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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