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Thursday, September 18, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Compass Box Peat Monster

On Monday, I posted one round of my recent attempts at blending whiskies.  Next Monday, I'm going to (try to) post about some more of my blending activities.  Those two entries are being joined by four weeks of blended whisk(e)y reviews.  Or maybe three or five weeks, depending on my fortitude.

This week I'll make it easy on all of us by downing a pair of Compass Box blends.  John Glaser (aka The Most Elegant Man in the Whisky Business) and his Compass Box whiskies do seem to have "most favoured nations status", to quote MAO, amongst whisky fans.  Nary a bad word gets blogged about the company and Glaser has been seen as somewhat of a hero after his run-in with the Scotch Whisky Association nine years ago.

Compass Box tends to focus on vatted malts (or blended malts) and often bottles them unfiltered at 46%abv or higher.  That's a good start for winning over the geeks.  In my opinion, their success has a lot to do with choosing good malts to begin with -- Clynelish, Ardmore, Laphroaig, Caol Ila, Ledaig, etc.  They also know how to blend those elements better than you or I, and they experimented with different sorts of toasted oak before most other producers did so.

Ignoring my mancrush on Glaser for but a moment, I probably respect their company more than I actually adore their whiskies.  The only one of their regular range that's totally won me over is Spice Tree.  The rest aren't bad; they're all decent, but I'm not running out to buy bottles of them.  (On a side note, I do have two of their limited editions which look forward to opening during some decade soon.)  From the regular "Signature" range I've reviewed Hedonism, Oak Cross, Spice Tree, and Eleuthera so far, and today I'll report on Peat Monster.

From what I've gathered about Peat Monster there may have been at a least a couple of versions over the years.  Ardmore (yay!) has always been in the mix.  Ledaig is definitely in it now.  Laphroaig has been in it, though perhaps not always.  Caol Ila has been in there too, either in addition to Laphroaig or replacing it.  Let's try to figure out which version I'm tasting.

Company: Compass Box
Type: Blended Malt (formerly known as Vatted Malt)
Distilleries: Ardmore, Ledaig, Laphroaig (maybe), Caol Ila (maybe)
Age: ???
Maturation: Fact sheet says just refill American oak, Tasting video says "70% first fill American oak, 30% refill American oak"
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(sample was purchased from Master of Malt in 2013)

The color is bright amber.  The nose starts with Ledaig!  Farmy Ledaig.  Maybe not a monster, but may I suggest... Peat Cow?  That has a nice ring.  Anyway, then there's a blast of dense US oak, reading as spicy vanilla.  Then there are some herbs, mint and anise.  Moss wrapped in candied orange peel.  Seaweed and sea air.  With time, it grows mintier and orange-ier.  Smoked gouda and chimney evolve alongside stronger grassy notes.  The palate leads with charred bacon and hay.  A big swoop of smoke is followed by fresh sage and thyme.  Vanilla simple syrup in the center, with tart citrus around the edges; a bitter peat bite binding it together.  With time it simplifies down to sugar, smoke, and ginger notes.  The almost floral long finish gets a little sweeter. Maybe some limes and oranges.  Peat ash.  The bitterness holds the tongue in a good grip.

I have a bunch of thoughts buzzing around my head about this.  In no particular order:

--This is better than I thought it was going to be.
--It's much better than the first time I tried Peat Monster last year.  But that version was loaded with black licorice and had almost no peat character to it.
--I'm not finding much in the way of Laphroaig here, perhaps this version had Caol Ila instead?  Or at least more CI than Lp? (UPDATE: Once again, Compass Box shares some recipe information!)
--There's nothing monstrous about this whisky.  There are enough peat monsters coming from Islay right now, many of them focused on the phenolics and not much else.  This has loads of softer elements complimenting the peat.  And the Ledaig-like farmy notes are much appreciated.
--Again, Peat Cow, anyone?  Imagine the label graphics that Marc Burckhardt could do.

This is my second favorite of Compass Box's signature range.  At $50 or less it would be of interest, though I think it's trending towards $60 or more in most places.  Once a whisky gets into the $60+ range, it has to be damned great before I buy it; at $50, merely great will do.  As we know, there are fewer and fewer great whiskies sitting at $50.  Thus, choices will need to be made.  This is very good, I recommend you try it before you buy it to see if the non-peat characteristics appeal to your palate.

