Distillery/Brand: Chivas | Region: Scotland | ABV: 40% | Colour: Deep Gold
Nose: 6.4 | Palate: 5.4 | Finish: 5.6 | Overall Score: 5.8
2016 has not been a stellar year and few will disagree with me on that. From beloved icons to hairy primates we’ve lost a lot in the last 350 odd days. Many people I know, my self included, will be glad to get rid of ’16 much like a corrupted tooth that’s been making your entire head hurt.
Notwithstanding the troubles rife in all the world there is also the alarming downward tailspin that is the whisky industry. And I don’t mean that in terms of commercial worries.
Oh no. Quite the contrary.
The giants have enjoyed this resurgence immensely. There’s not enough whisky to go around and distilleries / blending houses are struggling to meet with demand.
That’s all good.
What is tailspinning out of control is the unabashed pandering of, and I say this with the largest grain of sand that has ever existed in the history of the world, luxury whiskies to an unsuspecting public. A public that, in the midst of all these crises, still manages to loosen their purse strings in the hope of deriving value. A public that does not know any better. And a public that is routinely being hoodwinked.
It’s a shame.
I’ve written so many of these rant type reviews of late that it almost feels like it’s becoming my signature style. And I don’t want that. Because that’s not who I am. That’s not why I decided to start this little site. It was, in fact, to discover great whiskies and share them with the world. Not to put down the ones that didn’t meet with my satisfaction.
But this year has been harsh. Everywhere I’ve turned I’ve seen expensive suits, flashy invites, stunning venues, beautiful packaging, brilliant PR and, in the midst of all the fanfare, bullshit spirits devoid of any depth or complexity.
It’s almost as if they’ve latched on to a formula for success. Brand ambassador – check. Expensive venue – check. Entertaining distractions – check. Like shooting fish in a barrel.
And the really sick part is that, despite knowing all of this, people like me still latch on to the hope that this time, maybe this time, they won’t take us for a ride. That the heavy price tag genuinely reflects the quality and craftsmanship that the brand so proudly boasts about.
When I first came across the press release for the Chivas Ultis I was immediately drawn. I love vatted malts, thanks in large part to Compass Box, and was really curious what was being done with this. It had a nice story – five malts for five blenders – as a homage for their services. Nice. Comprising of five whiskies from five Speyside distilleries, Tormore, Longmorn, Strathisla, Allt A’bhainne and Braeval, it had the makings of something special. The packaging looked sleek and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
I sent out a mass message to all my friends to pick one up if they encountered it during their travels. And it was not a small favour to ask given it’s US$200 price tag. One of my close friends happened across this at Heathrow and put down his hard-earned money to do me this favour.
And as I sat at his table unboxing the bottle and poured my self a drink the only thing I could think of was Please don’t suck.
That’s it. Not I hope this blows me away. Just Please don’t suck. We are literally in that sorry stage of acceptance that it if it’s simply average we’re relieved. Of course, that wasn’t meant to be.
My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 40%
Nose: Lots of sherry. Butterscotch. Vanilla. Toffee. Soft red apples. Some cinnamon. Christmas fruit cake. Becomes a touch dry after a bit. Blood oranges. Black liquorice. Cherries. A very strong minty aroma now. Close to spearmint. Quite strange. As it settles stale coconut oil. Started off promising but somehow failed to keep me impressed. 6.4
Palate: Light bodied. Extremely weak delivery. Was expecting velvet to quote my mouth. What a let down. Peppercorns. Cinnamon. Bitter chocolate. Trouble getting any flavours out thanks to the low ABV. I tried, believe me. 5.4
Finish: Medium. Woody. Touch of limestone. 5.6
Overall Comments: What do you want me to say? Unbalanced. Devoid of any real depth. Weak. When I first read about this I made a little joke about the name. You see Ultis in Hindi means many vomits and I observed that this was probably not the best name to go with given the penchant that many Indians have for Chivas Regal. But in hindsight it seems like a fitting name given the state the industry is. Don’t waste your money on this bullshit.
Overall Score: 5.8
Distillery/Brand: Compass Box | ABV: 40% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 15 | Taste: 15 | Finish: 12 | Balance: 14 | Rating: 56
OK John Glaser. I know you do some amazing things at Compass Box but seriously WTF is this crap?
First he’s taken malt whisky from Glen Moray and blended it with equal parts grain whisky from Cameronbridge and vatted them in a first-fill American Oak hogshead.
He’s then infused the spirit with hand-zested Navalino orange peel, Indonesian Cassia Bark and Sri Lankan cloves. The result is the most imbalanced, weirdly tasting whisky I’ve ever had. And actually it doesn’t qualify as whisky any more thanks to the stuff he’s dropped in it. I believe it’s actually liqueur now.
I’m sure he had his reasons for doing what he did and I’m sure there are people who really really like this monstrosity. But if I know Glaser’s taste then I’m pretty sure he didn’t like this as well. Don’t believe me? Ask him yourself.
