Scotch Whisky

Review: Great King Street Glasgow Blend Blended Scotch Whisky (Compass Box) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
43%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Malt and Grain Whiskies (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

I, like most whisky connoisseurs, love Compass Box - a company focused on premium blended Scotch whisky - both blended malt whiskies (i.e. a mix of single malts) and blended whiskies (a mix of single grain and malt whiskies). They always release terrific information as to the makeup of their blends, and the quality is high across the board. Their products, to boot, are all bottled without colouring or chill-filtration (providing better mouthfeel).

Great King Street is Compass Box’s brand for their blended scotch, and this Glasgow blend only recently came into their core line alongside the terrific Artist's Blend. The whisky’s inspiration comes from the big-bodied style of many of the 19th century blending houses, blended particularly with smoke and sherry notes. The blend is bottled at 43%, without colour or chill-filtration.

A typical vatting to compose this blend: 34% grain whisky from a Cameron Bridge in a first fill American oak barrel, 35% Benrinnes from a sherry butt, 17% Laphroaig from a rejuvenated hogshead, 8% Clynelish from a first fill American oak barrel, 2 % miltonduff from a first fill American oak barrel, and 4% of a blend of clynelish, teaninich, and dailuaine in a custom toasted oak hybrid barrel (i.e. American oak base and French oak barrel heads).


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L18 02 15 3 09:43 B9

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

Nose: Chocolate, peat, rubber, vanilla, cacao, lemon peel, and a bit spicy too – quite complex, and very nicely integrated.

Taste: A bit ashy-smoky, with candied lemon and orange peel, and a good dosage of almonds and raisins underpinning the background. There’s also a bit of spice along with buttery vanilla on the end….it’s like fruitcake by a fireplace.

Finish: Full and well rounded, with vanilla, smoke, malt, oat cakes, and earth. It dies out fairly quickly though, but the tannins are still lightly felt. The peat lingers for a bit.

Fairly complex, and very well integrated – it could only gain from a little depth and a bit more complexity. You can tell, though, because of the integration – this is some good blending going on. At a recent tasting this was a favorite even put up against some other great whiskies which I’ve rated over 90.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High. A good catch.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

A classic! Rich, sherried aromas – baking spice, smoke, nuts, apples, raisins – the palate leads in with sharp smoke, offset lightly by smoke and a terrific richness in terms of mouthfeel. The above review stands for this bottle – but this time around I’m more impressed with the focus of the peat smoke – it comes in a rich flash, then fades to everything else – the sweet grain, the fruity, nutty sherry, and more dried fruit. It is integrated masterfully.

A terrific blended Scotch whisky.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High, if you can find it.


Review: The Peat Monster Blended Malt Scotch Whisky (Compass Box) by Jason Hambrey

Peat Monster 1.jpg
ABV
46%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malt Whisky (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

A marriage of Islay single malts and heavily peated highland malts, matured in first fill and refill American oak casks. A vatted malt. 40% laphroaig refill hogshead, 20% ledaig refill hogshead, 13% caol ila refill hogshead, 26% Ardmore refill hogshead, 1% blend of clynelish, dailuaine, and teanich in a French oak hybrid barrel - a ”burgundy” toast. As typical with Compass Box, natural colour and non-chill filtered. More here.

On a side note, I wasn't that impressed with this one until I had sampled a variety of different peated whiskies and understood the variety and integration here present. It's impressive.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2012

Nose: Both medicinal, slightly funky Islay peat as well as the woody peat of the highlands - it is well balanced. It makes for a nice effect - rich, bonfire like woodsmoke with some seaweed thrown in....I do quite like what has been done with the peat on this one. It's more smoky than earthy, though there is still some boggy earthiness. Yet, it's still impressively light, with a lemon-like citrusy character which lifts the whole nose up. Some of the peat is a bit sooty too - I am spending so much time just slowly unpeeling the peat on the nose. Impressive.

Taste: It's largely smoke, with a nice level of underlying sweetness, a slight creaminess,  caramel note, and a slight spicy tinge. I think, perhaps, that it does lack some body that I hope for. It does have a fruity character to it underneath, along with some maltiness. It starts with smoke, and then ends with smoke as well, with a good level of underlying sweetness and some vanilla. There's an interesting note of milk chocolate as well in the midst of all the smoke, and at times the cacao comes forth a bit more and brings in some bite more akin to dark chocolate. In my previous tasting of this with a friend some time ago, I found that this whisky had lots of smoke without the body I desired - but I am not finding it so on this round- It has some decent support for the peat.  It could use a bit more - but this is well done.

