Compass Box Great King Street Glasgow Blend – Producer: Compass Box. Distillers: Cameronbridge, Benrinnes, Laphroaig, Clynelish, Miltonduff, undisclosed Highland distiller. ABV: 43%. Blend:66% malt, 34% grain. Price: $30-35.
I don’t buy whisky by the case, but if I did, this one would tempt me.
The Great King Street blended whiskies from Compass Box are the perfect encapsulation of everything I love about the blender. They combine quality, distinctiveness, and value in a way that virtually no one else in the business can.
The Artist’s Blend is the more delicate, honeyed, Speyside-oriented of the two. (Check out my very enthusiastic review of that one too.) The Glasgow Blend takes its name from the historical preference of Glaswegians–a robust clan themselves–for more robust whiskies. Accordingly, this blend is equally strong on the peat and the sherry.
With customary transparency, Compass Box discloses the exact percentages of the components in the Glasgow Blend. The core is 35% grain whisky from Cameronbridge and 34% malt from Benrinnes. They’re topped with a generous helping (17%) of Laphroaig, and splashes of Clynelish, Miltonduff, and an undisclosed Highland malt.
The nose lets you know you’re in for something good. The peat gets up close and personal right away. There are canned peaches, strawberry jam, and coconut custard pie. A certain waxiness from the grain component. Strong cedar, shading toward mesquite.
The palate has a Bowmore-esque mix of strawberry and watermelon with very distinct peat. Behind that, grilled peach, pear, raspberry, cinnamon, and ginger.
The finish is a pleasant ramp down from the palate. Long and drying, with blackberry and lingering campfire embers.
All that for under $40? Man. Since it’s a blend, you’ll hear loose talk about rocks and soda. For me, the Glasgow Blend is too good to mix.
Friends, you all know of my love for the end-of-bin sales. The treasures unearthed there find a comfortable, if often short-lived, life on the shelves of Castle McDram.
So when I saw Compass Box’s Asyla at a roughly a third off, I grabbed it and ran. After paying for it, of course. I’m a huge Compass Box fan and I was really looking forward to this one. A 50-50 malt-grain blend, containing a heavy proportion of Linkwood and Teaninich malt aged in first-fill ex-bourbon casks? I mean, hell, count me in.
But this one left me empty. The slightly acrid nose has pear, mulch, malt, and vanilla. The palate is sadly underwhelming. Bananas slap flaccidly at the malt, which paws lazily around the pear and fainting lime. There is barely a finish to speak of, more a disappointing drift of thin, weak flavors that echo the palate.
Don’t judge Compass Box by this one, though. This is a rare misfire in a mostly stunning lineup. Their Peat Monster and Great King Street are knockouts, and Baldo counts the 2015 Compass Box Flaming Heart as one of his top drams of all time.
All in all, the Compass Box Asyla only served to reinforce my belief that if you don’t try a producer’s less successful attempts, you’ll never know what’s truly sublime. Here’s to better days and better drinks ahead, friends! – TM
Lost Distillery Auchnagie(Archivist Collection) – Producer: Lost Distillery Company. Distiller(s): undisclosed. Region: Highlands (in theory–see below). ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price:
Lost Distillery Stratheden(Archivist Collection) – Producer: Lost Distillery Company. Distiller(s): undisclosed. Region: Lowlands (in theory–see below). ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price:
Lost Distillery Gerston (Archivist Collection) – Producer: Lost Distillery Company. Distiller(s): undisclosed. Region: Highlands (in theory–see below). ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price:
There’s no shortage of independent bottlers finishing, bottling, and/or blending big-name (or obscure) single malts in interesting ways. The Lost Distillery Company takes a different approach.
The name suggests they might be about tracking down malt from shuttered distilleries and bringing it to market. What they actually do is more interesting: giving shuttered distilleries a speculative life-after-life by sourcing and blending malts meant to approximate their styles.
