Compass Box and the SWA: what’s happened and what can we do?

The internet rumbles along, and the whisky corner of it continues to froth about the despicable Scotch Whisky Association and its treatment of Compass Box.

I’m getting a bit bored of it, to be honest.

However, along with being bored, I’m getting increasingly annoyed by people not understanding what has actually happened, what the issues are, and what can be done. So, here’s my attempt at laying out the information, so that I don’t have to keep deleting Facebook messages which swear at people who don’t know whats going on.

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BrewDog Paradox Compass Box

It’s not a revelation to anyone who’s visited my house that I have a thing about some of BrewDog’s beers. If you are a long-term reader of this blog (hi mum!), you will probably realise this too, even if in more recent times I’ve not said much about them. Unfortunately this is a sign of their success, as they’ve become more ubiquitous and part of the establishment – the kind of thing that new-thing-loving bloggers like myself drink more than write about. However, they recently sent me a bottle of beer, so it’d be rude not to say a word or two about it, especially as I’ve already picked up a couple of bottles of it for my stash. The beer in question: Paradox Compass Box.

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Compass Box Great King Street: New York Blend

I like it when my obsessive calling of things by their Proper Name shows that I vaguely understand the world. Whether it be obsessive fact checking of people’s names or checking to see whether I should be sticking a The in front of a town/country/product/etc (The Hague, Ukraine and The Glenlivet, I’m looking at you) I do like to make sure that things are referred to properly. So, my insistence on calling Compass Box’s new-ish blended whisky ‘Great King Street: The Artist’s Blend’ (although whether I vocalise the colon is very much dependent on context) rather than the abbreviated ‘Great King Street’ has now come to fruition with a second whisky in the range appearing.

While a there is a second general release in the wings, the follow-up to GKS:TAB is a limited edition whisky that’s also the first in a new subseries – Great King Street: New York Blend.

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Whisky Squad #48 – The Storry of Grain

Since I’ve started helping out with Whisky Squad I’ve not had the chance to contribute a session’s title, but with #48 I dropped a bad pun and the chaps for some reason went along with it. An evening of grain whisky with occasional whisky photorgrapher and evil tempter Philip Storry – The Storry of Grain.

I am not proud.

I’ve known Phil for a few years. He’s an almost constant fixture at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in London, comes along to many of our tastings at The Whisky Exchange, and has photographed both those tastings and The Whisky Show for a while. He’s also the reason I’m a grain whisky fan, ‘forcing’ me to try some Port Dundas at a Compass Box blending school, and since then filling my head with knowledge and my hand with random grain whiskies almost every time I bump into him. I approve.

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#WorldRecordWhisky – 2 Men, 700 miles, 8 whisky tastings and some kippers

There are some fairly mad people in the world of whisky – and I use that term in a purely complimentary manner. This weekend has shown off a couple of groups showing the best that whisky and madness can accomplish: Balvenie are tasting whisky in a specially built in a hotel in Manchester this weekend and (the thing that I’m going to write about here) John Glaser of Compass Box and Dom Roskrow decided to do some driving.

Now, driving between whisky tastings isn’t a particularly new thing. Doing a bunch of tastings in a day is also not a particularly big thing. However, doing eight tastings in a day at eight different locations, starting in Inverness and finishing in Brighton, is slightly different. And slightly more on the mad side.

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Whisky Squad #30 – The Management Presents

Hello. I’m in Scotland, surrounded by snow and equipped with inadequate footwear, a combination of facts that should make post(s) later this week a beacon for schadenfreude tinged enjoyment. Anyways, as whisky distilleries treat weekends in February with appropriate level of contempt (they’re working but don’t open for tourists, as there are only four of us here who want to come and visit, and we’re all sleeping, going to the pub and bemoaning our inadequate footwear) today is a day for writing things, in this case a quick note (edit: quick was the intention, however it didn’t happen) about Whisky Squad #30 – The Management presents.

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Whisky Squad #24 – Movember!

The year hasn’t ended yet and here it is – a blog post about the most recent Whisky Squad tasting. It’s even (unless plans go awry, in which case I’ll delete this sentence making these parentheses entirely pointless) before the next Squad meeting, the Christmas dinner on the 8th of December, so this officially makes me a good boy again.

