Whisky Advocate

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Scotch Whisky: Blend of the Year”: Compass Box, “The Peat Monster”

February 6th, 2010

Scotch Whisky: Blend of the Year

Compass Box, “The Peat Monster,” 46%, $60

John Glaser, the creator of Compass Box whiskies, has been one of the most progressive and innovative whisky “blenders” in this generation. Some of his creations consist entirely of grain whiskies. Others are more “traditional” and combine grain whiskies with malt whiskies. But he also masterfully creates blends exclusively from only malt whisky (which has been referred to in the past as “vatted” whisky). The Peat Monster is just that: a blend of malt whiskies.

The formula for this whisky has changed slightly since its inception—and I think for the better. They’ve added some Laphroaig into the mix of Caol Ila and Ardmore. This whisky demonstrates the layered complexity that can be achieved by marrying whisky from different distilleries—and different regions.

I particularly enjoy the rich maltiness and oily texture that provide firm bedding and flavor contrast to the classic Islay notes—tar, boat docks, brine, smoked olive, seaweed, and kiln ash. More subtle cracked peppercorn, mustard seed, and citrus fruit add complexity, leading to a long, warming finish. It’s amazing how a small change in composition can significantly benefit the overall flavor profile of a whisky. If you love smoky whiskies, then you must try The Peat Monster.

Tomorrow’s Malt Advocate Whisky Awards announcement: Scotch Whisky: Single Malt of the Year.

40 Responses to “Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Scotch Whisky: Blend of the Year”: Compass Box, “The Peat Monster””

  1. Alex says:

    I have an older bottling that I found distinctly Caol Ila-ish and am interested in re-trying if Laphroaig is now included. The Reserve is quite impressive and overall I like Compass Box products- congrats to Mr. Glaser & co.

  2. bgulien says:

    I always have a peat monster on the shelve. Together with the Ardbeg 10, they are my daily drams
    Congratulations on the award. Very much deserved.

  3. John, I predicted a win for Compass Box in this category, but for the Lady Luck or the 2nd Generation The Spice Tree. Nevertheless, I am very happy to see Glaser and the fine folks at Compass Box get all the praise they deserve. I have never had the reformulated Peat Monster, but more interested in it than ever. I love all the malts in it, so I can’t wait to try them blended together.

    • Seth Nadel says:

      I thought they’d win, but I was predicting Hedonism. I do think Spice Tree is a great Scotch. Good thing Glaser was able to satisfy the good people at the SWA. Get them mad and they will pull your product.

  4. two-bit cowboy says:

    Congrats to Mr. Glaser and his creation. I’ll have to add it to the list.

  5. JC Skinner says:

    Good choice. Compass Box has really rejuvenated the Scotch blends market.
    I’m not a huge peat fan, but those that are continually seem to rate the Peat Monster very highly indeed.
    But the market for blends is a particularly competitive one, and I for one would be curious to know what else was in consideration?

    • John Hansell says:

      JC, other ones under serious consideration: Compass Box Asyla, Compass Box Peat Monster Reserve, Sheep Dip Old Hebridean, Chivas 18, Johnnie Walker Gold, Dewar’s Signature.

      • Louis says:

        Wow, this qualifies as an upset. I would have put my money on the Sheep Dip OH winning this category, especially as 20+ year old scotch for $70 is an unqualified bargain in today’s market.

        As my bottle of Peat Monster Reserve is only a third finished, I won’t be buying a bottle of the regular Peat Monster for now, but I will try adding a bit a Laphroaig. BTW, trying to replicate CBW expressions is a lot of fun. I mentioned this to John Glaser once at Whiskyfest, and suggested a marrying period of soemthing like thirty days. My response was that 30 seconds was the limit to my patience 🙂



        • Red_Arremer says:

          I think the new PM still has less Laphroaig than the Reserve, Louis– So if you want to replicate the new one you should actually remove some of the Laphroaig from the Reserve. Let me know how that works out 😉

  6. chef! says:

    Interesting… I thought for sure Sheep Dip “Old Hebridean” was going to take this one. I bought a bottle after you reviewed the Sheep Dip and enjoy it very much. If this one is the winner then I’m going to have to give it a try now having always passed it by in the store.

    John, is this one altered in any way that you know of (ie chill filtered or colored)?

  7. Ernest says:

    Congratulations. Love the Peat Monster. So how does this compare to the Peat Monster Reserve? That is, is the Reserve based on the new recipe that includes Laphroaig or is it an entirely different blend?

    • John Hansell says:

      Earnest, The Reserve is a different whisky. I tasted the two side-by-side and actually prefer Peast Monster over the Peat Monster Reserve. I think it’s more balanced.

