KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 6

6 12 2016

Tonight’s whisky is of interest for a number of reasons.  It’s the first blended whisky in the 2016 calendar (quick refresher:  a single malt whisky is one made from malted barley from a single distillery; a blended whisky is one made from a blend of malt whisky and grain whisky from multiple distilleries).  It’s by far the cheapest of the offerings to date, at $60.  And it comes from the garagiste negociant of the scotch world, Compass Box, a producer that doesn’t own a distillery or make its own whisky, but instead sources both selected whiskies from top distilleries AND selected oak barrels from top cooperages, then creates custom whisky blends that it runs through its own bespoke wood program.  Since single malt whiskies get the Bordeaux/Burgundy treatment in the whisky world while blended whiskies are lucky to get the Languedoc-Roussillon treatment, there can be obscene value to be found in an artisan blender who cares enough to do things right.  Compass Box not only brings the quality and the interest factor that is often missing from the bigger blends, but it also pushes the envelope on everything from whisky transparency rules (more on that below) to labelling, where they laughably outstrip anyone else in the UK.  Check out this bad boy:

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Photo Credit:  The Whisky Exchange.  Pure artistry.

That’s what I’m talking about, although it’s not the bottle on tap tonight.  Instead we were treated to the other half of Compass Box’s entry-level Great King St. line:  in Day 9 last year we had the peated Great King Glasgow Blend, whereas this year we have the unpeated Artist’s Blend, a mixture of four different whiskies from four different distilleries, first aged separately and then combined for a secondary maturation in Compass Box’s own French oak barrels.  Most blends would give you absolutely no information about the identity and makeup of the underlying whiskies in the bottle; Compass Box gives you as much information as it possibly can.  The four whiskies are:

  • 46% Girvan, a Lowland grain whisky matured in American Bourbon casks
  • 29% Clynelish, a Highland single malt matured in American Bourbon casks
  • 17% a mystery Highland single malt matured in new French oak
  • 8% Teaninich, a Speyside malt matured in sherry butts

How cool is that?  One thing Compass Box is not legally permitted to do is reveal the ages of the various component whiskies, which for some arcane reason cannot be done except in response to a direct inquiry.  So they did the next best thing and actually put an automatic request button on the Artist’s Blend website where you can get the info via email.  Naturally I had to make a request, and when I did the mystery was solved via instantaneous mail arrival in my inbox.  I’m not supposed to publish the results of the inquiry, so click the link above and go do it yourself – the components may be further along than you think!

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The Artist’s Blend was certainly paler, fresher and cleaner than its peated cousin, sort of making me want to do some housekeeping with aromas of Mr. Clean, tonic water, Honey Lemon Halls and wet quartz.  However, my attention was then drawn away from my kid-encrusted home by a jolt of verve and energy on the palate, where vanilla, woodsmoke and gingery spice wrapped around a centre of citrus-infused Bourbon (a tasting note I wrote before finding out about the 75% Bourbon cask aging this went through, by the way).  It’s a touch straightforward but plenty delicious for its minuscule price tag.  If you want a house whisky, this is calling your name.

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