven't hated any of them, but haven't discovered one that I'd buy.  And though there are many great blenders out there, quite often the grain whiskies in a blend mute the vivacity and depth of the malt whiskies.  Of course, that's no accident.  The major blends are designed to drink easily and not offend a large audience.

But otherwise, there are a number of blended whiskies (Nikka's From the Barrel, Ballantine's 17yo, JW Black Label, earlier versions of JW Gold Label, and Compass Box's goodies) which I like better than many single malts.  Many blends are very good.  Most are drinkable.  And they usually make for decent highballs.  My issues with lower shelf blends are actually similar to my problems with lower shelf single malts.  Most (if not all of them) have been watered down, filtered, and dyed.  It's only in the blends I really dislike (Cutty and Dewars White) that I start finding young cruddy grain whisky overwhelming the package.

But I'll always give a blend a try, whether it's a $10 bottle or a $100, though I'll go with the $10 bottle first every time.  That's not just because I am (trying to be) fiscally responsible.  A $10 bottle may prove to be a fantastic find or stomach churningly craptacular.

This week I'll be reporting on three Scotch blended whiskies, though only one of them drifts into the $10 range.  Since the Long Beach summer lasts through November now, I've been in the search for a good highball whisky.  So I'll start each one off as a highball before proceeding neatly.

Today, I'll start with Grand Old Parr 12 year old. There are three blends in the Old Parr regular range: a 12yo, 15yo, and 18yo. These blends are sold mostly outside of the US and UK, often in South America and Asia. While I've read positive reviews for the fifteen and eighteen, none of them match Jim Murray's declaration that the eighteen was the World Whisky of the Year in 2007. As usual, I haven't found a single person who agrees with his hyperbolic outburst. That doesn't stop me from wanting to hunt down a sample of it since old blends have, yes, old whisky in them.

The Old Parrs are named after Tom Parr who, legend has it, lived until the age of 152. He even got married at 122; and if they say he was still fulfilling his marital requirements at age 122, then I'd call bulls**t on that long before the claim of his final lifespan.

But if he was doing so, then it's about time we dig him up from under Westminster Abbey and beat the secret out of his corpse.


Brand: Old Parr (though it sells 1 million cases annually, it hasn't earned itself a website)
Ownership: Diageo (boo)
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: at least 12 years
Blend: malt and grain whiskies (Cragganmore might be a main ingredient, per Wikipedia)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chill-filtered? Yes
Caramel Coloring? Yes
(Thanks to Florin for the sample!)

HIGHBALL (1:2 whisky to club soda ratio)
A sweeter, more vanilla-ed alternative to Johnnie Walker Black.  A little bit of orange, a little bit of peat perhaps?  Has an extended finish of malt and citrus.

It's color is Diageo Gold™.  The nose leads with caramel and toasted oak.  There are also prettier elements like citrus peels and flowers sitting alongside some tougher young grain notes.  But with time, it grows richer with a big vanilla note, plum, sandalwood, and lime juice.  The palate has a good thick mouthfeel.  It's oily and sweet at first.  Then the vanilla and mild grains follow, and it grows more peppery as it progresses.  Some mint and toffee sneak in.  Brief moments of bitterness compliment the sweetness.  It might be maltier than the most recent version of Black Label.  There are cracked peppercorns and orange peels in the finish, then caramel and toffee.

Grand Old Parr 12 year old is an easygoing, well balanced blend which makes it a good option for a hot late summer.  It makes for a sugary highball and, when neat, the nose is the best part if you give it some time.  If you're a Chivas drinker and are looking for something similar but different, this is a good option.  In fact, it's arguably a more enjoyable drink.  Geeks looking for complexity and depth should look elsewhere.  And while it's not hyperbole worthy, there's probably nothing technically wrong with the blend.

Availability - Most specialty retailers and the occasional corner liquor store
Pricing - $30-$35
Rating - 81

Monday, September 29, 2014

Further failures in bourbon blending......

(Yes, I'm aware that these aren't all bourbons, but I was looking for lazy alliteration.)