      • Red_Arremer says:

        But better than the Reserve, John? Woah! You kidding? I haven’t tried this new formula of the standard Peat Monster, though…

  8. Bourbon Collectoe says:

    I’m not a huge peat fan, but I find this Scotch enjoyable. Personally, I like the Hedonism better

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Judging by your name, Bourbon Collectoe, you would– Scottish grain whisky is kind of like a very soft bourbon in some ways. Personally, I liked the old Hedonism better than the old standard Peat Monster, myself.

  9. BFishback says:

    Is there a way to tell the difference between the new and old bottlings of this?

  10. Mark Davis says:

    I’m a young man and relatively new to the world of whiskey. I love peat. Lagavulin 16 is provably my favorite whiskey I own. I love talisker 10, DE, and 18. I like my coal ila 12 and whatever finlaggan is. I had good experiences with oak cross. I have been on the edge with this product for a while. Why should I buy this and not say another bottle of lagavullin 16? I am most interested in the experiences of those who are already on their second bottle. Thanks in advance.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      “Do it for variety” would be the standard answer, Mark, but when cash is limited that’s never good enough. I’ve had a couple of bottles of the standard and I’m currently finishing my third bottle of the Reserve. PM is an excellent whisky– better than Lagavulin 16 or Talisker DE or 18? Not necessarily, but close in quality and a good deal cheaper depending on where you look. I usually see it for 50-55$ in boston. Of course PM also has a great profile, which is all its own and well worth getting acquainted with.

  11. Alex says:

    I generally like Compass Box, but there is something very astringent and off about the bottle of Peat Monster I purchased. The nose is good and I taste things I like in it, but then I get hit with something I can only describe as like a cleaning product with ammonia. Perhaps I just got a bad bottle, maybe I will give it another try later. Eleuthera was one of my favorite whiskys, I wish they could bring it back.

  12. John Glaser says:

    John, all,

    Thanks very much for the comments.

    As of late 2007, I began blending in small quantities of a south coast Islay whisky (that begins with “L” and ends with “G”) into the PEAT MONSTER recipe. I simply wanted to enhance the smoky-peaty complexity while retaining as much of the roundness and “drinkability” as possible. We pointed this out on our website at the time (see the Fact Sheet) and we mention it in all the tastings we do each year.

    For practical reasons, (perhaps too practical, actually), we do not put batch numbers on the labels of PEAT MONSTER, but here’s how to read the tiny bottling code etched into the bottom-back of our bottles: “L9 100” is the code on the PEAT MONSTER bottle in front of me at the moment. The “9” tells you the year it was bottled (i.e., 2009) and the “100” tells you the day in the year it was bottled (i.e., the 100th day in the year, or April 10th, if I’ve done my sums correctly).

    As for the difference in the regular and reserve (1.5/1.75L) bottlings of PEAT MONSTER: they are indeed slightly different, as John points out, beyond the fact that the reserve is bottled at slightly higher strength. The reserve bottling, made to celebrate the 5th birthday of PEAT MONSTER, is a variation on the theme, utilizing more L*******G, plus a touch of French oak-aged Clyn****h. The result is surprising, and not what you might expect. It’s a similar style whisky, but slightly different from the regular bottling and sometimes I feel like one and sometimes the other. For me, creating the reserve bottling was akin to a winemaker bottling a reserve cabernet sauvignon sourced from a different vineyard than his regular, and using a bit more new oak.

    Alex, I am alarmed at your tasting note for your bottle of PEAT MONSTER. Something sounds terribly wrong. Please email me through our website. I would like to get that bottle back to our office to examine it (at our expense) and I would like to offer to replace it. The “L9 100” is particularly tasty at the moment: burnt ropes, maltiness, citrus fruit, bacon-fat smokiness.

    • Seth Nadel says:

      John, do you have an opinion on the word “Blend”? When I think about “Blend” I think about Dewars. Compass Box is far from that definition.

      • John Hansell says:

        Seth, it is indeed a blend. A blend of malt whiskies. It’s not a single malt. It contains whiskies from more than one distillery. Therefore it’s a blend. And yes, Dewar’s is a blend too. And by the way, there are some very nice Dewar’s blends, like the new 18 yr. old and Dewar’s Signature. Please try to keep more of an open mind regarding blends (both blends of malts and more traditional blends that contain grain whisky).

        • Seth Nadel says:

          Agreed. It’s just perception. If you tell someone it’s a blend they immediately think of Dewars or Chivas. Nothing against Dewar or Chivas, of course. I am not closed minded at all. Far from it. I’ve had blends that I think are better than single malts.

          • Seth Nadel says:

            It’s a great category. I would like to see more of these whiskies on the market. I heard the terms “vatted” and “pure malt” will no longer be used. Is this true?

          • John Hansell says:

            Yep, that’s true. They will now be referred to “blended malt whisky” or “a blend of malt whiskies” or something similar. Which is why they are in this category, which they won. If we get enough of these whiskies (vatted/blended malts) on the market, we might create an awards category just for them next year.

