May 292016
 

Not very much is actually known about three of the four parts of the whisky that makes up The Circus. I thought that this was just a lack of information, but it seems that John Glaser decided to back off a bit from his frontal war with the SWA, as the accompanying sample, of the Enlightenment, also lacked age statements on the components, and it is actually stated in the accompanying brochure that he doesn’t wish to run afoul of the regulations. I can understand that, and can only restate my full support of the transparency campaign.

When the package arrived in the mail today, I knew this was going to be a treat. I have yet to forget the utter delight I had tasting The General, and these casks making up The Circus pretty much have the same story that The General had: Old blends left in their marrying casks for a long time, only here they were all in sherry butts whereas with The General they were from two parcels, one in sherry and one in ex bourbon casks. My sweet tooth awake, I turned to reading the brochure, and here’s what I discovered:

Photo Credit: Compass Box

Photo Credit: Compass Box

Essentially, what we have here is an old blended sherry bomb. Two of the parcels were pre blended Scotch (so malt and grain) and one parcel, making up 26% of the blend was blended grain. The three blends were in refill sherry butts, and some 15% came from a first fill sherry butt from Benrinnes, and if you want to get an idea of what an older Benrinnes can do in a good sherry butt, take a look here.

All in all, we’re probably looking at about 50% malt and 50% grain, and considering the long time they married, this really came out to be an absolute delight….

Photo Credit: Compass Box

Photo Credit: Compass Box

Compass Box The Circus, Blended Scotch Whisky, 2940 Bottles (49% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Bronze, quite viscous with a very long lasting necklace letting off very thin droplets slowly.

Nose: Deep sherry with orange peel, sultanas, prunes and some dry apricot leather and wood spices – nutmeg and a gentle pepper mix, with a hint of cooked clove. Also, hits of demerara sugar, some old leather and a hint of furniture wax. Something earthy, with cotton candy. But there’s also something fresh, somewhat creamy.

Palate: Sweet and spicy, with treacle, dried fruit – dried apricots and prunes,with sharp cinnamon and some citrus on the palate. You can tell there’s grain in there, but it’s so well integrated that the softness it imparts is in the background, yet is very present. A light citrusy bitterness.

Linger: Cinnamon sweetness and burn, like after chewing cinnamon gum. The spice gives way to some bitterness and dryness in the linger, which over time, dissipates and leaves sweetness behind, remaining for quite some time.

Conclusion

I expected nothing less than beautiful, and got just that. This is a true sherry bomb with a certain softness to it. While £190 is not cheap, this is the highest quality you could expect to get from a well aged blend, and is not out of line for the quality of liquid in the bottle.

Official sample received from The Compass Box. Thanks Jonathan!

Oct 252015
 

Compass Box celebrated its 15th anniversary this past Friday, and what better way to congratulate John Glaser and the team than to review their newest offering?

Compass Box is that innovative blending whisky company that decidedly didn’t go down the route to become an independent bottler, which given John Glaser’s fruitful relationship with Diageo would have been the easy route for him to make his own way in the whisky world. Instead, John created whisky from day one. From the very first expression offered by the company, the Eleuthera – a vatted malt comprised of 15 year old Clynelish aged in re-charred hogsheads and 12 year old Caol Ila – the Compass Box company has been expanding the scope blending. In his push to innovate, Glaser used Sassile oak staves for a secondary maturation (in the famous Spice Tree), and ran afoul of the SWA which ruled this practice – commonplace in the wine industry –  to be illegal. So production of the “illegal” whisky was stopped, and the ever creative Glaser found a new way to achieve this effect by building casks where the  ends are made of the special oak! Clever indeed….

The company continued with other releases, some of which were reviewed here (The General, for example, still reigns paramount on my list of blends, and Oak Cross which makes me smile), always doing something innovative with the casks they have to work with. Furthermore, the level of information disclosed by the company about its blends is very high, and barring good reasons they might have for not naming the source of the whisky, you can expect full disclosure, down to the specific formula.

Case in point, today’s This is Not a Luxury Whisky. With it, came a brochure detailing the exact formula, in such fashion (the accompanying brochure had the ages, although those were not listed on the website, where I captured this picture from, so you can find them below):

This is Not a Luxury Whisky Formula Photo Credit: Compass Box

This is Not a Luxury Whisky Formula
Photo Credit: Compass Box

The name given the whisky follows Rene Magritte’s famous painting La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe):

La Trahison des images (Ceci n'est pas une pipe) Photo Credit: wikiart.org

La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe)
Photo Credit: wikiart.org

In this image, Magritte attempted to question the viewer’s perception of reality, suggesting they try to stuff the “pipe” with tobacco. In the same way, Glaser asks his drinkers to consider what part of whisky imparts luxury upon the drink. If you stop to think about it for a minute, that’s a question worth pondering, and will surely be the subject of some debate, given the current state of the whisky market.