Two weeks ago, I shared with you the brief tale of my solid number two.  I made three whiskies out of Balcones True Blue Cask Strength corn whiskey and Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond straight rye.  Whiskey #1 and #3 had their strengths, but their weakness tilted them out of favor.  Whiskey #2, an ultra-high rye bourbon, was good enough to bottle 600mL worth.

On September 2nd, I took the last dribbles of the Balcones True Blue CS, the remainder of the Koval Dark Millet, and some of the Koval Dark Rye whiskey (each 100% one grain) and did two experimental blends.  The idea was to create a bourbon and a rye, but using the extra light millet grain whiskey rather than a malted barley whiskey as the third grain in each.

On the surface it sounds relatively harmless, but there were two issues floating above the experiments.  Firstly, these were all super young whiskies that displayed nearly no maturation characteristics.  Secondly, I didn't particularly care for the way any of them tasted on their own.  There were positives in their noses, but not in the palates.  With my previous whiskies, #1, #2, and #3, at least I had Rittenhouse BiB bringing a little bit of age and luscious flavor to the mix.

#4 - Goal: Design a 51%-corn bourbon.  Result: Due to adjustments I had to make to take into consideration the whiskies' alcohol strengths as well as the microscopic milliliter adjustments, I had to settle for a 52%-corn bourbon.  Curses!

Approximate resulting mashbill: 52/24/24 (corn/rye/millet)
Approximate ABV: 47.4%
Quantity made: 30mL
Resting time: 22 days

Nose -- Turpentine, caramel, vodka, corn, apple-flavored candy.  Lightly smoky.  But that's before I air it out.  After giving it 20+ minutes in a covered glass something awful began to happen.  While it still smelled of caramel and sugar, a massive note of rotten fish began to emerge.  And it wouldn't go away.  Either it absorbed something weird from the air or I crossed the streams.
Palate -- Corn, apple juice, vodka, and paper. With the extra time in the glass it improved slightly, with some more sweetness and bitterness.  But it never reaches a drinkable quality.
Finish -- More paper.  Very drying.  With air it becomes chemically bitter.

Verdict:  Wow.  Bad.  I could not finish it.  Worse than the sum of its parts.

#5 - Goal: Design a rye with Rittenhouse's mashbill (37/51/12), substituting millet for barley.  Result: Due to the structural issues mentioned in #4's, I got pretty darn close

Approximate resulting mashbill: 37.6/52.6/9.8 (corn/rye/millet)
Approximate ABV: 45.1%
Quantity made: 30mL
Resting time: 22 days

Nose -- Less ugly than #4.  A little bit of rye spice sneaks in.  Some flower blossoms.  Vanilla.  Vodka.  Lots of corn pushes past the other elements.  With 20+ minutes in the glass there isn't much change.  Might be a little more sugary.
Palate -- Lots of bitterness.  No sweetness whatsoever.  Corn, paper (again), bland vegetation.  Very light, almost like a Canadian blend.  With time no major flavors develop.  Sort of semi-bitter / semi-sweet.  Sort of drinkable.
Finish -- Paper, corn, imitation vanilla extract, some bitterness and caramel.  Nothing changes with time.

Verdict:  Better than #4, but I still wouldn't drink it if it were free.

Both of these blends were crappy, though on different levels.  Aside from the bizarre rotten note, what was most disappointing was the feeling that in both instances I was drinking paper-flavored vodka (attention: makers of Cupcake Vodka...).  For a moment I considered blending #4 and #5 together, but then I decided that the whole thing needed to end promptly because...

The main lesson I learned from this blending experience is to not expect to suddenly create something good from elements one doesn't like in the first place.  Quality ingredients are the key to great dishes and cocktails.  Having at least one decent whisk(e)y may also be required in a blend.  So it's likely that one won't be able to salvage a bad whiskey by adding another one to it and then another one.

This week we'll see if professional blenders did a better job than I with the young whiskies they had at hand.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Blue Hanger (7th Release) Blended Malt

In 2013, the vatted malt named after the Third Lord Coleraine's attire preferences materialized on American liquor retailer shelves in its septenary edition.  In the previous (sixth) release, Doug McIvor and BB&R started to dabble in adding peat to Blue Hanger's recipe by including two Bowmore hogsheads.  Then in the seventh release, they upped the peat's intensity by adding very young peated malt from Bunnahabhain.  The size of the release was also expanded to 3,088 bottles.  And though it was again given no age statement, the cask specifics were detailed in its press release one full year ago...