My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 40% ABV
Nose: Orange. Orange. A bit of orange. Some orange. A touch of orange. Lots of orange. With a side of orange. And, oh yeah, orange. Did I mention orange? No? A dash of orange. 15/25
Palate: That same orange that I got on the nose. Some orange. A touch of orange. A wisp of orange. Lots of orange. Chew on it and you get orange. Becomes more orangey mid-palate. 15/25
Finish: That orange again. With a touch of orange. 12/25
Overall Comments: Orange.
PS For a look at how to make orange zest work with your whisky check out the Amrut Narangi
Distillery/Brand: Compass Box | ABV: 48.9% | Colour: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 91
As I write this review a few days ago Compass Box launched a much needed transparency campaign. This was basically to get whisky enthusiasts from around the world to sign a petition urging the SWA to allow for greater transparency in this increasingly muddy industry.
While I dutifully did my part we all know what petitions like these really accomplish. A fleeting awareness of the issue followed by vague promises from the powers that be and, well, pretty much nothing after that. Like when everyone signed a petition to get Joseph Kony arrested. Now few even remember who he is.
Though there has been some good to come out of this. Major player Bruichladdich has promised to stand behind Compass Box and promised complete transparency about the Laddie. I can only hope that more brands follow suit and play their part. But that remains to be seen.
What does this have to do with my review? Well, the whole fracas was created thanks to SWA asking Compass Box to take down the recipe for two of their blends, This Is Not A Luxury Whisky & The Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary Edition.
Frankly, I think this whole drama did more good for Compass Box, and these two blends in particular, than the unnamed drinks giant that registered their complaint to the SWA in the first place. I for one couldn’t wait to get my hands on these whiskies and taste for my self what I was not allowed to find out!
And so here we are.
I’m a huge fan of The Flaming Heart and loved the 10th Anniversary Edition and this one is also nothing short of beautiful.
Here are the whiskies that have gone into the mix : 27.1% Caol Ila (re-fill American hogshead), 24.1% Clynelish (rejuvenated American hogshead), 10.3% of an un-named Highland Malt (New French Oak Hybrid Barrel) and 38.5% Caol Ila (from another re-fill American hogshead).
My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 48.9% ABV
Nose: Lime. Smoke. Touch of peat. Touch of oak. Spicy. Fennel. Green tobacco. Nice and crisp. White melon rind. Quite savory. Some cumin. Like a spice rack. Green grape. Some salt. Fishnets. Green apple. It’s controlled. I can very easily tell where one whisky component starts and the other one ends. And that’s just confirming the art of the master blender. Solid. 23/25
Palate: Sharp. Whisp of smoke. Peat. Salt. Ground coffee beans. Oak. So much coconut. White pepper. Quite drying as it goes mid-palate. Citrus. That lime again. That apple. A little sooty. Quite herbal. Green berries. Once again quite beautifully composed. All the profiles are individually recognisable yet work brilliantly together. 23/25
Finish: Medium to long. Oak. Drying. Sea washed pebbles. And the tiniest hint of something bitter. 22/25
Overall Comments: What can I say? John Glaser has a habit of hitting it out of the park more than any other whisky maker I know. And this is no exception. To take four good quality whiskies and make them simply work. I just wish the finish could have been a touch better for this to be flawless. But I’m happy with what I’ve got.
Distillery/Brand: Compass Box | ABV: 53.1% | Colour: Full Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89
A while ago I went on a rant and began cussing out the SWA, and the whisky authorities of the world in general, over the whole Compass Box transparency uproar.
Basically Compass Box, after having truthfully divulged what went in this and the Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary, got told off by the SWA for revealing too much and were forced to take down the recipe. In retaliation myself, and other bloggers, went ahead and posted the exact recipe of both the blends on our sites in the biggest show of mutiny Scotland has ever seen.
Take that William Wallace.
It was, therefore, nice to finally sit down with the whisky that had my malted panties in a twist to see whether it was really worth my ire.
And it was.
Made up using two single malts and two grain whiskies this is proof of John Glasers’ ability as a superb blender. He’s used 79% Glen Ord from a first-fill sherry butt, 10.1% Strathclyde grain whisky from re-fill American hogshead, 6.9% Girvan grain whisky also from re-fill American hogshead and finally 4% Caol Ila re-fill American hogshead.
The result is a huge flavorful whisky with a lot of punch. It’s not up there with The General, mind you, but a fine blend nonetheless.