We don’t have a warehouse full of old forgotten whisky, we don’t have a secret recipe or DNA analysis and we don’t have plans to reopen any of these lost distilleries. The answer to what we do lies in the history books…
An “Archiving Team” headed up by Professor Michael Moss from The University of Glasgow determines what it can about the key components that would have made up a given lost distillery’s products: era, water, barley, still, wood, etc.
Our Archivists and Whisky Makers, along with a panel of selected ‘noses’, attempt to bring to life the evidence before them. They create a blend of single malts from different distilleries and with different flavour profiles, tweaking the composition to sit easily with both the evidence of the archivist and the interpretation of the whisky makers.
Naturally, there’s quite a bit of guesswork in the process. And there’s no one around from 1910 to say, “Eh, you need about 10% more peachiness on that Towiemore, mates.”
That said, the Lost Distillery Company does impress with the depth of their research into the distilleries whose names they use, presented in great detail on their website.
The big question, of course, is whether they impress with their malts. Read on…
Lost Distillery Auchnagie
Auchnagie had a century-long run in the Highlands from 1812-1911. The nose of the Lost Distillery Company’s recreation has lovely canned fruits in light syrup, with something salty and savory behind it–smoked ham?–and a fragrant wood note.
The palate is quite intense , with a play of light (bourbon-cask fruit) and dark (mature wood) notes. Quite sharp at first, though it softens with time and a few drops of water. There’s a hint of white smoke that suggests a very small peated component (this, like all LDC releases, is a blend of single malts), or healthy barrel char. The finish is pleasantly sooty. Salt lick. Lemon peel. Leather.
Very enjoyable, distinctly old-fashioned. Recommended.
Lost Distillery Stratheden
Stratheden (1829-1926) was a Lowland distillery founded by one Alexander Bonthrone, who was so dedicated to the craft that he ran the stills nearly to his death–at the age of 92!
The nose on the LDC Stratheden has a rubbery, tarry note that’s quite unusual in the absence of peat, but not unwelcome. A little heat. Sweet mustiness. Freshly polished shoe leather. Orange saltwater taffy. I enjoy the nose so much that I’m in no rush to sip.
Palate is salty, with blackberry syrup and balsamic vinegar reduction. The finish is long, complex, and intriguing. Think mulled wine with heavy dry spice, especially allspice, and clove.
Every bit the equal of the Auchnagie.
Lost Distillery Gerston
Gerston is a recreation of the malt of two Highland distilleries, Gerston One (farm-scale, 1796-1882) and Gerston Two (industrial-scale 1886-1914).
The LDC Gerston comes on with quite a sweet nose. Vanilla, marshmallow, cotton candy. Distant hint of peat. Butteriness that gives a strong suggestion of some Pedro Ximenez influence in there. Musty, old fashioned in a way that’s familiar now after the Auchnagie and Stratheden.
The palate is more savory than sweet: mustard barbecue chicken. Quite mild peat that registers mostly as spiciness. Dried apple with cinnamon. The finish balances dying embers with lingering spice.
You could call the LDC mission quixotic, but the results are undeniable. When you’ve had your fill of the rivers of young, bright, uniformly honeyed malts from the big names–when you’re in a bit of a musty, old-fashioned, leather-library-binding mood yourself–try a Lost Distillery Company release. I think you’ll be glad you did. And be sure to share your thoughts.
Slàinte, friends! – BO
A company representative graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.
The Great King Street Artist’s Blend was my first Compass Box whisky a few years back, and it opened my eyes to how good a blend can be. Founder and master blender John Glaser calls it “blended Scotch for whisky geeks,” which is just about the perfect description.
In line with Compass Box’s usual eye for quality, the Great King Street Artist’s Blend is over 50% malt (an unusually high proportion), and matured in first-fill bourbon, sherry, and new heavily toasted French oak casks. It’s 43% ABV, not chill filtered, and priced at an exceedingly reasonable $30-35. (Further details on the exact components are available on the Compass Box website, happily.)