Bruichladdich 1992 hogshead
Miltonduff 1997 hogshead
Miltonduff 1997 hogshead
Miltonduff 1997 hogshead
Miltonduff 1997 hogshead
Bunnahabhain 1990 sherry butt
Bunnahabhain Moine (peated) 2006 hogshead
Bunnahabhain Moine (peated) 2006 hogshead

Thank you to Eric S. for this sample!

Company: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Brand: Blue Hanger
Type: Blended Malt (formerly known as Vatted Malt)
Edition: 7th Release
Bottled: 2013
Ingredients and Age: See notes above
Alcohol by Volume: 45.6%
Limited release: 3,088 bottles

The color is medium gold.  The nose begins with peated dark chocolate and rubber bands.  This is followed by subtle sherry, tennis balls, jasmine flowers, toffee pudding, and vanilla extract.  The peat is intensely grimy at first, though it mellows with time, becoming more mossy and vegetal.  A nice pop of anise also shows up, alongside cardamom, and little sulphur.  A dense ashy peat jumps out in the palate; creating the feeling of a bunch of cigarette butts in the mouth.  It takes a moment before the sherry-ish dried fruits roll in.  Grape jelly.  Currants in dark chocolate.  It's never over-sweet and the bitterness never takes over.  The finish has a decent balance between sherry and ash.  Bitter cocoa, vanilla, and cigarette mouth.

This is a much different creature than the fifth release.  The choice of very young peated malt is a brave one.  Those two casks make the entire whisky feel much younger than the age carried by the other six casks.  I like the grimy peat, though it overwhelms the rest at times.  Once the whisky is aired out, the good sherry butt shines and the blend eases into a single unit.  It's comparable to Laphroaig Triple Wood.  They're not the same, but BH7 reminded me of Triple Wood quite a bit and the quality is very close.  Keep in mind that the Hanger is much scarcer, bottled by a smaller company, and 50% more expensive.

Availability - Still can be found at many specialty retailers
Pricing - $85-$90 in Minnesota (wuh?), $100-$120 in the rest of the states
Rating - 86

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Blue Hanger (5th Release) Blended Malt

I have one hour to write and post this report or else......I'll just have to post it tomorrow.

The Blue Hanger blended malts are created by Doug McIvor for Berry Brothers & Rudd.  The first edition had only Glen Grant and Glenlivet casks in it and was given a 25 year old age statement.  The second and third had the same distilleries but had a 30 year old age statements.  For the fourth release, more distilleries had joined the lineup and the age statement was dropped (though it was just under 20 years old at that point).  The next year, McIvor and BB&R tested three different potential versions at Whisky Live Paris in order to let those socialists democratically elect the 5th edition.

Here are the ingredients for the prototype selected and ultimately bottled in October 2010:
Clynelish 1997, hogshead #4704
Dufftown 1982, hogshead #18584
Glenlivet 1978, hogshead #13510
Mortlach 1991, sherry butt #5141
(Source: Roskrow, Dominic (Ed.). 1001 Whiskies You Must Taste Before You Die. New York, NY: Universe Publishing. 2012.)

And here's the sample I bought from Master of Malt:

Company: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Brand: Blue Hanger
Type: Blended Malt (formerly known as Vatted Malt)
Edition: 5th Release
Bottled: October 2010
Ingredients and Age: See notes above
Alcohol by Volume: 45.6%
Limited release: 1,155 bottles

Its color is a dark gold.  The nose leads with oranges, brown sugar, and nutty sherry.  That's followed by dried cherries, caramel candies, pear, and toasted oak.  There's a little grassiness and some salted beef (the cows who ate the grass, I suppose).  Gradually a note of honey cinnamon glaze develops, as does a bold one of mackintosh apple skins.  It's big sherry that hits first on the palate.  Tobacco, mint leaves, candy canes, something pepperish (which might be sulphur), and chocolate malt follow up next.  Also a subtle note of rosewater and little bit of salt.  It's not that sweet, which is appreciated.  There's a lot of sherry in the finish as well.  Madeira too; let's just say it's a fortified wine party.  Toasty grains and oak meet tart berries.  Nestle's milk chocolate and stewed cherries.

