With a name inspired by a 1926 Buster Keaton movie, only 1,698 bottles produced, and the news that one of the two batches is more than 30 years old, the clues were there that this blend was never going to be cheap. It isn't, but it's superb, rich in flavor that screams dusty old oak office, fresh polish, and Sunday church, with spices, oak dried fruits, squiggly raisins, and a surprising melting fruit-and-nut dairy chocolate back story.
Compass Box The Peat Monster 10th Anniversary Special Cask Strength Bottling, 54.7%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $120
As you’d expect, solid peat is the first thing out of the glass, but this isn’t just a peat beast. Underneath are honey, dried fruit, and malt. The palate is all about balance, with honeyed malt, raisin, and oak spice all complementing smoky peat. A lush mouthfeel makes you forget it’s cask strength. A pure love note in a glass from Compass Box to Park Avenue Liquor. (Park Avenue Liquor only)
A marriage of three different single malts, aged in American and French oak. This whisky shows the advantage of marrying whiskies from more than one distillery (when properly done). Vibrant, with a complex array of fruit (orchard fruit, sultana), sweetness (light toffee, marzipan, honeyed malt), spice (creamy vanilla, mocha, warming pepper), smoke (tar, smoked olive, coal), and lesser notes of toasted almond and beach pebbles. More smoke and tar on the palate than the nose, yet always in balance. Well played! (Editor's Choice)
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. Long, warming finish. Amazing how a small change in composition can significantly benefit the overall flavor profile of a whisky.
The nose has honey, caramelized apples, Pixy Stix, pears in cream, faint pepper, ground coriander, and salty driftwood. It’s teeth-coating with golden syrup sugariness, the silky texture meting out pears, apples, sweet barley notes, and crunchy spices, before a vanilla phase gives way to black pepper, licorice, and smoke. Mouth-numbing finish of long-active spices over vanilla. (7,908 bottles)
Recognizably Spice Tree, but it’s richer, more dapper, traveling in style, and wearing better shoes. Peanut brittle, toasted coconut, and pale, light sherry. Honeyed palate with caramelized sugar, red apple, and red berry fruit before the gingersnaps and clove bite. It revs up with another spicy blast for the finish. A tasty fifth Tenth Anniversary bottling from Compass Box; just don’t let yesterday take up too much of today. (12,240 bottles)
Without dredging up all the brouhaha over the particulars of the component malts, this exemplary whisky has a balance you could rest on a pinhead. Earthy peats, discarded fish boxes, and crisp bacon rind combine in a smokiness you can really get into, while there is honey sweetness, macadamia nuts, and a bouquet of early summer flowers. It dances upon the tongue, sweet with toasted spices, anchored by dark citrus, and with a telling waxiness to the mouthfeel. Get some.
Buttery vanilla, marzipan, honey, ripening melon, orange water, lavender, and muted spices lead to a gorgeous, rounded, sugar-sweet palate of vanilla, beeswax, citrus, ground almond, and shortbread. Precision-engineered to ensure the exquisite flavor never stops. (3,060 bottles)
This has long been a core whisky for Compass Box, but the latest version of it is spicier and fresher than I recall, and without doubt, it's my new best friend. Virgin French oak heads help to contribute oriental and aromatic spices on the nose, with hints of melon and pineapple candy sweets. The taste is a delight, with spearmint, soft toffee, sweet citrus fruit, lemonade mixed with beer, and strawberry wafers. An array of spices from cinnamon to chili to ginger dominate the finish.
Not seen since 2010, this yields vanilla frosting, menthol, spearmint, cream, dry spices, cedarwood, chopped herbs, and a discernable whiff of old grain. Silky taste of butterscotch; it becomes more honeyed, with creamy vanilla, dried banana, malt, and a pinch of cinnamon, pepper, herbs, clove, and eucalyptus. The yin and yang of Glen Elgin and Girvan makes an admirable exercise in precision, minimalist blending. Mad as a box of frogs.