Finish: It's not bad on this one! Certainly long, and reasonably deep. Some pepper comes out with the smoke, alongside vanilla and honey, some apple notes and some malt. The oiliness of the whisky is shown here, and there are some notes of mustard as well. It has reasonable body and sweetness, both of which are good in finishes.

It could use a touch more body, I think, around the peat - but I am thoroughly enjoying this. The way that the peat has been blended together, and the way that the complexity is showcased in the peat - it is brilliant. Compass Box certainly produces some exceptional whiskies - and this is one of them.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High. A great, broad, and complex peated whisky for a good price.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L 20 06 18 23:44 88

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The bottle says “peaty, smoky, complex” on it – in three words, yes! My favourite thing about this bottle is the immense peat – and the regionality – that you get. Medicinal, woody, tarry, sooty – when I realized that was the point of this whisky, I fell in love with it! Some other interesting notes, too – powdered milk! The smoke is still offset with stone fruits, vanilla, light oak, and spice. The palate is easy – full of rich, layered smoke and finishing with wet, rich earth. There’s an oiliness that’s really awesome about this too – the finish is smoke, vegetal characteristic, burning leaves, and light spice. Oh, and wet earth. Awesome!

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High. A great, broad, and complex peated whisky for a good price.


Review: Spice Tree Blended Malt Scotch Whisky (Compass Box) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malt Whisky (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

The first release of The Spice Tree in 2005 utilized French oak staves in American oak barrels to marry characteristics of both types of oak in a single maturation, which the Scotch Whisky Association took legal issue with and forced the discontinuation of the product. Three years after, Compass Box re-released the whisky, this time using toasted French oak barrel heads – however, the aging regimen is quite complicated with three different toasting levels used on the barrel heads for different components before they are all blended together. Primary maturation takes place in first-fill American oak, the secondary maturation takes place in the special custom barrels with the toasted French oak barrel heads. A typical vatting of the malts: 60% Clynelish, 20% Dailuaine, and 20% Teaninich. It is interesting to note that this is the exact same base, in the same barrels, as for Oak Cross, which tastes completely different. The secondary maturation certainly changes both of these whiskies.

Initially all the malts are aged in first fill American oak before being blended in different oak casks for a secondary maturation: 25% in a “vanilla toast” hybrid barrel, 22% in a high infrared toast hybrid barrel, 32% in a hybrid “mocha toast” barrel, and 21% in a first fill American oak barrel. The result is phenomenal.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L 20 03 12 3 10:57 88

  • Bottling Date: 2012

Complex, interesting, and oaky - with all sorts of things going on. Fascinatingly oily. Fruit – apple, pears, prunes, raisins; caramel, chillis, green cardamom (a bit more reminiscent of the presentation of cardamom in a dessert vs. a curry, if you understand the distinction - i.e. the floral and lighter side of cardamom comes out), dried ginger, malt- both cereal and lightly earthy barley. The oak tells a beautiful story – it is just big enough but doesn’t overpower and is very well integrated. On the palate, particularly, it is so well integrated with the dried fruit. Subtle, and immensely drinkable. Very pleasing finish as well with the raisins, malt, spice, and oak all present in good quantity and balance. Terrific!

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very high. An incredible whisky for the price.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L27 07 18 3 08:42 BB

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Tasting notes above apply, but I did want to revisit and write a few more observations about this dram. It’s a terrifically oaky whisky, but not over-oaked, nor oaked in the way that bourbons are – rather it is a heavy, yet elegant oakiness added to what is distinctly malt whisky. It brings in terrific oaky spice, creaminess, and vanilla to a maltiness which is still present with grain character, earth, and orchard fruit. I do love this stuff.

Interestingly, it’s a bit more in the thread of the new wave of American single malts coming out, in terms of the integration of oak. I’d say it sits between Scottish single malts and some of the more oak-focused American single malts (at least, the best of them). That’s what struck my attention this time around. This whisky is terrific – oaky, malty, complex, balanced, and delicious.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value:  Very High. For $80, it’s very hard to do better than this, particularly in Scotch but also in whisky in general!