That single Mortlach sherry butt must have been a monster on its own because it holds court throughout.  The result is very similar to a version of Macallan that some of us wish still existed: dense, bold, malty, and loaded with fruits.  With the sweetness in control and the hint of sulphur in the background, the whisky is much more interesting than I had expected.  I think it's right up there with Compass Box's Spice Tree as my favorite vatted malt so far.  The apple skin note in the nose was lovely.  The tobacco/rosewater/sulphur combo really worked somehow, as if it was a Persian restaurant in a glass.  If you're sherry-phobic this won't work for you, but if you're not then good luck tracking down a bottle!

Availability - This release has mostly sold out, a few European stores may still have it
Pricing - £70 or more, especially if it's deemed "collectible"
Rating - 89

Monday, September 22, 2014

Notes from a tasting: Peatin' Meetin' Whiskies at Home, Part 5 (The Final Chapter)

In the beginning, there were thirteen samples...

...then there were the home tastings (here, here, here, and here)...

...and then there were three:

Here's the intro that I've been regurgitating:  Though I attended Peatin' Meetin' this year, I did not drink during the event.  Instead I picked up a baker's dozen samples, all of which I have been tasting in the controlled environment of my home.

Because most of the samples tended to be smaller than my usual reviewed samples, I haven't been providing number grades, instead I've used letter grade ranges.  Since I spent 45 minutes with each of these last three samples and I want to give them number grades.  Especially the final one.

I'll be listing these three in an order opposite of which I tasted them:

Ardmore 17 year old 1996 Gordon & MacPhail (43% ABV)
according to whiskybase this cask was matured in refill sherry hogshead
Color -- Gold
Nose -- Begins with paint fumes and paper. Needs a moment, then the citrus tones arise, followed by vanilla custard and caramel sauce.  With more air it grows more candied.  It's mostly oak though.  Something about it is reminiscent of Yamazaki 12, maybe it's the sherry + US oak.
Palate -- Thickly textured considering the ABV.  Smoked butterscotch, nougat, and toasted grains.  Soft bitterness and sweetness.
Finish -- Sweet and creamy with a hint of smoke and a little citric tartness.  Not very long though.

Nose -- Vanilla and malt. Cardboard in the distance, but limes and oranges up front.
Palate -- More bitterness, which is nice. More malt. Some wood smoke. Seems tighter and tarter.
Finish -- A wisp of smoke, more drying and bitter. Not much.

Verdict: I love Ardmore, but not this one.  It's only the second Ardmore I've found disappointing.  It's not bad, but it seems like not much more than an oaky high-malt blend; though I'm sure a 17-18 year old Teacher's would be much better.  The peat barely shows up, which is a shame because all of the '90s Ardmores I've had (before this one) register as peaty as Caol Ila.  With the vintages from 1990 to 1997, G&M have released reduced ABV single casks of Ardmore.  After tasting this one, I'm not sure why they water the casks down.  I won't be chasing after any of them, so at least I saved a few bucks in the process.
Rating: 79 (C+)

Springbank 17(ish) year old 1995 for The Whisky Exchange (56.5% ABV)
a single cask with a retro label bottled exclusively for TWE
Color - Pale amber
Nose -- Lemon, pineapple, citronella candles, tropical fruits, and melons are packed in the beginning.  Floral hand soap and almonds develop with time.  A strong alcohol burn remains throughout.
Palate -- Intensely nutty and bitter.  Very rich caramel meets sharp bitter peat.  Lemon Warheads candies.
Finish -- Bitter and drying. Lemon peel and almonds. Very simple.

Nose -- More nuts (almonds and walnuts), lemons, roses.  It's very grassy.  And something milky in the mix too.
Palate -- Brightens up a bit.  More tartness too.  Mango and lemon.
Finish -- Lemony malt.  Sweet and tart.