Personally, I think the philosophical question would be better served had the bottle carried a price tag of £50, as opposed to the £149 it actually costs, but the question is, nevertheless, a good one. The whisky is 83% single malts from Glen Ord (18 year old first fill sherry butt) and Caol Ila (30 year old refill hogshead) and 17% grain from 40 year old Strathclyde and Girvan (also 40 years old). So how is the whisky?

Photo Credit: bourbonblog.com

Photo Credit: bourbonblog.com

Compass Box ‘This is Not a Luxury Whisky’, Limited Edition of 4992 Bottles (53.1% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Amber, thin legs with a long lasting necklace around the glass.

Nose: Smoke and a somewhat musty note is followed by a spicy sweetness with notes of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg which is joined by the sweet sherry notes. With some time, the sherry becomes more pronounced as does the spice. The mustiness disappears leaving behind a slight note of plastic, and a note of dark chocolate appears.

Palate: Bitter almonds, honey, sweet sherry, smoke, oak, pepper and nutmeg, with just a hint of that mustiness. The sherry sweetness plays nicely with smoke (albeit only 4% of the blend!), to create a rather complex dram.

Linger: This is the expression’s strongest suit. The linger is long, smoky and rich with a warming effect all the way into your guts. There’s bitterness and some sweetness following suit. The palate is dry with a sweet smokiness that remains all over the mouth.

Conclusion

You need patience with this one, but there’s no doubt that John Glaser knows what he’s doing with these whiskies. It’s complex, it develops and it’s interesting. That musty note, not unlike what you get from the better Irish whiskies, is one that I personally struggle a bit with, but there’s no doubt as to the care and craft put into this expression.

So is this, indeed, a luxury whisky? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments.

Official Sample by Compass Box Whisky Co.

Aug 272015
 

Port Dundas was another of Diageo’s grain distilleries. Located in Glasgow, it was closed in 2010 as Diageo consolidated grain production at Cameronbridge and North British, casks of both were reviewed this past week (North British here and Cameronbridge here).

Photo Credit: toute-la-franchise.com

Photo Credit: toute-la-franchise.com

Vom Fass is a lovely idea, in which whisky (and almost every other imaginable oil, condiment, sauce, liqueur, and drink) is sold loosely in filling sizes from 50-1000 ml. While the whisky is much more expensive than a buying a bottle, there are things you can find there that can’t be found in other places, and some of them really make the trip down to your local store well worth it.

Photo Credit: austinchronicle.com

Photo Credit: austinchronicle.com

Vom Fass Port Dundas 23 Year Old Single Grain Whisky (43% ABV)

Appearance: Light gold, fast forming thin legs.

Nose: Soft and grassy, with the telltale corn, vanilla, light pepper and a distant whiff of baking bead. There’s also a peaches in syrup from a can. After a few minutes you get some cocoa powder.

Palate: Watery, with a very mild sweetness and some black pepper. Quite one dimentional.

Linger: Sharp pepper on the tongue and some down the gullet. A mild dryness in the mouth, not all that much beyond that.

Conclusion

This is a typical grain whisky, one that would have been better off being blended. There’s not very much going on in the palate and in the linger, and overall, this whisky isn’t on anybody’s “must taste” list.

Aug 252015
 

Cameronbridge is a real monster in terms of the amount of whisky it produces, we’re talking about 140 million liters per year. This is ten times larger than Glenfiddich, which is the largest malt distillery.

This is the old Haig distillery (hence Diageo naming the single grain brand coming out of Cameronbridge ‘Haig Club’) which opend in 1824, but was producing grain in a Stein column still (built by John Haig’s cousin, Robert Stein) by 1830. Thus, Cameronbridge became the first distillery in the world to distill grain whisky commercially, after Stein’s own attempt at Kirkliston Distillery in 1828 failed. As part of Haig’s, it became part of DCL, and later Diageo, and is today the main grain producing distillery for the drinks giant, who also owns half of North British (as mentioned in my review of the 21 year old North British found here).

