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The advantage of travelling on board BRAD PEAT is that even confined, the frontiers fall.
So, as soon as I left the new distillery of Skye, I chose to stay in the Kingdom of her majesty Queen Elizabeth (peace to the soul of Philip who was not the last to taste a good scotch). I'm going to go for a walk in the suburbs of London to the CHISWICK STUDIO of our friend John GLASER.
This time we are not going to experiment a new blend (as we did with the SPICE TREE EXTRAVAGANZA in a previous tasting or compare two NO NAME of the range) but we are going to talk about a "simple" bottle makeover and especially about the content of the said bottles: Today I am going to tell you about the first time I tasted the ARTIST'S BLEND and the (future) GLASGOW BLEND.
At the beginning of this year 2021, the team of John Glaser (the most English of the Americans) came to "dust off" the visual of these two iconic blends of the brand. But before tasting them for you, I will tell you about the first time I met them in Paris.
We are at the end of 2011 in Paris in the mysterious rue des Ciseaux in the 6th arrondissement. The appointment had been given by Chris Maybin (the most French of the English, better known under the nickname of My Lord, who was working at the time for the master blender and who has now left for new Elixirs) in front of a laundry. The message was very mysterious.
See you at the GREAT KING STREET EXPERIENCE (#00-V4 vs #TR-06).
On this October evening, we were half an hour late (a banal mistake of the subway directions and a fall from a badly secured fast-food chair -an afternoon outing of live whisky in fact-) and the laundry where we had an appointment was deserted.
In fact, there was only one person waiting for his machine to finish running. But very quickly we recognized the silhouette of our friend My Lord! Chris turns around and says in his best French: "Ahhn bonsoiiir mes amis, vous voilà! Follow me".
He led us to the back of the launderette and opened a door that looked as if it had been closed by one of the many dryers. Behind the door it was dark and the descending stairs did not look encouraging. Nevertheless, we followed My Lord and after a few seconds we heard people talking: in this vaulted cellar, a speakeasy (as Paris contains many).
Welcome to the GREAT KING STREET experience #00-V4 and #TR-06.
The evening had already begun and John Glaser had already started talking to the other guests. My lord starts and says "you already know Artist Blend (we will come back to the tasting below) but we want to create a new blend and we would like to have your opinion".
We go with him to the back of the cellar where 3 bottles are waiting for us. One with a yellow label (Artist blend), one with a red label and a third with a light blue/grey label.
My lord tells us we want to know (through a poll) if you are more Sherry or more Smokey (as he says this he shows us two badges of I Love Smokey and I Love peated.
When you like whisky you know very well that the choice is very difficult and that it depends on the feeling of the moment.
Before starting, Chris tells us that the two distillates are 43%, one will be more "Sherry" and one more "smokey".
My lord starts with the red bottle annotated with an "Experimental Batch #00-V4" by presenting it to us (as often with the Swiss precision of transparency intended by John Glaser):
- "This Blend is composed of 2/3 of single malt from the highlands (Clynelish, Dailuaine and Teaninich), a quarter of Lowlands grain whisky (Girvan) and a hint of Islay whisky. This blend was then aged in first fill sherry casks and then finished in bourbon casks. It made us dream with its vanilla and coconut aromas, to which were added citrus and spices".
He then takes the blue-grey (certainly close to the future New York blend much sought after by whisky nugget lovers) and presents it to us:
Experimental Batch #TR-06 is made of 1/3 Lowlands grain whisky (Girvan) and 2/3 of a mix of highlands and speyside whiskies (CLYNELISH, DAILUAINE, Teaninich and Ardmore) but especially from the southern islands (Mull with LEDAIG and Islay with Laphroig), all matured in bourbon casks and then in new French oak casks. Indeed we were off to the beaches around a peat fire with minty marine aromas.
Once you have tasted the two Compass box creations, he says "now you will have to choose because John is hesitating and he is interested in the taste of each one". When you have decided, you will take one of the two badges, which will allow you to discuss with the other guests and share your feelings.
From there, many debates are launched between us with the words: "I am more of a sherry man": "I'm more of a sherry man" or "I'm not too peaty" (opinion from 2011 changed by the person in question), or "it seems like there's some cherry in it" (post live whisky comment) or another "I think that peaty wine would go well with a Medoc attic" (completely out of place in this evening). In short, everything, and especially a 50/50 on the Sherry/peated choice. As far as I'm concerned, as much of a PEATDREAM as I am, that evening I preferred the Sherry and took a red badge.
The debate was tough but no consensus was reached. On one of the walls of the room a notice board showed the dilemma of the whole assembly and a real dilemma for John Glaser.
I jumped in and said to my Lord: "What if the choice was as the meeting said, a 50/50 for the new Compass box blend? ". He looks at me and says "why not, it could be like that! ".
He walks over to John Glaser and says a word in his ear. The latter leans over and looks at me laughing! Isn't this the real genesis of the Glasgow blend? No one will ever know but with its industrial and sweet smoke airs from the city of Glasgow !
As the discussions continue and remain arduous, we move to another corner of the cellar where the rest of the Compass Box range awaits us. So we are given the opportunity to taste the entire range and say the now cult phrase "All the range my lord, Please! "
Ah what good memories!
But back to our two tastings!
So let's leave Paris and go back to London, or no, let's go further up in Scotland to Edinburgh, and let's start by looking at ARTIST'S BLEND (formerly known as Great King Street Artist's Blend).
