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Friday, September 19, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Compass Box Great King Street New York Blend

Yesterday I reviewed my sample of Peat Monster from Compass Box's regular range.  Today, I'll take a look at Compass Box's Great King Street New York Blend.

The Great King Street appears to be a series now.  First there was the Artist's Blend, which is the version you'll find most readily and priced the lowest.  Then there was the limited bottling of the New York Blend, released in 2012.  Last year there were a pair of Experimental Blends released in Europe.  This year there's going to be a Glasgow Blend which appears to be a mix of peat and sherry.

This New York Blend is the only one released at 46% ABV, though I think all of them are non-chillfiltered.  While the Artist's Blend was released to a lot of fanfare and received a lot of rave reviews, I found it to be not much more than a mild acceptable high-malt blend, very drinkable and competitive in the $20-$30 bracket, but probably can't compete at the $40+ block at which it is priced.  The NY Blend was always of interest to me because it brought with it more malt, a higher ABV, and the peat which was absent from the Artist's Blend.  So, many thanks to Jordan from Chemistry of the Cocktail for this sample!

Company: Compass Box
Series: Great King Street
Type: Blended Whisky
Ingredients: 20% Lowland grain whisky, 80% malt whisky; as per Compass Box, "A quarter of the recipe is from heavy-peated single malts, mostly from Islay."
Age: ???
Maturation: "Mostly first-fill American oak casks combined with refill ex-Bourbon and Sherry casks for additional complexity," says the Compass Box site
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
Limited Bottling: 1,840
Here's the whisky's official fact sheet

The color is light gold.  The nose begins with minty creamy peat.  Probably some mint leaves and mint chip ice cream too.  A little bit of BBQ sauce, sand, and burnt paper.  Menthol and a little bit of US oak.  Less oak than on Peat Monster, but it still feels older.  The palate is gentle like most of Compass Box's regular range.  There's a pleasantly perfumed element in the fore which is met by a tart sharp bitter peat rumble in the back.  In between there's some caramel and butterscotch, burnt hay and lavender.  But it's the peat that lingers longest in the finish.  It's almost fizzy and effervescent.  There's a mentholated black coffee bitterness met by a little Bowmore-esque lavender (flowers, not soap).

From the nose, I would've guessed this was a Highland malt had I been trying it blindly.  Oranges and lemons and Pixy Stix hit first.  The peat retreats but not entirely.  Still has the BBQ and sand.  Some seaweed now, new carpet, and a hint of struck matches.  The light sugary palate has some roasted nuts, soft smoke, and the aforementioned floral note.  It's soft at the start but has a slight tart bite at the end.  That bite becomes a little more bitter (and bitier) in the finish, but not badly so.  Some sugar and soil.  Possibly a little soap too.

So what's in here?  Probably the usual Compass Box suspects like Clynelish and Ardmore.  I'm getting Caol Ila and Ledaig (again).  Jordan thinks there's Laphroaig, Ardbeg, peated BenRiach, and Ledaig (as well).  The lavender notes say Bowmore to me.  Looking at our guesses, you'll see all of these peated malts because it's the good peat that stands out.  But something unpeated makes up three-quarters of the rest of the malt recipe.  Maybe it's mostly Clynelish (which may or may not be unpeated) or there are some creamy but subtle Speysiders filling out the rest.  (Update: Compass Box let me know the malts!)

While still fitting into Compass Box's graceful style, the New York Blend has much more character and spark than the Artist's Blend.  It also can stand up to Peat Monster pretty well.  I'm torn over which one is "better".  I didn't test the Monster with water, but the New York Blend's palate doesn't hold up well with hydration.  The PM was farmier and more complex, but the New York Blend feels more mature and more whole.  While the PM feels like it's for a specific mood, the New York Blend can be enjoyed more broadly.  Ultimately, while I might actually like the Peat Monster better, to others I'd recommend the New York Blend first.

Because of its very limited release, New York Blend costs a little more than Peat Monster.  At least it does now.  When it was going for less than $60, it was a pretty good buy.  Now I'm looking forward to the Glasgow Blend.

Availability - Only a couple dozen retailers still have it
Pricing - $65-$80 (only Party Source still has the original low price)
Rating - 87


  1. Interesting. Thanks for reviewing this unusual whisky! I agree with you on the Artist's Blend, although I am willing to pay a little closer to $40 just for having an additional, quality, blended option (even though the taste doesn't warrant it).

    1. Thanks Alex! Yeah, the Artist's Blend isn't terrible. It's very drinkable. But it was on a lot of "Best of" lists in 2011, and that's kinda silly. I think everyone's love of Compass Box got the better of them. I like the fact that they're selling half (375mL) bottles of it though. And on the East Coast, the 750mLs can be had for $35 or less.

    2. Good point. And for a while, my retailer was selling the half-bottles for exactly half the price, so it was a great way to try it or get a nice bottle for refilling into later.

  2. The Artist's Blend was a surprisingly good mixer that I really wish the price were closer to Chivas 12 and JW Black levels. It's why I haven't gotten another bottle after I finished the first.

    Now I agree that the Davids should commission Glaser to make a California Blend even if the whisky were finished in ex-pinot noir barrels (because what could be more California than that).