Review: Spice Tree Extravaganza Blended Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

CB+Spice+Tree+Extravaganza+1.jpg
ABV
46%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malt Whisky (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

This whisky was a special release of 12,214 bottles to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Spice Tree, a whisky which was originally outlawed by the Scotch Whisky Association after its first release. This is a blend similar to the baseline Spice Tree, but it is much older. Based on the colour, it is certainly darker than the standard spice tree -there’s also more sherry in it. But, indeed, there’s some old whisky in here - compass box invites emails through their website if you want exact details.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L 38 01 16 3 10:08 88

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose is extremely rich and inviting – apples, raisins, gooseberries, rich oak, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, almonds, blueberries, and mandarins. It gets spicier with time, with more and more peach and apricot.  The palate is just decadent – it is so full of dried fruit and oaky richness, with a flourish of dried fruit, spice, and tannin on the end. Remarkable! The finish develops, with lost of tannin and spice, which break down to citrus, nuts, cinnamon, and bean sprouts with time. And, eventually, rich cacao-laden chocolate cake.

I was surprised at how richly the palate jumped through. This really is jam-packed full of flavour – I imagine it would be too intense at cask strength to be properly enjoyed…

I quite like this, as I do the standard spice tree – this is a bit of a different whisky. But, with all things compass box, this is most excellent and a very complex and enjoyable whisky. I might like the standard spice tree more, not to say it is better.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. This is a really nice whisky, but not quite enough to be worth the price for me.


Review: Compass Box No Name Blended Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

CB+No+Name+1.jpg
ABV
48.9%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malt Whisky (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

A limited release of 15,000 bottles - the peatiest blend ever released by Compass Box, centred around an Islay whisky from a Pier Road distillery (hmm…Ardbeg?). It is a bit pricy, but this had quite the buzz about it - Ardbeg from Compass Box!


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L 27 11 17 1 12:19 88

  • Bottling Date: 2017

What a nice, rich, nose! Lots of rich tarry notes, ash, smoke – but it’s very clean and well-put together.  Bacon, seashore, turf fires, smoke, clean dry oak, iodine, beeswax – quite nice stuff! It’s quite earthy – more earthy than I would associate with Ardbeg. The palate is full of rich smoke, but it’s tempered by a quite nice minerality, candle wax, and spice towards the finish, which is sweet, spicy, and smoky with some rich cacao notes too. Terrific stuff.

How does it compare to peat monster? Much deeper and more mature, with a much richer, clean cut taste profile. It really does outshine it in elegance, focus, and depth – but not in breadth.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. This is a very nice whisky, enough to propel it into a decent value category if you like peat, despite the high price (~160$).


Review: Ardmore 1998 Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Gordon & MacPhail) by Jason Hambrey

Ardmore+1998+2.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
20 Years
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Ardmore (Kennethmont, Scotland)

Here is a rather nice old Ardmore from Gordon & MacPhail, aged 20 years in refill sherry casks! Surprisingly, it came in only at $105 CAD which is very cheap for old Scotch.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose is quite nice – dried fruit, raisins, orange peel, candied citrus peel, oak, vanilla, and lots of spice – very nice rich sherry aromas. I haven’t had much Ardmore – this doesn’t have much of the smoky character – though there is a good dose of earthiness here, and some smoke. Some nice stone fruit, too, fresh and baked. The palate is sweet, full of rich sherry, marmalade, raisins, finishing with a touch of earthy barley and wet earth, along with some spices. Light smoke at the end. A very pleasant whisky, through and through. The finish is loaded with dried fruits and spice.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This is a very nice broad, balanced, and interesting malt. Quite excellent!

Value: Average. High values at $100 means it’s a steal in terms of taste, so this falls within what you would expect a good purchase to taste like if you are paying $100 for a whisky. However, if you fancy Scotch – it’s very rare to find a good 20 year old for $100, so this might drive up the value if you favour older Scotch.