Balanced Islay whiskies combine peat smoke characteristics with a sweet foundation. They’re not one-dimensionally smoky. This whisky is an excellent example. This is a peat-laden whisky with refinement and grace. Creamy vanilla, caramel, and honey harmoniously marry with persistent -- yet controlled -- peat smoke. Crisp spice notes and dancing fruit throughout adds complexity. Well done.
(Exclusive to Park Ave. Liquors, New York, NY) This is a vatting of two single malts: the malty and sometimes smoky Ardmore and the always smoky and spicy Caol Ila. The whisky expresses smartly complex aromas of smoky bonfire smothered with peat, with notes of tar, olives, freshly ground pepper, and seaweed. A sweet maltiness (from the Ardmore?) binds the flavors together. On the palate, the whisky begins sweet, then the powerful peat smoke emerges, yielding to olives, peppery spices, and seaweed. The finish is long and powerful with the peat smoke again emerging and lingering on seemingly forever. A monster indeed. This whisky’s complexity demonstrates the virtues of vatting. Many smoky whiskies have nothing else going on behind the cloak of smoke. This one does.
How time flies! This eloquent blended grain marks CBWC’s 15th anniversary and the combination of these aged grains is idiosyncratic of whisky auteur John Glaser’s distinctive taste. Rich honey, apricot stone, crisp spices, vanilla custard, gentle oak char, and tropical fruits promise a real reward. Succulently juicy, with melon, apple, and caramel, subtly paced, with chocolate and dark fruit infiltrating. Slowly the sweetness depletes to black pepper and spiced roast meats. Defer swallowing for as long as possible. (5,689 bottles)
The original Great King Street blend was all sweet lemon and spice. This is something else again. This is a gutsy, urban wise guy of a whisky, rich in peat, with distinctive malty flavors—all in all, closer to a malt than a blend. That's because of the high malt content, and only the rounded edges and soft finish are gilded by grain. Some fruit and spice emerge through the peat, but the smoke's what you remember—a master class in blending.
In my book, the bar can't be set much higher than it is for Flaming Heart and this latest version doesn't disappoint, though it does head off into a scuzzier, grittier, and more peaty direction than the 10th anniversary bottling, and has lost some of the black currant fruitiness in the process. No matter: this smolders with peaty and fishy intensity, works its way round to tinned strawberries, damson, and berry fruits, and emerges sooty and smoky. A BIG whisky.
Peat Monster is a staple Compass Box blended malt whisky, but this raises the bar significantly. The nose is “as you were”: peat reek, seaside, very Islay. But on the palate John Glaser's added some peaty Highland whisky—probably a signature Clynelish—to add a hint of licorice, a softer, fruitier smoke base, and through some virgin French oak, a delightful spiciness. Compass Box is in a purple patch. Again.
Compass Box, The Peat Monster, Reserve Edition, 48.9%
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky | $150.00
Compass Box Whiskies celebrates the fifth anniversary of The Peat Monster by thinking big: bigger intensity, put into a bigger bottle. This bold whisky is packed with Islay and coastal character, showing tarry rope, brine, and a hint of seaweed, along with teasing smoked olive, anise, and mustard seed. There is some civility to the whisky: sweeter notes of vanilla wafer, baked apple, ripe peach, and cream attempt to soften the blow. Smoke and tar on the finish. Nicely done. (Price is per 1.75L.)