Verdict: As you can probably tell, the nose was a lot of fun.  The palate and finish were very mild and, frankly, bland for a Springbank.  The Whisky Exchange's site suggests that this might be a Longrow, but aside from the lemon notes I get nothing Longrow-like.  I would never have even guessed it was a Springer.  It's very pretty and grunge-free.  Almost peat-free too.  I probably would guess it was a Speyside or a mild Highland malt if I'd tried it blindly.  It's not bad by any means, especially the nose.  But, like with the Ardmore, the standards are set high.  I'd take this one over the Ardmore G&M though.
Rating: 81 (B-)

And to close it up...
Inchmoan (Loch Lomond) 11 year old 1994 for Whisky Fair (54.8% ABV)
cask 646, probably a refill bourbon barrel
Color -- Very light, like watered down pinot grigio
Nose -- Oh, so much stank.  At first sniff, there's the greasy industrial stuff missing from the Springbank but on a VERY intense level.  Then some moss, sugar, and baby powder.  But then something very bad starts to happen.  It smells of chemicals, as if it was made to unclog sinks and polish metal.  Then there are notes of cheap blends (Lauders, Clan Macgregor, Hanky Bannister).  Then it's a dead rat in the drywall.  Infected puss.  And vanilla extract with orange peel.
Palate -- Rotten bananas.  Garbage.  Lots of garbage.  Week-old Taco Bell dumpster garbage; I worked at Taco Bell in high school, I wore this scent on my purple uniform.  Then up bursts a ton of sugar and moss.
Finish -- Dumpster.  All dumpster.  An acrid chemical bitterness.

Nose --
Sour smells.  Cabbagey peat.  Industrial cleanser mixed with honey.
Palate -- Better, I guess.  Very bitter.  Less sugar.  Lots of veg.  Less garbage, though it still tastes unsafe.
Finish -- Bitter garbage.

Verdict: When I added water, I expected a dead body to float to the surface.  While this might have challengers amongst the worst single malts I've ever experienced, there is no doubt that this Inchmoan brings with it the worst finish ever.  While the nose is almost so bad that it's entertaining (Finlaggan-style), the palate is not funny.  And the finale made me nervous about what I'd consumed.  And if you're interested, The Whisky Exchange has it on sale.
Rating: 43 (F)

Yes, let's end on that note.

Here is the final Peatin' Meetin' Scorecard:
-- Balvenie 17 year old Islay Cask (OB, 43% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Loch Lomond Peated, green label (OB, 46% ABV) - Grade Range: D+/C-
-- Bowmore 16 year old 1990 Sherry Cask (OB, 53.8% ABV) - Grade Range: B-
-- Laphroaig 13 year old 1994 (Cadenhead, 54.7% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Bladnoch Lightly Peated 11 year old 2002 K&L exclusive (OB, 51.5%) - Grade Range: B
-- Longrow 10 year old Sherrywood (OB, 46% ABV) - Grade Range: B+/A-
-- Laphroaig 15 year old 1998 K&L exclusive (Signatory, 61% ABV) - Grade Range B/B+
-- Schlenkera Rauchbier Spirit (40% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Port Askaig 19 year old (Specialty Drinks, 50.4% ABV) - Grade Range: A-
-- Ardbeg Supernova SN2010 (OB, 60.1% ABV) - Grade Range: B/B+
-- Ardmore 17 year old 1996 (Gordon & MacPhail, 43% ABV) - Grade Range: C+
-- Springbank 17(ish) year old 1996 (The Whisky Exchange, 56.5% ABV) - Grade Range: B-
-- Inchmoan (Loch Lomond) 11 year old 1994 (The Whisky Far, 54.8% ABV) - Grade Range: F

The two big winners from the group were the Port Askaig 19 year old and Longrow 10 year old Sherrywood.  The Laphroaig '98 from Signatory and the Supernova 2010 were good but are not priced at a level I'd recommend to anyone.

The two big losers were both Loch Lomonds.  Official "Peated" NAS bottling is actually sorta drinkable.  The indie Inchmoan is not.

The highs didn't quite match the lows, but the whole experience was a lot of fun.  Thanks for sticking with this series.  Hopefully it was of some use to you.  Now it's time to move on.

Friday, September 19, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Compass Box Great King Street New York Blend

Yesterday I reviewed my sample of Peat Monster from Compass Box's regular range.  Today, I'll take a look at Compass Box's Great King Street New York Blend.