The Artist’s Blend has a gorgeous nose with strong wild honey. Sweet oak, new leather, vanilla tobacco, dried apple. The honey leads the palate too, but is beautifully integrated with the grain whisky backbone–sufficiently mature to add weight and heft. Canned peaches and pears. Surprisingly long finish with sweet leather and tobacco predominant.
A whisky geek’s blended Scotch, a blended Scotch skeptic’s blended Scotch…this one can win over just about anybody. And don’t overlook the companion to the Artist’s Blend in the Great King Street range: the rich and peaty Glasgow Blend.
I have a special weakness with Compass Box whiskies. The Flaming Heart 2015 was my favorite whisky of that year, and I have yet to write a review. I went through an entire Christmas bottle of Compass Box Peat Monster without writing a review. The problem is that they’re so good, and in such a particular way–which I attribute to the blending genius of founder John Glaser–that I get too absorbed in them to take notes. I just want to enjoy.
But revisiting the Peat Monster, I managed to get my act together. This beauty is a blended malt (also known as a pure malt), meaning it’s a mix of single malts, with no grain whisky. The malts come from Laphroaig, Caol Ila, Ardmore, Ledaig, an unnamed Highland distiller.
The peat is intense, but there are many peatier whiskies on the market by far. The priority here is on balance and nuance.
Nose: lively, fresh, grassy, but with the density and richness that only come from a fair proportion of older malt in the mix. Minimal sweetness. Dark vanilla. Almond flour. Mesquite. Lemongrass. Dry vermouth herbaciousness. I could nose it all night.
Three kinds of peat intertwine on the palate: briny, toasty, and savory/BBQ. The Laphroaig brings the ashiness and brine; the Caol Ila light lemony fruits, tilting from lemon to lime to grapefruit. Charred pear and watermelon candy later on. The finish is very long, with grapefruit rind, grenadine, white ash, and salty sea spray.
The Compass Box Peat Monster should be a staple in any peat lover’s cabinet. Sure is in mine.
Distiller: Bushmills. ABV: 40%. No age statement/3+ years. Price: $18-22.
In my snobby younger days, I would routinely turn my nose up at the standard Irish blends. The Jameson and Powers never did it for me, and the only one I could routinely endure was Bushmills.
Now, of course, the last few years have seen massive growth in the complexity and quality of the Irish whiskies available in the U.S. I’d put Teeling and the Spots (Green and Yellow) up against the best in the world. Bushmills’ higher-end offerings, like the 16-year-old single malt, are delectable.
So when I saw the new Bushmills Red Bush at my favorite convenience store, I was intrigued to see how the lower-end offerings of this venerable producer had changed with the times.
The verdict is…not much. It’s a bit mysterious what’s new about the Red Bush, as it’s prominently marketed as “matured in bourbon casks”–but so is the standard Bushmills White Label. (The Black Bush adds some sherry maturation.) The few existing reviews of the Red Bush I’ve read, along with Bushmills’ own patter, repeat the dreaded moniker “smooth,” which for me is usually shorthand for forgettable.
The Red Bush isn’t quite that bland. There’s a whisper of flora on the nose, and you’ll find some honey and vanilla if you try hard enough. The palate, as you’d expect from a blend aged entirely in ex-bourbon casks, has elements of the oaky BBQ, along with traces of vanilla, but the flavors are so faint that it’s difficult to discern much of anything. And the finish doesn’t deserve the name. By the time you’ve finished the first sip, you’ve already forgotten what you were drinking.
I’m tempted to say that for around $20, you could do worse, but there are so many better options at or just above this price point in the Irish whiskey world (think West Cork), the bourbon world (think Old Granddad,) and the single malt world (think Glen Moray) that there’s no reason to try this fairly mediocre blend.
Here’s to demanding more from those we love. Cheers, friends! – TM