Anyways, the second tasting of November was deliberately pushed towards the end of the month as it was in honour of Movember, and the extra couple of weeks meant that there were some moustaches on display, unlike during the Smoking Section tasting where MoSista Charly‘s stick on lip warmer was the only thing worthy of the name ‘Mo’. Anyways, we gathered upstairs at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society with bottles donated from a variety of sponsors and all the proceeds going straight to the Whisky4Movember fund raising efforts. Unfortunately we had some generous sponsors and even excluding the emergency bottle I had in my bag, just in case any of the whiskies didn’t arrive, we had eight drams to get through. It’s a hard life…

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Compass Box Twitter Tasting – #CBTWASTING

The Twitter whisky tasting is something that I’ve seen pop up a few times in the past, but it’s something that I’ve singularly failed to take part in for quite a while. Since the first time I heard about Lukas from The Edinburgh Whisky Blog throwing whisky around the world before herding the twitterati into chatting with the same hash tag there’s been a bit of a boom, with a number of people organising events, both from brands and just for fun with their Twitter chums. However, I got back in on the action thanks to Steve Rush, aka @TheWhiskyWire, editor of The Whisky Wire and whisky-stuff freelancer. He’d been chatting with the fine folks at Compass Box and sorted out a Twitter tasting. I will take short break at this juncture to express my distaste at the term ‘Twasting’ – even typing it here makes my skin crawl. But such is the way with neologisms and my constant claims that the mispronounced words that fall out of the hole in the front of my face are ‘words so new the OED hasn’t even smelled their parents’ mean that I cannot complain without exposing myself to be the shallow hypocrite that I so obviously am.

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A Top Ten of Whiskies under £50

This post has been fomenting for a while, but the perils of work and thinking too much about whisky have forced it into the background until now.

Domu888 on twitter (Dominic Edsall in real life) asked me a while back what my top 10 whiskies under £50 were. I fired off a few off the top of my head but said that I’d need to have a think about it. Well, thinking has been done so here’s a list, in no particular order. A thing to note is that this is all distillery bottlings – sticking in independents would hurt my head too much:

Laphroaig Quarter Cask, 48%, ~£30: Cheap, cheerful and very full of flavour. LQC, to give it initials that may have a different meaning to two readers of this blog, is young Laphroaig which finishes its maturation in small ‘quarter casks’ which are a quarter of the size of the regularly used hogsheads. This smaller size changes the wood/spirit ratio in favour of the wood, upping the rate of maturation of the whisky and sticking on a ‘growth spurt’ at the end of its time in wood. This does mean that they can bottle their whisky younger, but it also adds a nice chunk of sweet woodiness to the whisky, which works well with the phenolic tang of the Laphroaig. It’s bottled strong and isn’t chill-filtered, and still comes out at about £30 a bottle, which is rather good. It’s also on offer in Tesco quite often, which doesn’t hurt.

Clynelish 14, 46%, ~£30: My default whisky at home, although it is currently replaced by the Distiller’s Edition which we had on special offer at work. Clynelish has recently started rocketing in popularity, in part due to Serge Valentin and John Glaser talking about how much they like it. Not much goes to single malt production still, and the 12 and 14 years old versions are the two that are generally available. While the 12 is good, and cheap, the 14 is my favourite of the pair – waxy, sweet and fruity with a hint of the sea. Pretty much a whisky made for me and one that seems remarkably good at luring people into the world of less well-known distilleries.

The Glenlivet 18, 43%, ~£40. This one is a steal – less than £40 for an 18 year old is something you just don’t see (and a quick search on TWE has it as the only 18+ whisky for under £40). Age isn’t the be all and end all of whisky selection, but this one has aged well and benefited from its time in the cask to produce and well rounded and tasty whisky – big, rich and fruity with a slab of The Glenlivet’s creaminess.

Nikka from The Barrel, 51.4%, ~£25 for 50cl. A small bottle so not quite as good a deal as it first seems, but an excellent one all the same. A blend of whiskies from Nikka’s distilleries, sweet and elegant with quite a big alcoholic punch. Quite bourbon-like in character and good for mixing as well as drinking neat (or even, sacriligeously, with a chunk of ice). And to cap it all, the bottle is REALLY pretty.

