Posts Tagged With: Independent Bottling

An Evening With… Compass Box

Since starting whiskyunplugged, we have been writing about enjoying whisky in all its many guises and trying to demystify the fusty world that the whisky market of old had created for itself. Whilst we have been doing so, the whisky market has also widely been diversifying its products with welcome twists, interpretations and experimentation. We have also seen a (somewhat disputed) shift in the mindset of distilleries and consumers alike from holding a whisky’s age up on a pedestal and, instead, placing a stronger emphasis on flavour profiling (or at least that’s what we are being told). That’s not to say that your classic age statement releases are not focusing on flavour! However, with the whisky makers becoming more and more creative with their single expressions and limited releases, there has also been a natural push towards premium blends, whereby blenders and bottlers are seeking to push the flavour envelope further by acquiring and melding local styles and profiles into a new (and often heavily-branded) offering. At the forefront of that movement has been Compass Box.

Beyond the desire to making great tasting whiskies and showcasing the many stylings of scotch whiskies, Compass Box have also been pushing their own agendas. Their most publicised and celebrated initiative has been the campaign to provide total transparency on their whiskies’ constituent parts – a movement that has disgruntled the scotch whisky authorities to no end. There have been a plethora of legal battles and regulatory movements between them in recent times but in the interests of providing their consumers with a fair knowledge of what they are drinking, Compass Box provide a comprehensive ingredients list on their website for each bottling they release. Seriously, go check it out here.

What’s more, each bottle’s maturation process is also detailed including the component’s overall percentages in the final make-up of the bottled whisky, the barrels that they’ve been matured in and the flavour profiles that each constituent part provides to the overall tasting experience. The bottles themselves even come with a three word descriptor of the consumer’s whisky tasting experience ahead, e.g. Peaty. Smoky. Complex. – if the name “Peat Monster” didn’t give it away in the first place!

Each entry in the Compass Box website also features a recommended cocktail which would best accentuate the whisky’s flavours and style, along with a suggested food pairing for the naked dram itself – suggesting their eagerness for the dram to be enjoyed in many ways and not scoffing at the idea of adding a dreaded mixer!

One obvious omission from the data set that Compass Box share is the age of each component. Not seeming to shy away from their transparency agenda, Compass Box openly share that the age of their source whiskies is not the key factor here, but rather it’s all about flavour that the original malt or grain Whisky imparts along with the influence of the barrels, and so their blender can seek to maintain quality flavour profiles over arbitrary numbering. With that emphasis in mind, it comes as no surprise therefore that every one of their blends are bottled without chill filtration and in their natural colour.

Compass Box have also courted controversy by their use barrels, and more, sepcifically, hybrid barrels that feature a range of “toastings”, including, their “mocha toast”, “infra red toast”, and “vanilla toast” which all seek to impart different flavourings from the oaks into the final whisky.

It’s fair to say that we have loved following their progress over the years and so when two of us from WU found out that a generic “whisky tasting” night that we had signed up to (without any knowledge of the contents or presenters) turned out to be a Compass Box showcase evening, we were pretty damn excited.

Over the past week we have shared our tasting notes on these blended scotch whiskies from the evening which featured their 5 “Signature Range” releases, and two of their current limited editions, tasted in the following running order:

Signature Range

Asyla – Blended Scotch (i.e. Grain and Malt)

Oak Cross – Blended Malt

The Spice Tree – Blended Malt

The Peat Monster – Blended Malt

Hedonism – Blended Grain

Limited Editions

Spice Tree Extravaganza – Blended Malt

Double Single – Blended Scotch

Clicking on the names above should take you to the notes for each dram and we hope that these will suitably describe and demonstrate just what a different experience each whisky delivers. Compass Box also have a third range, called their “Great King Street” range, which seek to revive age old whisky recipes – we’ll have to wait another time to sample any of those delights though.

The night was held at a local independent off-licence whereby our compère deftly guided us through the history of the indie bottlers and the story behind each whisky on display. We want to thank Chester Beer and Wine for the evening, and at the end of the night, we were asked the obligatory question: what was your favourite. On the night, our preferences were actually the lighter, grain-based/influenced drams: Asyla, Double Single and Hedonism, but that’s not to detract from the quality of the malt whiskies available. To be fair though, this is mainly due to the fact that we shot through the 7 drams relatively quickly and with all those strong flavours in there, it was a lot to take in but overall, and in all honesty, there wasn’t a bad dram there. Just some that were better than others, as the old adage goes.