This surrealist Compass Box whisky mimics the dimensional challenges of Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” by raising questions about the luxury pretensions of whisky. Is it the expense? Packaging? Good taste? Masquerading behind a green apple, a bowler-hatted John Glaser smiles enigmatically. Sultanas, charcoal smoke, toffee, chocolate, sea salt, and warm sherry tones. The alcohol rides with dense black cherry, cacao nibs, Colombian coffee, and dark fruits. Trails of smoking fruitcake finish the experience. Above all, buy and consume. (4,992 bottles)
Peatheads, listen up! Yes, there’s pine needles, zested lemons, honey, sanded wood, nutmeg, and cinnamon within this Islay-dominated blend, but it’s the billowing peat smoke that makes this special. It reeks gloriously of stacked fish boxes and heavy braided ropes on the pier. The dark fruit, baked lemons, cherry, clove, and cooked plum face entanglement in a labyrinth of shadowy stygian smoke. You could get lost in here for hours. (15,000 bottles)
Compass Box takes a fresh approach to flavored whisky by infusing Navalino oranges and spices into a blend of Highland single malt and single grain whisky. Bright and slightly bitter orange peel combines with vanilla, honey, and malt. The grain whisky gives nice support and structure along with black pepper, cinnamon, and clove spice. Great balance between the whisky and flavoring in a flavored whisky that is much more dry than sweet. Finally, a flavored whisky to get really excited about.
Ringmaster John Glaser’s latest Big Top attraction: the nose juggles dark marmalade, almonds, sweet sherry, dates, and dried pineapple. Flavors swing like a trapeze between deep orange, dried tropical fruits, nuts, and chocolate, with the silky composure of a seal balancing a ball on its nose. Ridiculously smooth; if you’re looking for burn, try fire eating instead. Knife throwers accurately pinpoint the finish: fruit, (thud) chocolate (thud), spice (THUD). In this manner, Mr. G. will challenge the world! (2,490 bottles)
Aged in new French oak casks, with long-toasted heads. Deliciously creamy, sweet, toasty profile with coconut cream, toasted marshmallow, toffee pudding, and honeyed vanilla. Gentle spice notes (especially clove) and hints of fruit dance on the palate. Very soothing. (Bottled for Park Avenue Liquors.)
Not the pimply youth you might be mistakenly expecting, this tongue-in-cheek release is impishly contemptuous of the regulations challenged by Glaser during the transparency debate. Lemon bonbon, heavy vanilla scents, beeswax boot polish, and white chocolate are well integrated with peat. The exotic fruits and citrus zest tumbling with golden syrup are knocked sideways by clove and pepper. Water provokes more sweet smoke. A dry, spicy, waxy finish remains. (3,282 bottles)
The tastiest of their Signature range, this boasts a dry oak and spice nose with fudge, rye bread, and banana interwoven with French oak influences of nutmeg, cinnamon, and ground ginger. As the gentle orange, malt, pear, and apple settle down, little spicy explosions of ginger and pepper detonate, leaving an aftermath of spiced malt, coffee cake, milk chocolate, and cocoa. Such a wonderful flavor trajectory to behold.
A marriage of two casks of Caol Ila (25 and 29 years old) and one cask of Imperial (14 years old). Penetratingly smoky, visceral, rooty, and even mean-tempered at times, ultimately being soothed by creamy vanilla and thick malt. It’s peppered with licorice stick, dark chocolate, campfire charcoal, subtle olive brine, and teasing berried fruit. Long, clinging finish. The flavors are nicely integrated and complex. Well done! (A limited release.)
After a series of esoteric and expensive releases, Compass Box has decided to bring it all back to the people with a blend — and how! The journey sets out as we might expect; all sweet vanilla ice cream, stewed pear tart, and peach melba, but then a wave of spice and white pepper provides an unexpected but delightful twist. It’s like Spice Tree meets Hedonism…Spiconism if you like.
A fantastically earthy whisky bristling with real, grubby peat: more blazing, bothy peat fire than coastal campfire. Fleeting elements of fudge and smoldering, mellow cigar stubs. A smooth, creamy blend with lemon curd, vanilla sponge, mint, smoked prosciutto, and a dollop of malt. There’s wonderfully smoky, singeing heat at the back of the palate, though it feels like the Islay peat has been pegged back for the 2015 batch. A succulent and smoky finish to warm the soul.
