One of the things I love most about whisky is getting the chance to share it with others and see their reactions. Sometimes this goes badly, with cries of, “Nope, I could never drink that!” or “Ugh…still hate whisky!” But more often than not, I find people warm to the drink.
A recent example of this was when I went to visit Miss Andrea (a new(ish) whisky convert who attended the tasting with Ian Buxton I wrote about here and the Compass Box Blending School I wrote about for The W Club here). I took her the remaining parts of some samples of the latest Compass Box blends to try out, which I’d already tasted. And her reaction was brilliant.
As the night continued and she tried the others – the Great King Street New York edition and the Flaming Heart – her feedback was of a similar vein. And this continues the point I made in my last post about blends (seen here) – it is important to give them a try too, as they will often surprise.
Now, to backtrack a little, if you do not know about Compass Box yet, then let me tell you a bit more. Based in Chiswick, London, the boutique blending company puts high focus on smaller batch blends that go the extra mile in the unique department: from the taste to the packaging, Compass Box’s releases are always intriguing.
Founded by former Johnnie Walker marketing director John Glaser in 2000, it is recognised for helping turn people who would have previously enjoyed vodka or gin onto whisky, and inspiring the on-trade and whisky world alike. The company has won numerous honours, from Whisky Magazine’s Innovator of the Year award to design awards for its stunning packaging. And the team that joins John – ambassadors Chris Maybin and Celine Tetu, and assistant whisky maker Greg Glass – is full of boundless energy that is helping to reinvigorate the blended whisky category.
I’ll start with the Great King Street New York edition. This was the first specially made regional blend, put together for last year’s New York Whisky Fest held in October. Only 1,840 bottles were produced. John was inspired by two things in its creation: the first was the discovery of a New York Times article from the 1890s talking about a bartender – Patrick Duffy – who imported the first branded glass bottles of Scotch into the country, while the second was a recipe he found for a blend dating to the same era when Patrick was working. The GSK NY edition was created with that recipe in mind and dedicated to that bartender.
Made using an 80/20 split on malt to grain whisky, it is bottled at 46%. With the colour of a gold coin, this attractive whisky had a bouquet of vanilla, marshmallow, orange peel, peat, chlorine, toffee Quality Street coins and peaches. On the palate, it started off gently but had a nice, heavy mouthfeel. It was sweeter than I expected but had a good balance of smoke. Notes of vanilla, caramel, brown sugar, lemongrass, licorice and cigar smoke came through. The finish was glorious – it was plum full of a perfect harmony of sweet, bitter and smoky notes, with a lingering taste of black licorice.
Next up was Miss Andrea’s favourite – The Entertainer. Only 1,000 bottles of this 46% whisky were made exclusively for Selfridges, in honour of its founder, Harry Selfridge (who you can learn all about in the delightful new ITV series, found here). It was created using a style that was more likely to be found around the time he was establishing his flagship Oxford Street store in the early 20th century, with a higher proportion of malt to grain whisky (similar to the GSK NY).
With the colour of blooming mustard flowers mixed with toffee, this bursts with its first release into the glass. It was heavy with butter and brown sugar smells, like a fresh cake mixture. Then notes of homemade hot cinnamon buns came through, before I picked up chocolate, Fig Newtons and a hint of a floral note like fresh daffodils. The palate was even more delectable – butter and vanilla again, but also nutmeg spice, juicy peaches, milk chocolate and apricot brandy with a hot bit of peat that shot across my tongue. The finish was warm, with a real bitterness that settled around the mid-point of my palate and a gentle, unobtrusive hint of smoke. It was blooming marvelous – and the Entertainer of Oxford Street would have been proud to be associated with it, I’ve no doubt.
Finally, I sampled the Flaming Heart. Released globally in October, this was the fourth edition of this whisky. Made from a mix of Clynelish aged in American oak, along with a heavy dose of peated whisky, a glug of whiskies which went through a secondary maturation in new French oak and a teeny amount of sherried whisky, this is a powerhouse dram.
With a colour of aged, dry straw, this 48.9% whisky had a thick, heavy nose that was beautifully appealing and a sweetness that kicks off at the back of the throat. The seaside, buttery lobster, treacle and lemon all hung heavily in the air around the glass. On the palate, there was a perfect balance of sweet and smoke, with notes of butter, aspartame, brown sugar, chewy lemon peel and gooey vanilla extract. The finish was of burnt brioche and butter, with a wee burn at the front of the tongue. Again, marvelous.
And so, it was with agreement that I conversed about these whiskies with Miss Andrea. She too fell for them all, and declared she would happily buy any of them (a big statement for someone still getting into whisky and who has just a few wee sample bottles at the moment). Her other half, Mr Matt, nodded happily himself and I have a feeling my bit of drammage sharing will be another step on their ladder of whisky discovery – something I (and potentially Compass Box) will agree is delightful!