Photo Credit: lesfleursdumalt.blog.lemonde.fr

Photo Credit: lesfleursdumalt.blog.lemonde.fr

In addition to the 100 million liters of grain whisky used in Johnnie Walker, J&B, Bell’s, Black & White, Vat 69, Dimple/Pinch (Haig), Haig Club and White Horse, Cameronbridge produces 40 million liters of grain neutral spirit for Diageo’s liqueurs, gins and vodka.

Today’s tasting is of the 25 year old single cask Douglas Laing recently bottled at natural cask strength (60.6% ABV), as part of the new Old Particular Single Grain series just started. I will note that this is a 25 year old whisky was filled from a refill butt, so unless the angels were extremely greedy, only part of this butt actually got bottled in the 282 bottles in this expression, using only slightly under 200 liters:

Photo Credit: douglaslaing.com

Photo Credit: douglaslaing.com

Douglas Laing Old Particular Single Cask Grain Cameronbridge 25 Year Old, Distilled June 1990, Bottled June 2015, Cask DL10806, 282 Bottles From a Refill Butt (60.6% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Light gold, legs are very thin and slow forming, ending up leaving a residue of droplets on the glass.

Nose: Honey, grassy, some fresh green leaves, a fabric softener, faint note of apple cider, some paint thinner (typical corn spirit note), and a light spicy note. Water brings out a sharper alcoholic burn (strange, but true) and actually heightens the feinty and grassy notes in the glass. The honey is all but gone. Left covered to rest for a few minutes, it remains leafy and feinty with a whiff of vanilla and custard coming and going.

Palate: Feinty, with paint thinner or solvent melting into honey some faint spice. At 60.6% ABV, this whisky really isn’t intended for drinking without water. With water, it’s bitter and slightly drying, with a light fizz in it, rather like a cognac.

Linger: Before water the linger is quite feinty, leaving a taste that conjures up paint or acetone. With water, there’s some bitter citrus and spice on the palate, and some spice down the gullet. The linger isn’t short and after about 2-3 minutes hints of sweetness return on the finish.

Conclusion

Definitely one of the more complex drams of the quartet, yet I don’t think it’s the one I’d vote for as the best. I think that accolade would go to the Strathclyde (reviewed here).

All in all, the single cask grain project is an interesting extension of the Old Particular brand.

Official sample provided by Douglas Laing & Co.

Aug 242015
 

Built by television?

Well, yes…In 1955 Britain entered the television age, and with it, came TV advertising. Only there were no advertisements for Scotch whisky. The reason is the DCL, which pretty much dominated the industry, and it did not want to get into advertising in this new media. Basically, they took the view that if they weren’t going to advertise, nobody in the industry should.

Photo Credit: potstill.org

Photo Credit: potstill.org

That view held fast until 1962, when Grant’s decided to use “the telly” to advertise their ‘Stand Fast’ brand (Today’s Grant’s Family Reserve). In retaliation, DCL was “suddenly overcome” by an unexpected shortage of grain whisky for the following year, and would thus – regrettably – be unable to supply Grant’s with grain whisky in 1963. Charles Gordon, though, wasn’t a man to back down, and he found a suitable site for a grain distillery in Girvan, and had this distillery up and running in nine months flat!

Grant & Sons has recently begun to market aged Girvan grain whisky, and this bottling by Douglas Laing would fit right in the official bottlings. In fact, it would be very interesting to contrast this expression with the Girvan Patent Still 25 year old….

Anyway, on to our tasting:

Photo Credit: douglaslaing.com

Photo Credit: douglaslaing.com

Douglas Laing Old Particular Single Cask Grain Girvan 25 Year Old, Distilled December 1989, Bottled June 2015, Cask DL10805, 232 Bottles From a Refill Barrel (51.5% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Pale gold, very slow thin legs.

Nose: Very typical grain with earthy cereal, honey, candied apples from the carnival and some freshly mowed grass. A light hint of sweet spices comes through the sweetness, with a note of toffee.

Palate: Intensely sweet, with some pepper. Subsequent sips tip the sacles toward the pepperiness with the addition of a note of green cardamom and marshmallow.

Linger: A long lingering milky sweetness on the tongue, like after eating panna cotta, and a spicy after taste that lingers without overpowering. It leaves a warmth deep down the gullet for quite a long time.

Conclusion

Of the three I’ve tasted so far (I haven’t tasted the Cameronbridge at the time of writing), the Girvan is the most ‘typical’ grain whisky. It’s a little sweet, a little spicy and definitely delivers on a good sipping whisky. It’s not complex, and was really never meant to be…

Official sample provided by Douglas Laing & Co.