The Great King Street appears to be a series now.  First there was the Artist's Blend, which is the version you'll find most readily and priced the lowest.  Then there was the limited bottling of the New York Blend, released in 2012.  Last year there were a pair of Experimental Blends released in Europe.  This year there's going to be a Glasgow Blend which appears to be a mix of peat and sherry.

This New York Blend is the only one released at 46% ABV, though I think all of them are non-chillfiltered.  While the Artist's Blend was released to a lot of fanfare and received a lot of rave reviews, I found it to be not much more than a mild acceptable high-malt blend, very drinkable and competitive in the $20-$30 bracket, but probably can't compete at the $40+ block at which it is priced.  The NY Blend was always of interest to me because it brought with it more malt, a higher ABV, and the peat which was absent from the Artist's Blend.  So, many thanks to Jordan from Chemistry of the Cocktail for this sample!

Company: Compass Box
Series: Great King Street
Type: Blended Whisky
Ingredients: 20% Lowland grain whisky, 80% malt whisky; as per Compass Box, "A quarter of the recipe is from heavy-peated single malts, mostly from Islay."
Age: ???
Maturation: "Mostly first-fill American oak casks combined with refill ex-Bourbon and Sherry casks for additional complexity," says the Compass Box site
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
Limited Bottling: 1,840
Here's the whisky's official fact sheet

The color is light gold.  The nose begins with minty creamy peat.  Probably some mint leaves and mint chip ice cream too.  A little bit of BBQ sauce, sand, and burnt paper.  Menthol and a little bit of US oak.  Less oak than on Peat Monster, but it still feels older.  The palate is gentle like most of Compass Box's regular range.  There's a pleasantly perfumed element in the fore which is met by a tart sharp bitter peat rumble in the back.  In between there's some caramel and butterscotch, burnt hay and lavender.  But it's the peat that lingers longest in the finish.  It's almost fizzy and effervescent.  There's a mentholated black coffee bitterness met by a little Bowmore-esque lavender (flowers, not soap).

From the nose, I would've guessed this was a Highland malt had I been trying it blindly.  Oranges and lemons and Pixy Stix hit first.  The peat retreats but not entirely.  Still has the BBQ and sand.  Some seaweed now, new carpet, and a hint of struck matches.  The light sugary palate has some roasted nuts, soft smoke, and the aforementioned floral note.  It's soft at the start but has a slight tart bite at the end.  That bite becomes a little more bitter (and bitier) in the finish, but not badly so.  Some sugar and soil.  Possibly a little soap too.

So what's in here?  Probably the usual Compass Box suspects like Clynelish and Ardmore.  I'm getting Caol Ila and Ledaig (again).  Jordan thinks there's Laphroaig, Ardbeg, peated BenRiach, and Ledaig (as well).  The lavender notes say Bowmore to me.  Looking at our guesses, you'll see all of these peated malts because it's the good peat that stands out.  But something unpeated makes up three-quarters of the rest of the malt recipe.  Maybe it's mostly Clynelish (which may or may not be unpeated) or there are some creamy but subtle Speysiders filling out the rest.  (Update: Compass Box let me know the malts!)

While still fitting into Compass Box's graceful style, the New York Blend has much more character and spark than the Artist's Blend.  It also can stand up to Peat Monster pretty well.  I'm torn over which one is "better".  I didn't test the Monster with water, but the New York Blend's palate doesn't hold up well with hydration.  The PM was farmier and more complex, but the New York Blend feels more mature and more whole.  While the PM feels like it's for a specific mood, the New York Blend can be enjoyed more broadly.  Ultimately, while I might actually like the Peat Monster better, to others I'd recommend the New York Blend first.

Because of its very limited release, New York Blend costs a little more than Peat Monster.  At least it does now.  When it was going for less than $60, it was a pretty good buy.  Now I'm looking forward to the Glasgow Blend.

Availability - Only a couple dozen retailers still have it
Pricing - $65-$80 (only Party Source still has the original low price)
Rating - 87

Thursday, September 18, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Compass Box Peat Monster

On Monday, I posted one round of my recent attempts at blending whiskies.  Next Monday, I'm going to (try to) post about some more of my blending activities.  Those two entries are being joined by four weeks of blended whisk(e)y reviews.  Or maybe three or five weeks, depending on my fortitude.