Tweeddale Blend, 46%, ~£30. I wanted to make sure there was a blend in this list, but I was torn between which one to choose – I could go for a traditional ‘one up’ blend like Bailie Nicol Jarvie, one of the more premium named blends, like the more expensive Chivas Regals, or even one of Compass Box’s two. In the end I’ve plumped for this one, as I like the story and the guy behind it. Basically, Alasdair Day decided to recreate a blend originally put together by his great grandfather, using the original recipe from his notes. I’ve tried it a couple of times and rather like it, and they released their second batch a couple of days back – time for a taste and compare I think…

Longrow 10 Year Old 100 proof, 57%, ~£45. Another one that used to be my default, before the Clynelish swept it away, and one that I feel slightly naked without a bottle of in the cupboard. Longrow is, missing out a couple of production details, the peated version of Springbank. It has that slightly briney Springbank note as well as a nice smoky hit, although not an overwhelming peaty blast. I’ve gone for the 100proof for two reasons: 1) This way you can water it down a bit depending on your mood, leaving it concentrated and strongly flavoured if you want; and 2) it’s cheaper per millitre of alcohol…

Ardbeg 10, 46%, ~£35. I’m rather liking Ardbeg again at the moment, as my previous sherry obsession fades in favour of a nice chunk of peat – I generally find I’m liking one end of the extreme whisky spectrum at a time, and it seems that peat is in again for me. This is big and mulchy, with smoke, mud and a slab of vanilla from the first fill casks they used to mature a lot of it. I’ve heard tales that it’s not as good as it used to be, but it’s still a top bit of peaty beast without the medicinal nature of Laphroaig.

Compass Box Hedonism, 43%, ~£50. Right on the limit this, sometimes tipping over the £50 but often on or under it (especially in Waitrose). I like grain whisky and this is one of the best out there, a blend that gives a masterclass in what the flavours of well looked after grain should be. It still varies in my estimation, but it generally sits very near the top. Stepping outside of the £50 limit, if you find £199 burning a hole in your pocket then the Hedonism 10th anniversary edition bottling is awesome – I’m still thinking about it 6 months after I tried it…

Old Pulteney 12, 40%, ~£25. While checking the price on this one I found that it seems to be currently sold out at both Master of Malt and The Whisky Exchange – it sells rather well, as you can tell. It’s a big and briney dram which I recently tried while wandering around the distillery up in Wick (the most northerly I’ve ever been). The range gets expensive very quickly, with the 17 year old next on the list and breaking the £50 mark, but this is eminently reasonable and also very tasty.

Aberlour A’bunadh, ~60%, ~£35. Bottled at full proof and varying in strength from batch to batch (the current one is #34, as I write) this is a massively sherried dram from Aberlour. They don’t give an age statement, but from what I hear it’s about 8 years old, a scarily small time to pick up quite this much from a cask, with loads of dry fruit and rich woodiness hiding behind quite a big alcoholic kick. It’s been, along with my now departed bottle of Glenfarclas 105, my sherried dram of choice over the last 6 months. I look forward to my sherry head returning…

Please let me know your suggestions in the comments below.

Quick Tastings – Whisky Live London Special

Flicking through my notebook to remind myself of what I’ve been up to of late (I don’t bother storing such information in my brain any more, it’s too full of useless facts that I’ve accidentally learned from Wikipedia) I came across a bunch of tasting notes from Whisky Live London. Rather than let them sit in an analogue and unsearchable pen and paper format I thought I’d better get them typed up into a nice digital form just in case I lose my notebook again like I did last week (it was on the sofa).

Berry’s Own Selection 1997 Clynelish – my first whisky of the evening was predictably a Clynelish (my new favourite distillery) and from the Berry’s stand (my new favourite shop). On the nose it was floral and, inevitably (to the point that I’m not even sure it’s really there or if it’s my brain inserting it), waxy with buttered Fruit Salad chews and butterscotch. To taste it was sweet but astringent, with big tannic wood and sweet lemons. Water turned some of the wood into butterscotch and brought out more citrus.