Availability - Any hip self-respecting whisky retailer
Pricing - $48-$70
Rating - 87


  1. I'll have to try this again. The version I tried was kind of uni-dimensionally peaty, which was honestly kind of boring. Sounds like they've upped the barrel influence a bit, which would be helpful.

    1. My impressions are similar to Jordan's, from 2-3 years back. Maybe it's time for a split.

    2. Hmmm, now it sounds like there are three different versions floating around out there. The one I tried last year was nearly peatless, and I think that's the version that had been getting mild pans from disappointed geeks. The version I tried the other night seems to be between that one and the one you guys had. Jordan is probably right about the barrel work, as the oak helped boost the nose and complimented the farmy peat.

      I sat with this sample for an hour that night -- oh, the blessed silence of a sleeping child -- and was kinda shocked by how much I liked the whisky. It wasn't sophisticated or complicated, but hit a number of very good notes. Thus my desire for it to be sub-$50.

    3. $49.99 and free shipping on orders over $250


    4. I just remembered Compass Box also produced a fifth anniversary Reserve edition of Peat Monster that only came in 1.75 L bottles. So there are at least four versions of PM.

    5. Yeah, there used to be a bottle or two around LA. I almost went for it, but then I asked myself, "What if I don't like it? That's a lot of money and whisky for a curiosity." Someone else got to the last one this year.

  2. Let me guess. The two limited editions are Flaming Heart and the General or maybe Delilah (okay that was three guesses). Though I'm going to be mad if you got a sample of Morpheus (a Milroy's of Soho exclusive). I've heard a lot of good things about that one... though I might start making Matrix or Sandman references if you do review that one.

    From the Whisky Exchange, there are THREE different versions of Peat Monster. The old label and new label Peat Monster might have different components in the blend but the 10th Anniversary (with Cthulu-esque label) is a definitely a different blend from the standard PM.

    1. Man, I wish I had the bread for The General. I'm a lifelong Buster Keaton fan so to see Glaser name a cask strength single vatting after the old film made me go "Yay!" and then the price made me go "Boo."

      I might as well reveal the two I've got. The Flaming Heart 2012 and this year's Peat Monster 10th Anniversary. I'm pretty sure both will bring more fire to the table than the members of the Signature Range.

    2. I have the Flaming Heart 2012 and Delilah's. Delilah's is one I really should open soon. However I didn't get the Peat Monster 10th due to the price and the Cthulu label was a bit too freaky for me (unique label art I will say). And the price on The General was just painful.

      I'd love to try the blends Glaser made for specialty stores like The Entertainer and Morpheus but I've noticed those bottles are long gone now.

    3. I wonder if the Davids have talked to Glaser about getting a California Blend? Sadly he's never in CA, or at least never in SoCal.

    4. At least when I tried Delilah, I found it kind of boring. The copy on the bottle even states that it's designed to be a 'beer and a shot' whisky. On the other hand, most of the other people at the tasting group loved it, so I may be in the minority.

    5. Delilah's was the first WTF?! pricing choice I've seen Compass Box do so far. $70-$80 for a beer-and-a-shot whisk(e)y? There are good beer-and-a-shot bourbons and ryes going for $20-$25. Anyway there are tons of these bottles still sitting on the shelves in CA.

    6. I am not entirely sure why I bought a bottle except that it was the latest Compass Box release and it has one cool label (never judge a whisky by it's label, sure, but I like unique labels). For a beer and a shot whisky I think I'll drink it the way it's recommended and then try some cocktails.

    7. Compass Box does have some of the best label and box designs in the industry. Hope that Delilah treats you right.

  3. I have no info on the malts in the Peat Monster. Now with that out of the way, one thing to keep in mind is that besides Ledaig, Lagavulin also has serious farmy elements to it (in addition to the smoked kippers) - they just goes less noticed, since they are usually covered by the sherry. What with Glaser having access to Diageo stocks, it wouldn't surprise me if he used Lagavulin in there.

    1. He's been pretty good at leaking some of the ingredients to please we geeks, but doesn't tell the whole story in order to protect his products. Some blenders would be happy to accidentally leak the fact that Lagavulin is in their whiskies.

    2. It looks like you should just ask them! :)