Tag Archives: independent bottlers

Great King Street Artist’s Blend Review

Producer: Compass Box. Distillers: undisclosed. Regions: Speyside & Highland. ABV: 43%. No age statement. Price: $35-40.

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 just under 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 $35-40.

It 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. Three cheers for Compass Box! – BO

Buy Compass Box whisky online from Mash + Grape

Compass Box Peat Monster Review

Producer: Compass Box. Distiller: various (see below). Region: Islay/Islands/Highlands. ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price: $55-65.

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.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Compass Box whisky online from Mash + Grape

Scotch Malt Whisky Society 4.222 Review

Producer: Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Distiller: Highland Park. Region: Highlands/Islands. ABV: 56.2%. Age: 16 years.

This SMWS 4.222 “Ginger and honey sweet tea” (a 16-year-old Highland Park) is a classic example of why I seek out single cask whisky from independent bottlers.

Over a decade ago I fell in love with the standard Highland Park 18. The use of Orcadian peat and sherry casks strike a perfect balance for me when I’m not in the mood for an Islay peat monster or a dark sherried Highland. However, I’m always searching for that next bottle that will expand my whisky horizons, and this 4.222 fits the bill nicely.

From a single first fill ex-bourbon cask, this is Highland Park stripped of its familiar sherry notes. Laid bare on the nose are crisp, sweet heather, caramel, and gentle smoke. On the palate are fresh botanicals and a beautiful mix of sweet vanilla and saltiness. The signature light peat notes that I love then settle in and are the glue that keeps everything together. The medium finish adds cinnamon to the waning smoke.

A truly unique exploration of Highland Park. Cheers! – JTR

Chieftan’s Choice Single Malt Reviews

There comes a time in every whisky-lover’s education when independent bottlers are key. Maybe you’ve exhausted a favorite distillery’s official bottlings and want to dig in further. Maybe you want to see how different a given distillery’s spirit can be when it’s in someone else’s hands (and barrels). Maybe you just love the oddballs.

Independent bottlers take a range of approaches. Some buy odd barrels of mature whiskies that happen to be up for grabs, bottle them, market them, and that’s that. Some add their own finishes. Gordon & MacPhail, of which I’m quite fond, acquires new-make spirit, then matures and finishes in their own barrels, allowing a broader look at what a distillery can do than a brand’s own bottlings can. Some add a teaspoon of cask debris to each bottle for extra authenticity–looking at you, Blackadder.

The Chieftan’s Choice line from Ian MacCleod (owner of Glengoyne, Tamdhu, and many blended whisky brands) focuses on rarities, including little-known or closed distilleries. They’ve been showing up more and more in my neck of the woods these days, and I’m happy to share a look at some recent releases, because I’ve been more than happy to try them.

Chieftan’s Bowmore 2002. Region: Islay. ABV: 46%. Age: 13 years.

Bowmore’s official distillery bottlings have been devilishly inconsistent in recent years–which makes it particularly enjoyable to see the Islay brand in fine form here.

Nose of lime taffy. Toasty pie crust. Watermelon. Just a hint of brine. The watermelon shades into cantaloupe on the palate. The peat is sooty, but with some hickory savor. It intensifies on the finish–long and salty. A squeeze of fresh lemon over hot coals at the end.

Chieftan’s Linkwood 1991. Region: Speyside. ABV: 46%. Age: 24 years.

Diageo pours much of Linkwood’s output into the Johnnie Walker and White Horse blends, so with the exception of an occasional official bottling, Linkwood is most often seen in independent bottlings like these.

Brilliant nose on this one. Bright raspberry. Honey. Cotton candy. Baked pear in Chardonnay. Orange sherbet. Fragrant oak. Lots going on. The palate is rich and lively, with the same constant evolution: fresh nuances of fruit and spice around a core of berry compote and bitter orange. Just enough tannic backbone. The tannins are stronger leading into the finish. It’s earthy and spicy, but with a final touch of sweetness: stewed strawberries on a buttery baguette. Lovely.

Chieftan’s Glenturret 1990. Region: Highlands. ABV: 49.7%. Age: 25 years.

Here come the big guns. The highest-proof of the bunch, and packing a big PX punch. If you haven’t had Edrington-owned Glenturret as a single malt, you may have had it in the Famous Grouse blend. On its own, at the ripe old age of 25, and finished in Pedro Ximenez casks, it’s quite a different animal.

Explosive butter bomb of a nose from the PX. Wow. Dense and intense. Bundt cake with blackberries. Cinnamon bark. Sea salt. French toast drizzled with blackberry brandy. Old parchment. Palate is no less intense. Musty blackberries with the vine and the leaves thrown in for good measure. Fresh sweet tobacco soaked in cognac. After all this, the finish is surprisingly elegant, like the end of a cocktail with Dolin rouge and singed orange rind.

Excellent stuff from Chieftan’s. Their other current releases include a 19-year-old Glen Grant PX Finish, a 19-year-old Glenrothes PX Finish, and a 23-year-old Glen Keith. I can’t speak for those three, but this trio was a delight.

A Chieftan’s representative graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.