Compared to Asyla, this has noticeable added richness, fruit, and spice. The nose brings apple danish, creamy custard, honey, citrus peel, and the fragrance of lightly toasted spices. Against a core of rich, tangy fruits, a spicy partnership of pepper and clove manifests under the tongue, stealthily curls around the sides, and storms the palate. The mouth-coating finish drips with mandarin and cooked apple pierced by clove.
Not Compass Box at the very top of its game, but pretty damn good nevertheless. This is a mix of malts from different distilleries and it has the company's distinctive DNA all over it, combining siege cannon-strength peated malt with rich, fruity, sherried whisky. It's clumsier than the wonderful Flaming Heart but in the same ballpark, and I have to declare an interest — I adore this combination when it's delivered right. £180
An older, more exotic expression of Hedonism, consisting of 42 year old Invergordon and 29 year old Cameron Bridge grain whiskies. Straw gold color. This is richer and cleaner than most other grain whisky offerings, which are often too thin and overweight with dry oak. Like many older grain whiskies, creamy vanilla, coconut custard, and a variety of tropical fruits abound. Additional notes of toasted marshmallow, caramelized apricot, golden raisin, and a gentle dried spice finish add complexity. Surely one of the better examples of this rather eccentric category.
Dried heather, peppercorn, salt crystals, green fruits, dried fennel, aniseed, dry leaves, and floral top notes produce a lip-smacking bouquet like a chilled manzanilla. The palate has vanilla tablet sweetness like the previous Delilah’s release, though this is bottled at higher strength, with flavors of dried fruits: peach, apricot, and mandarin. (8,520 bottles)
A special bottling in recognition of Chicago's outstanding alternative rock venue Delilah's, and like that venue this is full of character, color, grit, and determination. It's sweet but never cloying, soft and honeyed but gutsy, and there are peppermint, licorice, and fresh hay notes in the mix, too. It's spent time in bourbon wood and that shows. A departure for Compass Box, but a healthy one.
The smoking wicks of church candles, smoked meat, coastal notes, cumin, coriander seed, and herbal elements. A sophisticated palate of unsweetened fruit. Peaches, citrus, and pineapple, with a waxy presence building later on, settles to a dry finish of herbs and beeswax. We can easily overlook the narcissism of making tributes to your own past bottlings as John Glaser turns whisky resurrectionist in homage to Eleuthera. Layered, complex, thought provoking, and finely tuned for the connoisseur.
Compass Box The Peat Monster Cask Strength Magnum, 57.3%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $188
Dry peats tossed on a driftwood fire with coastal aromas of sun-scorched seaweed beside high tide rock pools comprise this refined dram. A momentary glimpse of lighter lemon, lime, and pineapple is quickly snuffed out by the full strength assault. It’s like pulling the pin on a grenade. There’s a dense barrage of peat moss, worn leather, and cocoa at the death. Ride through it to glory. Possibly the highest ABV that Compass Box has ever given us. £120
This radiant, refreshing whisky offers creamy fudge, light vanilla, fresh apple, peach, and biscuit notes on the nose, demonstrating the generosity of the American oak. In the mouth, it’s luscious, balanced, and mouth-coating, with sweet honey, lemon peel, lime zest, and aromatic spices, fattening out briefly before becoming soft as suede, riffing on vanilla, melon, and lemon biscuits. Dry finish with vanilla cream and soft fruits.
Bright gold color. Fresh aromas of smoked olives, brine, exotic pepper, and fried bacon. Rich in body, and slightly oily in texture. In flavor, this is a big, dynamic whisky-smoked olives, sea salt, seaweed, mustard seed, all on a backdrop of vanilla sweetness. Long, smoky finish.
Oat flapjacks, golden syrup, beautiful dry-roasted spice notes, vanilla essence, cornbread, creamed coconut, and flashes of mango and apple. A luxuriant feast of sweet vanilla, soft warm bread, whipped cream, caramel, a little tug of spice, with a late ripple of grain flavors. Caramel, spice, and grain notes mark the finish.
