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.
Glenmorangie Tarlogan – Distiller: Glenmorangie. Region: Highlands. ABV: 43%. No age statement. Price: $110.
And just like that, we’re into December. A month of joy, togetherness, and the first McDram family trip to Scotland. And it couldn’t come any sooner, as I’m down to the last dregs of my favorite whisky of 2017, the Glenmorangie Tarlogan.
Initially launched as part of the distillery’s travel retail market (which means I can only get it while traveling in that neck of the woods), the Glenmorangie Tarlogan is matured in a combination of virgin oak and ex-bourbon casks.
Given that it’s a no-age-statement whisky and bottled at only 43% ABV, skepticism at the high price tag is understandable. And to be honest, there are moments when I question my whisky judgment. But when I saw Brendan McCarron, GlenMo’s head of maturing whisky stocks, this past summer, he said his own favorite GlenMo of the year was the Tarlogan. When Dr. Bill’s heir apparent gives it that kind of stamp, I know I’m on to something.
To paraphrase the Sex Pistols, never mind the bollocks, here comes the review. There’s a lovely, creamy vanilla full on the nose, but so much more. A delicate caramel slow tangoes with honied almonds and a bit of marzipan. It’s the rare nose that has me dying to dive in.
The palate has chocolate and honey, which brings to mind the best Cadbury bars. There’s also spice and a peppery nutmeg, along with splashes of cinnamon.
Then there’s the finish. Dark cherry gelato, rich walnuts, and a lovely buttery caramel. I mean, thank the whisky gods I’m going back to the old country soon, because I can still taste the remnants.
I’m not usually one to pay more than a Ben Franklin for a whisky, but in a few weeks, I’ll gladly hand over the cash for another bottle of this gem. Happy Christmas, and cheers, friends! – TM
The holidays are all about spending time with friends and family. This year, I was thrilled to welcome Barrell Craft Spirits‘ Rye Batch 2 to the celebration.
This latest offering from one of our favorite producers makes a big departure from its usual sources–and everyone’s. The batch blends the usual MGP-sourced rye with a highly unusual 5-year-old rye distilled in…wait for it…Poland.
Why Poland? Barrell founder Joe Beatrice told Baldo in a recent call: “I like American malted ryes, but they can be too cloying, too sweet. Rye grain in Poland has very different characteristics: it has all the rye flavors I like, but it’s not sweet.”
For the Barrell Rye Batch 2, then, he decided to blend what’s almost certainly America’s first transatlantic rye.
Like all of Barrell’s offerings, this one is cask strength, in this case 58.75% ABV. Fresh out of the bottle, it offers a delightful nose, where rye spice and rich caramel play atop a bed of corn fritters. The palate is fiery and heavy with rye grain, along with smoked ham, roasted yams, and a toffee note.
But this baby, good as it is at full strength, sings with a splash of water. Dominican cigar, used bookstore paper, and light orange emerge on the nose. The palate opens completely, offering candied orange, a bite of pine, smoked ham hock, and delicate milk chocolate, along with, yes, a subtle rye spice flair. My only complaint is that the finish was more abrupt than I would have liked, with or without water.
But overall, I’m beyond happy that this boy is here for the holidays. I’m wishing all of you a magical holiday season. Cheers, friends! – TM
The company graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.
Old Pulteney Navigator – Distiller: Old Pulteney. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price: $45-50.
I have emotional responses to certain whiskies that go deep. I can’t have a dram of the Lagavulin 16 and not remember the night before we had to put our Yellow Lab down. I see Macallan and I flash back to my wedding, where Mrs. McDram’s father had stashed bottles of the Macallan 10 all around the reception room. And there’s been one on my mind a great deal as we prepare to take our kids to Scotland for the first time.
In 2002, I was in Edinburgh on a rainy, wind-torn day. I’d climbed all over Arthur’s Seat. I descended into the encroaching dark, soaked, knowing that I’d feel my exertions the next day and that I needed a good dram to start the recovery process. I hauled myself into the White Lion and asked for a whisky. The bartender pulled out a bottle of Old Pulteney and poured a healthy dram. It’s been love ever since.
The Old Pulteney is a Highland malt from the remote town of Wick. In the distillery’s earliest days, the town was inaccessible by land, and the barley had to be brought in by sea. The “Maritime Malt” still retains that characteristic hint of brine. I’m always thrilled to see what the distillery will next create.
Welcome the Old Pulteney Navigator, the distillery’s latest core expression. It’s matured primarily in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, but also incorporates first-fill ex-Oloroso sherry casks. It’s non-chill filtered and bottled at 46% ABV.
The nose recalls a Midwestern fall harvest. Honeycrisp apple, pear, and the tang of a good breeze off Lake Michigan. Very slight Cadbury chocolate on the back. The apple in the palate shifts from fresh to caramelized, atop a roasted pork loin. Very faint pine swirls around a more pronounced dark chocolate, along with tufts of oak and sherry fruits. The finish lingers, bringing the apple-pear-chocolate combination back in full for a lovely encore.
Too soon to tell whether this will be my favorite OP, but it’s absolutely in the conversation. What OP expressions do you all enjoy, and if you’ve tried the Navigator, where do you rank it? – TM
A company representative graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.
Old Henry Clay Straight Rye Whiskey – Producer: James E. Pepper Distillery. Distiller: MGP. No age statement. Mashbill: >90% rye (likely 95% rye, 5% malted barley). Price: $20.
Where are the great whisk(e)y bargains these days? Here’s one. I’d been feeling a little self-conscious about the number of $50+ bottles I’d been reviewing in recent weeks–many of them excellent, but price-wise, out of reach for most–and along came the Henry Clay Rye to shake things up.
Henry Clay is a no-age-statement straight rye from James E. Pepper, better known for its 1776 rye and bourbon line. Pepper is reviving an old brand and reopening an old Lexington, KY, distillery that operated from 1879-1958.
In the meantime they’re sourcing very good rye and bourbon from the old reliable MGP. Henry Clay is their entry-level bottling, at 43% ABV and about $20. It’s a steal.
It’s from a high-rye mashbill–at least 90% rye grain, as opposed to the 51% rye of Sazerac or Rittenhouse, say–but has excellent balance.
The nose is bright, fresh, and fruity, with white grape and lychee early on. Almost like a young armagnac! Some leather, some orange rind. Some white pine. Very slight hint of fennel, stopping well short of the brash anise or black licorice notes to be found in some other high-rye-mashbill ryes.
The palate adds a robust but perfectly integrated spice to the nose’s fruitiness. It’s on the lighter-bodied side, but substantial enough for its ABV. Sweet oak and a hint of white chocolate. The price mounts toward the end of the palate, then fades on the finish. Earthy but citrusy. Key lime. A bit on the short side.
This is as good a straight-ahead MGP-sourced rye as you can ask for, at a very accessible price. Eminently sippable, brilliant in cocktails too. Hats off to James E. Pepper!
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.