My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at a decent 53.1%
Nose: Sweet. Sherry. Oak. Sultanas. Touch of floral. Milk chocolate. Blood oranges. Toffee. Coconut. Hint of almonds. Evolves nicely as it sits. Brown sugar. Ripe bananas. Cocoa beans. Hint of tiramisu. And whisp of smoke. Nice big aromas. I like it. 22/25
Palate: Full bodied. Coffee. Oak. Leather. Smoke. Sherry. Cinnamon. Black peppercorns. Figs. Quite resinous. Tobacco leaf. Dash of peat. Dark chocolate. Coconut. Full body on this one. Coats the mouth nicely. Feels big. 22/25
Finish: Super long. Coffee. Oak. Bitter chocolate. Touch of salt. Quite beautiful. 23/25
Overall Comments: Good, solid, hard working whisky with big flavors. Has its’ minor flaws but makes for an enjoyable ride. Solid finish. I’d happily drink this again.
Distillery/Brand: Compass Box | ABV: 53.4% | Color: Full Gold
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 94
Everyone loves a good story. None more so than me when it comes to whisky. And Compass Box seem to have a ton in store. Given the lopsided state of the whisky industry where stories (read marketing gimmicks) trump whisky quality it is natural to be a bit weary of enticing tales.
But when the spirit inside the bottle just happens to be a cut above so many of the others then a good story makes it that much more special.
Which is precisely the case with this gorgeous and extremely unique blend.
Compass Box, in my opinion, are possibly the finest independent bottlers of blended whisky today. From the Spice Tree to The Flaming Heart and now to this beautifully crafted gem there is seldom an instance when they are sub-par at their craft.
One day a strange thing happened at the Compass Box offices. A cask turned up claiming to be around 33 years of age which included spirit that had already been blended when young and left to mature. Now this is a strange thing to have in ones’ possession.
However, what is stranger still is that another cask was brought into their possession which also happened to have blended spirit in it and this one had been maturing for over 40 years. But no one really knows for sure.
The delightful mystery is that no one really knows what kind of whiskies were in both casks or even what sort of casks they were. So Compass Box did what they do best. They experimented.
They felt the only way this could work was if both the spirits were blended to make one whisky. And so after many tries at the correct ratios they finally arrived at The General. This blend is named after the 1926 Buster Keaton movie where he takes an old steam locomotive (The General) on a wild ride to find the love of his life.
One of 1678 bottles and bottled at 53.4% this is one of the finest blends you can try.
Nose: Equally strong sherry as well as bourbon. Very dry. Lots of oak. A lovely weathered oak at that. Warm chocolate oranges. Clove. Nutmeg. Cinnamon. Wood varnish. Sweet brown sugar. Sandalwood. Maple syrup. Dry autumn leaves and the faintest of peat. A lovely and strong nose.
Palate: Cinnamon. Dark honey. Maple syrup. Chocolate. Apple stew. Hints of cumin. And that beautifully textured wood. So mature and held together with amazing poise.
Finish: Long. Oloroso sherry. Cinnamon. And the mature oak is back.
This is a lovely whisky which seems to have worked as a result of creative blending. And every time I try a different Compass Box release I fall in love with their style a little more.
Distillery/Brand: The Lost Distilleries Blend | ABV: 50.9% | Color: Pale Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 20 | Rating: 84
OK. First off. I’m not a whisky snob. I like blends as much as single malts as much as bourbons as much as grain whisky. I do not thumb my nose at anything. If it tastes good it has my approval.
So let’s get that out of the way.
And at the same time I try my hardest not to be influenced by anyone. Be it awards or distinguished whisky critics. The latter being the toughest thing for me.
And so I found it a little hard to put together my review of the multi-award winning, critic loving Lost Distilleries Blend Batch 4.
Master of Malt are fast becoming extremely competent independent bottlers. This includes their Master of Malt bottlings, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, The Secret Distilleries, The Lost Distilleries and not to mention their own Vodka, liqueurs and bitters. So these guys know what they’re doing.
The Lost Distilleries Blend series is, as the name suggests, spirit from closed distilleries put together in a blend. No ages are given and neither are percentage of whiskies inside it. On the face of it I think it’s a brilliant idea. Very marketable.
The batch four includes whiskies from Rosebank, Littlemill, Imperial, Mosstowie, Glen Keith and Port Ellen.
Nose: Very sweet. Overripe mangoes and apricots. Vanilla and chocolate orange with a wisp of smoke (Port Ellen?). Custard. Dry sherry. Hint of wood polish and a sprinkle of very mild green herbs. Smells very Speyside-y to me. In a nice way.
Palate: Spicy. Much too spicy. Almost enough to overpower. I don’t like that. Some mild honey. Orange sponge cake. Apple strudel with cherry on top. But again lop sided spice.
Finish: Long. Mixed fruit salad.
The nose is decent enough. Nothing out of the ordinary that would make me go damn. The palate is simply not in sync for me. The finish is OK.
I really, really tried to like this. Multiple sittings. Letting it breathe for longer. Just didn’t cut it.
What did make a difference was water. A few drops and the bouquet just erupts in an explosion of vanilla. Nothing but vanilla every where. The palate mellow. The custard becomes stronger and sweeter. The finish more fruity.
I’m guessing the panel at the WWA dropped some water in this. But I’m going to have to mark it straight.