A ripe proposition, the fruit and the smoke locked tightly together like interwoven fingers. Peaches, melon, baked apple, fresh mango, and sugar strands with a supporting role of red berries. With a malt content exceeding two-thirds, the full-bodied palate is sweet as brown sugar, with mandarin tartness, apple, and red licorice meandering to a vinous finish of red berry fruit. With its cheeky Glasgow landmark on the label, this permanent addition to the GKS range is pure gallus.
Bottled as London's Big Ben began to strike midnight on the day that the word 'vatted' was outlawed in Scotch whisky terminology, this is a mix of grains from different distilleries and does the campaign for more Scotch grain whisky no harm at all. Gossamer soft and smooth with a honeycomb heart and milk chocolate, vanilla, and the odd prod of spice, it's a cushion of a whisky. Luxurious, indulgent, and well made. £125
This is a special bottling for London department store Selfridge's, but it represents a clever strategy by artisan Compass Box to set its own agenda by regionalizing its whiskies. This is a long way from the New York blend—indeed, creamier and sweeter than other recent releases. It has a honey heart, traces of cinnamon, and menthol in the mix, plus wispy smoke. There's some spice and peat late on, but in relatively subdued form. Very pleasant. £85
Gold color. Delicate aromas of tropical fruits (coconut, pineapple, mango), marshmallow and vanilla. Light in body, with delicate exotic flavors that deliver what the aroma promises. Soft, gentle, delicately creamy finish.
Compass Box Great King Street Experimental OO-V4, 43%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $48
Great King Street was our Blend of the Year two years ago and Compass Box wondered where to take it next. So they have released two versions, asking customers to decide between them by voting online. The other one is peated and will probably win easily, which is a shame, because this is a more subtle and better whisky. Sherry, syrup, honey, apple, and sultanas are all here, but nuanced. Delightful. £30
This torchbearer for the Compass Box Scotch Whisky Transparency campaign is looking for your support. A fruit medley of lemon, lime, gooseberry cream, and soft pineapple chunks. Ripe apple and pear from the orchard are given a fresh, spicy lift and integrate with the vanilla and sweet toffee notes. It makes a clean exit with lengthy spices and juiciness, never becoming bitter. One thing is clear, it’s a finely structured dram worthy of your vote. (5,922 bottles)
Compass Box Great King Street Experimental TR-06, 43%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $48
One of two blended whiskies vying to be the official next Great King Street release, this is the peated version and it's gustier than the original, with less citrus and more peat. Indeed, it's impressively full-flavored, with peat in the driving seat and ginger cake, lime, and dark chocolate, biscuits and pepper in the mix. Best of all, unlike far too many Scotch whiskies this year, it doesn't use peat to hide immature spirit. £30
The second generation of The Spice Tree. (This new expression sports a much larger tree image on the front label.) While the first bottling used inner French oak staves to impart additional oak influence, this one uses French oak barrel heads. This new bottling is also bolder, displaying more oak -- there are more dried spice notes and it’s more viscous and clinging on the palate. (It’s also less elegant than the original bottling.) Notes of sticky toffee, vanilla fudge, bramble, and red currant give way to oak resin, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and subtle lemongrass. A tactile, somewhat resinous, polished leather finish wraps it up. A nice whisky, but I really enjoy the subtler, more elegant nature of the original bottling better.
A blend of three different single malts. Its name derives from the fact that the whisky is aged in American oak bodies with French Oak heads (a cross of both oaks). There’s no age statement, but the whiskies are all older than ten years. This is a gentle, subtly complex, somewhat lithe, easy drinking whisky (and with less oak spice than its predecessor, The Spice Tree). People think whisky is an after-dinner drink, but I think this would make a great aperitif because of its delicate dry spice notes and light body. I’m picking up evenly-proportioned notes of vanilla and coconut, with more subtle notes of clove, anise, and delicate fruit, all wrapped up in a gentle, malty body. A very versatile whisky.