Why the name in the first place? You only have to look back at the history of Compass Box to see that before occupying the CHISWICK STUDIO in London, the company's creative offices were located at 24 Great King Street in beautiful Edinburgh (but that's for the old name). The new name is meant to be more representative of the city and its calm and collected nature.
So is it really necessary to present this iconic John Glaser reference? As is often the case with the COMPASS BOX, transparency is the order of the day (which does not detract from its great complexity).
In the poetic and artistic image of the city, it is adorned with a beautiful golden colour and is made from :
- 45% single grain from the Lowland distillery The Cameronbridge, aged in bourbon casks
- 27% single malt from the Linkwood speyside distillery but partitioned in 2 (3/4 in bourbon casks and ¼ in seasoned sherry casks)
- 10% from the mysterious speyside distillery The Balmenach aged in bourbon casks
- 10% Northern Highland Clynelish
- 8% different Highland Malt aged by the house in French oak casks (Glen Moray, Tomatin and Balmenach distilleries).
As always, the recipe is closer to that of an alchemist than a master blender!
What is it really like?
This golden coloured whisky looks like a peaceful sunny afternoon by the lake facing the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh.
Away from the glass the nose is on the vanilla of the single grain. However, the closer you get to it, the more fruity the notes become.
Once in the glass, the first pass reveals a vinous touch (as if the Linkwood aged in sherry wanted to escape). Soon the barley makes its entrance and proves that this is not just grain whisky. We feel an almost lemony and liquorice-like impression of freshness.
In the second passage we discover beautiful silky notes of white chocolate but also of nuts.
In the third passage we stay on sweet notes but more vanilla or from white fruits gorged with sun.
As much as on the nose we can differentiate the two sources of distillate (grain and malt) as much as on the palate they blend and become one.
In the palm of your hand, you could almost believe in a smoke fund.
When it enters the mouth it is warm and unctuous. It brings out sweet and mellow notes. Then a hint of spice appears, very stealthily. But this disappears very quickly to give way to honey and caramel again.
The rather short finish is on the same sweet and unctuous notes. A hint of harshness and liquorice can be detected, but the overall impression is more mellow.
After the wisdom of EDIMBOURG, let's move on to the madness of GLASGOW.
As with ARTIST'S BLEND, let's look at the name. If you have ever spent a weekend evening in GLASGOW (you must see it once in your life), you will immediately understand why COMPASS BOX chose this name for its second ex-Great King Street (at the time) to host a blend that is far from the standards and peaty in the old way! When you know that, you can also understand why the bottle features a statue of the Duke of Wellington wearing (as is often the custom) his best headgear.
So on what basis did the magician JOHN GLASER leave in 2014.
After the turpitude of the tasting sessions around the world (of which I presented the Parisian version, barely modified), no compromise emerged from the lot. The solution was either to make two new blends, or to mix them and go for a 50/50 peated-sherry. When I mentioned genesis above! If the basics came from the undecided amateurs on the peaty side or the sherry side, the bulk of the work was of course done by John and his team.
So what do we find inside?
We're going to be dealing with a rather rare complexity (far from 50/50):
- 35% single grain from the Lowlands (The Cameronbridge distillery aged in bourbon casks)
- 35% single malt from Speyside (Glen Moray, Tomatin and Balmenach Distillery), mostly aged in first fill sherry butts and some refilled sherry butts
- 18% Islay whisky (Laphroaig) aged in re-matured casks
- 10 % from the Northern Highlands of the Clynelish distillery (aged in bourbon casks)
- 3% from the Highlands (Clynelish, Teaninich and Dailuaine), aged in burnt French oak casks.
This brings notes of sherry and peat!
So what about it?
This blend is only slightly darker in colour than ARTIST BLEND.
When you are still a little bit away from the glass, you immediately detect more red fruits and already the peat smoke.
When you put your nose in the glass for the first time, you will immediately notice sherry and spice aromas. It is accompanied by the mellow and sweet smell of a marshmallow. One can also detect the smell of caramel, but one can already smell, as if lurking in the background, the scent of peat smoke.
The second part of the nose is entirely devoted to peat smoke and malted distillate aged in bourbon barrels with beautiful barley notes.
The third part of the nose will return to red fruits, but will leave here and there some notes of liquorice and the warmth of chocolate.
In the palm of your hand, there is no mistaking it, we are in the presence of a peated whisky with a nice smell of heated tyres.
When it enters the mouth, this Blend is dense and much more present than its predecessor. It will give off a soft warmth with aromas of ripe red fruits and spices. For a while we detect a hint of harshness, but immediately we find ourselves in our spice garden, which penetrates the tip of the tongue and the back of the throat. Then, as if hidden, the aromas of peat appear and smoke your mouth. After a few seconds, these fade away to give way to a finish based on honeyed notes and woody almond notes.
The finish of this GLASGOW BLEND will be longer than the ARTIST'S BLEND with a peaty memory and traces of spices and liquorice left here and there.
The hopelessly empty glass will be on the freshness of lemon and of course smoke.
This two Blends, which are meant to reflect the two great Scottish cities, is also a nice summary of the aromatic palette of COMPASS BOX. Either you go for a quiet Blend and go for an ARTIST'S BLEND or you want a bit of madness and go for a GLASGOW BLEND!
It is on these notes that I will leave London and continue towards the north of Scotland, because it seems that there are paranormal stories in the Highlands.