Bowmore 16 year old Port Finish – one of the peat plus port wood whiskies that seemed to be the underground craze (well, there were two) at the show. On the nose it had muddy peat, caramel, well roasted beef and flowery hand soap. To taste it had big astringent peat with restrained smoke, pulled pork and a mustardy heat. I didn’t get to add water as I was talking to some people on the stand, but I think it could have done with a drop to pull out some more flavours.

Teerenpeli – Finnish whisky. First distilled by brewer Teerenpeli in 2002 and released as a 5 year old in 2008 and a 6 in 2009. Their website’s all in Finnish, so I don’t know much more about them. I’m not entirely sure how old the one I tried was but the chaps on the stand were lovely. They were so nice that even though I wasn’t asked I stuck a couple of whisky tokens (the currency of the Whisky Live shows which noone seemed to want to take this year) into their jar – the nice man told me that any money they got from them would go to charity. The nose had boiled milk, egg custard and sour fruit. To taste it had rich cream with spice, malt and raisins. A bit like a bowl of museli.

The Glenlivet 1964 – grabbed from the The Glenlivet Guardians balcony after I signed my life away to their mailing list. It was something I’d been meaning to do for a while as they send you a pretty key to stick on your keyring that gets you into the special Guardians lounge at the distillery. On the nose it had marzipan, pencil shavings, sweet butter, cream, cinnamon and butterscotch. To taste it had rich buttery wood, sweet dry wood, shortbread and spongecake with a dry finish. Water added more butter and more spice, leaving it soft and oily. The lady on the balcony poured me a rather generous sample of this and it lasted me for a good long while (through dinner, chatting with people from some of the stands and wandering around a bit) – I rather liked it. In the end I necked the end of it before grabbing a dram of something that I no longer remember. I knew nothing about it until I looked it up online the next morning, at which point I discovered that at £1000 a bottle it was the most expensive whisky I’ve ever tasted and the sample I tried would have cost me in a bar significantly more than my ticket to the show. It was really good, but maybe not £1000 good, but if you’re paying that much for a bottle of whisky you’re probably not caring about the price.

Compass Box Flaming Heart – my penultimate whisky of the night (the last was some Pappy Van Winkle 20 year old, but as I was being herded out of the door by then by some CIA-lookalike guys in suits with ear-pieces my notebook stayed in my pocket) this was the only whisky on the Compass Box stand that I hadn’t tried at the previous evening’s Whisky Squad. It was poured for me by the lovely Chris Maybin, who conducted the previous night’s tasting. On the nose it had muddy peat, light burning hay and orange peel. The taste started sweet and the moved through spicy caramel to a smoky fiery end. Water brought out more Clynelishy-ness (wax and salt), fruit in the middle (mango and pineapple?) and burnt wood over the end. My final tasting note of the night was ‘Butter and ash’. Unfortunately this is the also the whisky that me and Mr Standing wittered about in the Connosr Whisky Pod. Since then I’ve deliberately tried not to use the word ‘nice’ and the suffix ‘-ness’ (apart from the one above in Clynelishy-ness. That was deliberate). I hope you appreciate the effort that has required.

This blog post has been brought to you by the remains of my second Whisky Tasting Club box (blog post to appear shortly), a Cohiba Siglo 2 cigar, the windiness of my balcony and an amusing eBay posting.

Berry’s Own Selection Clynelish 1997 (bottled 2010)
Highland cask strength single cask(?) single malt Scotch whisky, 56.8%. £45 from Berry Brother’s & Rudd.

Bowmore 16 year old Port Finish
Islay cask strength single malt Scotch whisky, 56.1%. ~£60 from The Whisky Exchange.

Teerenpeli 8 year old (I think that’s what I tried, thanks to the WTC blog)
Finnish single malt whisky, 43%. No idea on price or anywhere you can buy it other than in Alko in Finland.

The Glenlivet 1964 (first release)
Speyside cask strength single malt Scotch whisky, 45%. Sold out, but was ~£900 from Master of Malt. Second edition ~£900 from The Whisky Exchange.

Compass Box Flaming Heart (10th Anniversary Edition)
Blended malt whisky, 48.95%. ~£65 from Master of Malt.