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Tasting Notes: Miltonduff – 7 Years Old (Douglas Laing)

Miltonduff 7 Years Old

Well, it’s my first whisky review of the new year, and it’s a new distillery to me, despite being one of the first distilleries in Scotland to get an official license and still being one of the largest working distilleries in the Speyside area. Miltonduff distillery is located in the northern part of the world-famous whisky-making region, situated near Elgin. The site has traditionally produced two styles/brands of whisky: Miltonduff (unpeated) and Mosstowie (lightly peated). The majority of Miltonduff’s output currently goes into the Chivas Regal blend, however they have been known to release their own single malt expressions in the past. Nowadays, Miltonduff single malts are more readily available via independent bottlings, of which this dram is one such example and features in Douglas Laing’s Provenance range. This whisky had been maturing for just 7 years in a refill hogshead barrel before being selected by the revered indies for bottling and sale at 46% ABV.

 

Nose

After a fairly light boozy burn, there’s a distinct set of sweet and nutty smells at play here. Marzipan. Almond. Warm custard. After a little while, the sweetness fades and there’s a tiny liquorice/anise smell that pokes through and a damp oak scent that lingers.

 

Taste

Ooooh it’s sweet. And I like it. It reminds me of walking passed (who am I kidding) Patisserie Valerie. There’s a creaminess to the body too that adds to the cream eclair and pastry flavours. There’s a little bit of a ‘cooked’ taste to it too. Finally, there’s a slight bit of spice towards the end too. Again, reminiscent of sweet baked goods.

 

Finish

Fairly quick and tingly. That sweetness lingers longer than the booze itself.

 

Verdict

Wow. This dram appears to be some sort of pudding whisky! I’m surprised by its gentle flavours too because it is so young and has lots to give. This clearly must be displaying the flavours of the original product as much as the barrel’s influence here. It is fresh and punchy enough for a young whisky but it’s not too wild and seems to have already matured into a pretty mellow whisky overall. It’s final delivery is sweet and warming. For an uninitiated Miltonduff drinker, this is a great experience for my first dram from this distillery.

M

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Tasting Notes: Fettercairn – 20 Years Old (Old Particular – Douglas Laing)

Fettercairn 20yo (Old Particular)

This (old) particular whisky was originally created at the Fettercairn diatillery in the Highlands and has been especially bottled by the Douglas Laing Company within their “Old Particular” brand. The whisky has been maturing for two decades and, as previously noted (here), is a welcome sight to see given the scarcity of the distillery’s own single malt expressions, particularly ones with age statements. Whilst we do not usually discuss the colour, it is worth noting that this whisky is so light in colour that it seems almost translucent. With that in mind, here are the tasting notes on this devious dram…

51.5% ABV

 

Nose

M: Ooh it’s punchy. Really strong in fact. Letting it breathe does little to tame it. Despite its clarity, there’s definite barrel influence in this nose if nothing else. You can basically smell the staves.


Taste

M: Fresh, white grapes. Bloody punchy. Needs some taming. Vanilla and oak at the forefront once some water has been added.


Finish

M: There’s that deep burn. A little toasty on that long finish. Pretty sweet / vanilla custard-like once the burn has worn off.


Verdict

M: Very light in colour and body. It looks like the pre-whisky spirits I’ve seen extracted from barrels before they’ve even hit the 3 year mark to be called ‘whisky’. The booze content makes for a strong, strong whisky, but what the whisky lacks in colour it makes up in the complexity of the delicate flavours that do come thorugh. which you’d hope after 20 years in a barrel. The oak itself is the most dominant feature though and that the grape-like fruitiness meant that, for me. this was just like a light white wine with its booze strength cranked up to 11. Or 51.5, to be more precise. Not a leisurely whisky, but not unpleasant either. Nice flavours in there once you’ve fought off the high booze content.

Fettercairn Indie Face-Off

Side note: This short was enjoyed courtesy of the Dram Team monthly subscription. As part of their package, you receive the team’s own tasting notes on their themed selection and I prefer to hold out and only read the notes afterwards so that I remain untainted by their opinions. It is then interesting to see the crossover (if any). On this occasion, my vanilla pudding matches their creme brûlée note, but I’ve written that any fruits are delicate along the line of white wine grapes whereas the Dram Team writers have opted for “zesty citrus fruits”. It is this variety that makes whisky tasting such a great experience, as each taster will always be correct when it comes to their own opinions and notes. Tasting notes on the younger expression here.

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