Review: Port Charlotte 10 years old Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Port+Charlotte+10+1.jpg
ABV
50%
Aging
10 yrs; ex-bourbon and wine casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Bruichladdich (Bruichladdich, Scotland)

This is the first regular age-stated Port charlotte, matured in whiskies coming from about 65% first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, 10% second-fill bourbon berrels and 25% second fill French wine casks. With this, Port Charlotte now has its own bottle alongside its Bruichladdich and Octomore siblings (though I like the old bottle more…). Nonetheless, this is a terrific whisky - see below!


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L162454 18/286 2018/09/06 15:10

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Beautiful, rich aromas – limestone, smoke, dark cacao, lemon peel, ocean shells, sea breeze, salt stone – quite farmy – turf fires, white pepper, charred green bell pepper, and a bit of vanilla and creaminess. What an awesome nose! Further to this, some pear, golden delicious apple, clove, and orange peel. There is a bit of really bright, tropical fruit – guanabana, perhaps? It’s quite slight. The palate is rich, full of rich earth and balanced by vanilla and gorse flowers. Dense dried fruit, almond, raisins, smoke, turf fires, marmalade, allspice, and a touch of sulphury pepper.

The finish is earthy and spicy, with clove-studded oranges, white pepper, pink peppercorn, rich earth, coconut oil, and heather. Cloves, too. A great whisky!

I had a great Port Charlotte last year – a cask strength cognac cask – how does this compare? The CC:01 has more smoke, more toffee, more smoke, and more cognac (hmm…), but less earthy richness and fruitiness, particularly dried. This is a bit broader and richer; I like it more (but both are good)!

This is quite a terrific edition to the baseline age-stated Islay whiskies -  Bowmore 10, Bunnahabhain 12, Ardbeg 10, Laphroaig 10, Caol Ila 12 and Lagavulin 8. Those are all terrific whiskies, and all a different take on islay. Not to single out Kilchoman, who are also producing terrific and distinct whiskies.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High. A very nice peated, earthy whisky for the price. If you quite like the style, like me, it’s a worthwhile buy. If you are an Islay fan, this is probably a must-try. If you don’t like peated, earthy whiskies this probably isn’t worth your money.


Review: Ardbeg An Oa Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Ardbeg+An+Oa+1.jpg
ABV
46.6%
Aging
PX Sherry, Charred New Oak, and Ex-Bourbon
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Ardbeg (Port Ellen, Scotland)

This Ardbeg has a bit of a focus on French oak, and introduced as part of Arbeg’s core range in 2017. As is the growing trend these days, it has some charred new oak in it and was married in a French oak vat to bring together the varying flavours created from the sweet, dried fruit character of the PX cask, the creamy corn influence from the ex-bourbon cask, and the oaky, sweet character of the new oak.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L70562 13/07/2018 18007341 11:42

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose is so rich – cacao, deep smoke, charred lemon peel, fresh lemon peel, rich earth, ground unroasted almonds, baking spices, iodine, turf fires, and biscuits. A touch of brilliant minerality, dried brown rice, dried apricot, prune, plum jam, and sharp smoke. A fascinating nose, and very Ardbeg. The youth is a bit present on the nose, but it’s a good youth.

The palate has an incredible dried smoky character to it, like charred chickpea or nut skins. Further, rockpools, white pepper, and coconut oil. And some sweet oak, ketchup (indeed), and a finish full of a smoked sea character (smoky seaweed, smoked fish, etc.). The finish is dry, oaky (French oak, quite so), ashy, and slightly marine. Minerality comes out on the finish more than other places.

A very nice whisky. How does it compare to the 10? This is a bit younger (more oily, a bit more raw) – smokier but not as fruity or balanced, or, indeed, as intriguing. But a bit bigger, and perhaps richer – but less mature. So, it depends what you are after. I like both quite a bit, but prefer the 10, which has the best of this – but more elegantly integrated and balanced. All that to say – this is still fantastic, and it’s a welcome addition to the range for me.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. A very nice peated whisky, but at a price. On a value scale, it’s better to go for the 10, which I find a tad better, and is a bit cheaper. Nonetheless, this is a decent buy if you like smoky, peated whiskies.