This week I'll make it easy on all of us by downing a pair of Compass Box blends.  John Glaser (aka The Most Elegant Man in the Whisky Business) and his Compass Box whiskies do seem to have "most favoured nations status", to quote MAO, amongst whisky fans.  Nary a bad word gets blogged about the company and Glaser has been seen as somewhat of a hero after his run-in with the Scotch Whisky Association nine years ago.

Compass Box tends to focus on vatted malts (or blended malts) and often bottles them unfiltered at 46%abv or higher.  That's a good start for winning over the geeks.  In my opinion, their success has a lot to do with choosing good malts to begin with -- Clynelish, Ardmore, Laphroaig, Caol Ila, Ledaig, etc.  They also know how to blend those elements better than you or I, and they experimented with different sorts of toasted oak before most other producers did so.

Ignoring my mancrush on Glaser for but a moment, I probably respect their company more than I actually adore their whiskies.  The only one of their regular range that's totally won me over is Spice Tree.  The rest aren't bad; they're all decent, but I'm not running out to buy bottles of them.  (On a side note, I do have two of their limited editions which look forward to opening during some decade soon.)  From the regular "Signature" range I've reviewed Hedonism, Oak Cross, Spice Tree, and Eleuthera so far, and today I'll report on Peat Monster.

From what I've gathered about Peat Monster there may have been at a least a couple of versions over the years.  Ardmore (yay!) has always been in the mix.  Ledaig is definitely in it now.  Laphroaig has been in it, though perhaps not always.  Caol Ila has been in there too, either in addition to Laphroaig or replacing it.  Let's try to figure out which version I'm tasting.

Company: Compass Box
Type: Blended Malt (formerly known as Vatted Malt)
Distilleries: Ardmore, Ledaig, Laphroaig (maybe), Caol Ila (maybe)
Age: ???
Maturation: Fact sheet says just refill American oak, Tasting video says "70% first fill American oak, 30% refill American oak"
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(sample was purchased from Master of Malt in 2013)

The color is bright amber.  The nose starts with Ledaig!  Farmy Ledaig.  Maybe not a monster, but may I suggest... Peat Cow?  That has a nice ring.  Anyway, then there's a blast of dense US oak, reading as spicy vanilla.  Then there are some herbs, mint and anise.  Moss wrapped in candied orange peel.  Seaweed and sea air.  With time, it grows mintier and orange-ier.  Smoked gouda and chimney evolve alongside stronger grassy notes.  The palate leads with charred bacon and hay.  A big swoop of smoke is followed by fresh sage and thyme.  Vanilla simple syrup in the center, with tart citrus around the edges; a bitter peat bite binding it together.  With time it simplifies down to sugar, smoke, and ginger notes.  The almost floral long finish gets a little sweeter. Maybe some limes and oranges.  Peat ash.  The bitterness holds the tongue in a good grip.

I have a bunch of thoughts buzzing around my head about this.  In no particular order:

--This is better than I thought it was going to be.
--It's much better than the first time I tried Peat Monster last year.  But that version was loaded with black licorice and had almost no peat character to it.
--I'm not finding much in the way of Laphroaig here, perhaps this version had Caol Ila instead?  Or at least more CI than Lp? (UPDATE: Once again, Compass Box shares some recipe information!)
--There's nothing monstrous about this whisky.  There are enough peat monsters coming from Islay right now, many of them focused on the phenolics and not much else.  This has loads of softer elements complimenting the peat.  And the Ledaig-like farmy notes are much appreciated.
--Again, Peat Cow, anyone?  Imagine the label graphics that Marc Burckhardt could do.

This is my second favorite of Compass Box's signature range.  At $50 or less it would be of interest, though I think it's trending towards $60 or more in most places.  Once a whisky gets into the $60+ range, it has to be damned great before I buy it; at $50, merely great will do.  As we know, there are fewer and fewer great whiskies sitting at $50.  Thus, choices will need to be made.  This is very good, I recommend you try it before you buy it to see if the non-peat characteristics appeal to your palate.

Availability - Any hip self-respecting whisky retailer
Pricing - $48-$70
Rating - 87