          • Red_Arremer says:

            You know, though CB is one of my favorite brands and it makes me feel good to see them get this award, I do feel that it’s a little unfair to the standard blends to have them compared to Glaser’s work… I’m not sure how much that bothers me– I don’t really care about standard blends much.
            Are you saying with this award that where CB is is where blends as a whole are or should be heading?

          • John Hansell says:

            That’s correct, Red. One of the considerations for selecting PM is that we see the blended/vatted malt category growing a lot, and we think that PM is a great example of how to do it right.

  13. John Hansell says:

    Thanks John for taking the time to share the details with us. And congrats!

  14. […] Other winners since our last post: Ardbeg Corryvreckan gets Scotch Whisky Single Malt of the Year, and Compass Box Peat Monster wins Scotch Whisky Blended Whisky of the Year. […]

  15. Bourbon Collector says:

    I don’t think it sould be called “Blend of the Year”. Dewars is a blend. Makes it sound a little cheap. It should be called “Blened Malt Whisky”…at least.

    • John Hansell says:

      Bourbon Collector, please see my comment to seth @12 above. Don’t be so down on blends. There are some great blends, just as there are some great single malts.

  16. John Glaser says:

    Responding to Seth’s question, above…

    …unfortunately, the word “blend” is the most confusing and misunderstood word in the Scotch whisky lexicon.

    To most people, especially those that are not nearly as whisky-interested as you reading this blog, “blend” indicates at best those traditional Scotch whiskies made by combining grain whisky and malt whisky. At worst, it indicates (falsely) an inferior type of Scotch whisky. (Yes, there are many poor quality blended Scotch whiskies which are the reason for this perception. There are also poor quality single malt and vatted malt whiskies, but not as many examples as blended Scotch whiskies as they comprise about 90% of the market.)

    Blending is also one of the skills required to make just about any whisky (Scotch or otherwise) that is not a single cask bottling. So, when you say a whisky is a blend, you may be technically correct. However, when you are referring to Scotch whisky, if you say a whisky is a “blend,” …ah, well there is where the confusion sets in.

    Not helped by the recently enacted UK Scotch whisky legislation which would have us, (that is, Scotch whisky producers), by November 2011 labelling our vatted malt Scotch whiskies (also known traditionally as “pure malts,” referring to blends of whiskies made from more than one single malt, without the addition of grain whisky), (am I making myself clear?), as “blended malt Scotch whiskies.”

    Perhaps I’ve said enough. Or too much. Either way, my response to Seth’s question will, hopefully, be clear? Cheers.

  17. Mark Davis says:

    People don’t consider coffee bean blends to be an inferior product even though just like scotch they were frequently lower end products that removed anything that someone might find offensive leaving out lots of character. If Compass Box leads more companies to create higher end blends the word will lose it’s negative connotation. This discussion has been very interesting. It seems to be more about the connotation in the consumer’s mind than the literal meaning of the word. We have a tendency to want a product that is more “pure” unchill-filtered, cask strength, single malt from malt made on site. I strive to be an enthusiast and not a snob. To me that means enjoying a quality product. Peat monster is on my list of about a half dozen bottles in my price range I want to buy. this discussion thread put it over the edge.

    • Seth Nadel says:

      At the end of the day, it’s just semantics. Experienced whisky drinkers know what it is, but the novice doesn’t. I can tell you from experience that once you tell them a particular whisky is a blend, they give you a strange look. Try explaining what a pure malt/vatted malt is and you will get an even stranger look. In time, I’m sure it won’t matter. It’s just a little frustrating at the moment.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Amongst connoisseurs there is often too much emphasis on the features of a whisky that can be easily named or printed on the label, age, non-chillfiltering, non coloring, strength, ratings… etc.

      Tasting with an open mind is the best and ultimately most rewarding approach. Next to my cask strength, single cask Brora, I’ve got a chill-filtered, caramel colored, Rosebank bottled at 40%, which I like as much or better, which just goes to show…

  18. Goldfinch says:

    Here comes the heretic…
    …whilst risking sounding inflammatory, are any of you actually drinkers, or do you reverentially sip the odd half-ounce or so whilst stroking your beards? I for one am sick and weary of sherry wood this, cask strength that. I DON’T have a nose that would grace a French perfume house, BUT my latest bottle from Islay was redolent of the underarm region of one of my work shirts after a long hard shift during the summer months. Fact. I like a good drink at weekend. A REALLY good drink. I know for a fact that the bottle of Johnnie Black that I buy this weekend will be essentially the same as the one from last week. To be honest with you, a hundred pound bottle tastes EXACTLY the same as a fifteen pound bottle when you’re over half way through it at two in the morning. Enjoy your Scotch, but please remember, it’s just booze, not some mystical elixir.

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