Review: Lagavulin 12 Year Old Limited Edition Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Lagavulin 12.jpg
ABV
~56%
Aging
12 Years
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Lagavulin (Lagavulin, Scotland)

This whisky is a limited release, but it comes around every year, so it's not very rare. It usually clocks in at a higher price than the 16 year old - this is because of the cask strength and limited nature of the release. Lagavulin is a terrific distillery for just about all their releases - I really quite like what they do.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 2012 Release (56.1%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2012

Big, slightly sour peat. Smoke, vanilla, tar, gooseberries, smoked paprika, stewed peaches, grape, vanilla, lots of minerality, smoke, soot, seaweed, cucumber, earthy, marula, a bit briny, …terrifically complex and interesting. It’s voluptuous and creamy, with lots of peach here too. The palate shows tar, slightly burnt lentils, terrific minerality, bonfire, smoking dried leaves, tinned and fresh peaches, custard – all with perfect tannic grip. Earthy peat, too – but this doesn’t dominate. The finish is fabulous: smoking leaves, freshly baking bread, charred chickpeas, strawberry jam, vanilla, custard, brine, dried peaches, lime, cilantro, and light tannins. Top notch stuff – and the tannins are just perfect. Incredible whisky. This is the biggest, and most muscular between the regular (terrific) releases of the 16 year old and distiller's edition. It’s just so big…if this wasn’t at cask strength it would be a 92 – but the cask strength shows through so well, particularly the finish.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation).

Value: Very High. For a terrific batch of this, $130 was not a bad price to pay.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 2017 Special Release (56.5%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Smoldering smoke, saltstone, lightly sweet, raisins, cacao butter, slightly farmy and peppery too. The palate is buttery, full of wood smoke, also including rich cacao and lots of earthiness – brilliant. Sweetness is perfectly balanced. The finish is beautiful, and rich – including roasted malt, woodsmoke, white pepper, peppery radish...dries to heather brush.

Very peppery – more than I remember. Brilliant. I’d call this one cloying, in a positive sense, with all the sweetness – but I suppose it’s never used in a good way, eh? I guess we’ll settle for "syrupy” or "syrup-laden” or something...

They are pricy, but they are good! Likely my favorite regular Islay, though I do like the Ardbeg 10, too.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. Great whisky, expensive price.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 2018 Special Release (57.8%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

I do love trying these! It’s very much in line with the above releases - though it seems a bit sweeter and a touch less rich. Burning leaves, oil, tar, marine notes, lemon, and a light waxinesss too! Spicy and smoky finish. These things are such classics. Wonderful at cask strength.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. Great whisky, expensive price.


Review: Port Charlotte 2007 CC:01 Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Port Charlotte CC01 2.jpg
ABV
57.8%
Aging
9 yrs; ex-cognac cask
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Bruichladdich (Bruichladdich, Scotland)

This is a cask strength travel retail edition of Port Charlotte, Bruichladdich’s line of heaviy peated single malts. This has been fully matured in cognac casks, not just finished, which means we benefit not only from the cognac liquid soaked in the cask but also the cognac oak because significant aging took place in the French oak barrels. I’m always surprised there aren’t more cognac finishes, but I expect it’s because cognac producers are less willing to give up barrels or “wash” new barrels for the Scotch industry.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: CC:01

  • Bottling Code: L/161648 17/329 2017 1106 13:23

  • Bottling Date: 2016

I love the farmy nature of Bruichladdich distillates. Intensely earthy smoke, like a peat fire, yet, it’s offset by the cognac character which comes through with surprising presence – raisins, rich dried fruit, baking spices, and cardamom. It’s quite sweet. The smoke is much more intense than my recollection of Port Charlotte Scottish Barley. Hmm...one of the better cognac finishes I’ve had, which is surprising given all of the peat. If you like peated Scotch and you like cognac, I think this one is a must-try. We also have green olives (Castelvetrano), green walnuts (very distinct, if you happen to have a walnut tree – it’s a nutty, piney aroma), coconut, lemongrass, and sea salt. Very nice nose.

The palate is ashy and smoky, yet contrasted with all the fruit-forward cognac notes. Again, I’m surprised at how assertive the cognac is amidst a powerful smoky single malt. It’s also quite sweet – quite a juxtaposition of flavours from lemon rind to sharp earthy peat to burning wood.

The finish is slightly sweet, carrying on tannins and baking spices with more peat fires. Grows in medicinal notes too. Takes water very well, and I think I like it most with a touch of water so it’s around 48%.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. It’s close to average, but still a bit pricy, unless you’re a peat head and like CS peaters.