Compass Box: The Peat Monster Review
This whisky review represents a bit of a departure for me. Up until now I have only reviewed single malts and only official bottlings form the distillery and when purchasing whisky have always stayed clear of independent bottlings. Well, this review is from an independent bottling company and not even a single malt. It is a malt blend!
Single Malt, Malt Blend and Blended Whisky
Just to make things clear before we start, because I know a lot of people including whisky reviewers (who really ought to know better), confuse a “Malt Blend whisky” with a “Blended whisky”, so let me explain the terms.
A single malt whisky is one that is made entirely of distilled malted barley from a single distillery. It has been matured in oak casks for a minimum of 3 years and one day.
A Scotch Blended whisky is made primarily from simple industrial (un-malted) grain spirit (usually distilled wheat, barley or corn mash or a combination), which is matured in oak casks for a minimum of 3 Years and 1 day and then BLENDED with a number of Single Malt whiskies in order to give it flavour and character.
This bottle we have before us is a “Malt Blend” which is simply a term used for a marriage or “mixing” of several single malt whiskies. In other words, it is still 100% malted barley distilled whisky, just that instead of coming from a single distillery, the whisky is made up of from malted spirit from several distilleries. There is no industrial grain whisky involved.
For example, Caol Ila is a single malt and Lagavulin is a single malt. If you mixed or blended the two together you would have a Malt Blend. If you then mixed it with industrial grain un-malted whisky, it would then be a Scotch Blended whisky.
A little bit about Compass Box
Self-styled guru “Whiskymaker”, John Glaser began his whisky career as an American living in the UK and working for a large Scotch whisky company. His love for Scotch whisky and a dream of a more honest, transparent and purist approach to making Scotch, plus his increasing frustration about the dominance of marketing and complete lack of transparency in the industry, led him to resign from his job and set up his own independent bottling company with the goal of making the best Scotch whisky possible with no compromise and being 100% transparent as to what goes into his whiskies. Today his company consists of offices in London and Glasgow and around 16 employees.
Too Much Information?
Compass Box’s purist philosophy has got themselves into a lot of trouble because they have the absolute chutzpa of wanting to tell us, the consumers, everything about their whisky, not just alcohol levels, whether natural colour and unchilled filtered, but everything including which type casks they used to mature the spirit and how long (that is, the age) the spirit spent maturing in each and every cask they use before blending the malts together.
“Bad, Bad, Bad, say the big Scotch whisky companies!
The Big Whisky producers are not happy at all about this and have reported Compass Box to the Trade commission for breaking their narrow interpretation of European and UK Spirits regulation. The regulation says that an age statement whisky must state the youngest whisky in the blend.
The original intention of the law was to stop a company using deceptive practices and marketing a whisky by stating on the label that it was a “25-Year-Old”, where in fact only 5% of the bottle was this age. The rest may be only 5-years-old!
Compass Box have no argument with this rule and will does indeed state the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle. However, they want to go further than this and reveal the ages and exact percentages of all the casks used in the bottling. The exact opposite of deceptive practices! For some unfathomable reason, the big whisky companies say that this is breaking the law! Their (in my opinion), disingenuous interpretation of the regulations state that you must inform the purchaser about the youngest whisky used in the bottling and ONLY about the youngest whisky used! It is against the regulations to reveal the ages of the other casks.
This preposterous interpretation of the regulations and their aggressive attack on a little independent whisky bottling company is doing themselves far more harm than good and not endearing themselves to serious whisky fans at all.
Compass Box have stated that they are not forcing anyone else to be 100% transparent, are not forcing any other company to divulge the ages of all the casks they use in their bottlings or anything else, just to have the right to do so if they so wish. Why then do the big whisky companies feel so threatened? How does Compass Box’s total transparency affect or damage in any way, the big Scotch whisky producers? I simply do not understand why they have all their smart suited lawyers out in force and aiming their corporate legal pens at little Compass Box?
If anyone out there can explain it to me so please drop me a line and comment at the bottom of this blog post.
For more information about the story and campaign to support Compass Box, see here:
YouTube explanation video:
Also see statement on the Compass Box site here:
and articles on the issue here:
Compass Box: The Peat Monster, 46% abv, Non-Chilled filtered and natural colour. NIS 280
The whisky comes in a very practical, sturdy cardboard standard box (or compared to today’s whisky expressions, distinctly non-standard). I like the artwork very much with the humorous illustration of a peat monster drawing on the front. Anyone who has ever visited Kiryat Yovel in the south of Yerushalayim, near Ein Karem hospital, will be instantly reminded of the monster in the park there.
Despite its humour, the product name “The Peat Monster”, does not actually reflect the taste profile of the whisky. Even if I am an experienced peat whisky drinker, I am still objective enough to judge that this is hardly what I would call a monster peat bomb of a whisky. Indeed, if this were a single malt, I would have guessed it’s PPM level to have been around 15-20. Sure, it’s peatier than a standard Bowmore but far less than the Kildalton Three (Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg), let alone a Bruichladdich Octomore or the excellent Benromach “Peat Smoke” for that matter, so I would hardly call it a “Peat Monster” but I suppose, seeing as this is a malt blend made up of peated whiskies, its name is somewhat justified and certainly blends in with its unorthodox (in Scotch Whisky terms), and whacky character.
The information printed on the box blends in seamlessly with the artwork telling us that it is from Compass Box, the name of the expression and underneath in clear type, it informs us that it is PEATY, SMOKY, COMPLEX, Natural Colour, Non-chill Filtered – BLENDED MALT SCOTCH WHISKY. Bottled at 46% abv, produced by the “Whisky Maker” John Glaser and “Product of Scotland”. All good stuff.
At the back of the box though, it gets much better! It informs us that the idea behind “The Peat Monster” was to produce a whisky with the style and intensity of an Islay peated whisky but to make it fruitier and more complex giving it, what it terms “class and style”. I suppose what it means is that they wanted to produce a peated whisky which, whilst not compromising on the peat experience, would make more approachable to even non “Peat Heads”., those more inclined to drink fruity and floral Highland whiskies.
Next there is a very useful table of data informing us of their opinion of its flavour character (which I have to admit, is pretty accurate), telling us that this is a marriage of heavily peated Islay and Highland malts. Then they inform us that it was all matured in First-Fill and refill American Oak casks and bottled at natural colour with no chill-filtering. Lastly, they recommend how to drink it! The Peat Monster should be sipped! That they insist but then go on to say it can be enjoyed with a splash of water, (I would say that this is a must), and even with ice! They describe this as an after dinner or late-night dram. This is the first time I disagree with them. In my opinion, they are selling themselves short. This very dynamic dram can be enjoyed at any time.
The bottle label is an almost exact replica of the cardboard box emphasising its practical no-nonsense packaging design as if to say, “No expensive marketing hype here folks, all the quality is in the whisky!”.
Had I designed the box, I would have added to the humour by including a short silly story on the box about the Peat Monster but perhaps that would be considered too much like marketing hype.
A lovely natural looking, typical American Oak Ex-Bourbon cask pale straw gold. Pouring the whisky into a Glencairn glass it shows thick beads of alcohol sticking to the sides indicating a full barley oil rich content.
|Laphroaig 10 next to the Laphroaig dominant but natural colour Compass Box|
For a whisky called “The Peat Monster, my initial reaction was surprise that this is in fact a very gentle, well-mannered, civilised monster! Yes, there is plenty of peat and smoke there but it’s all presented in a very matter-of-fact way, along with a tremendous depth of aromas. All other heavily peated whiskies have attacked your nose with a big peat hit and only then, when your nose gets used to the intensity, do you start to notice other subtler aromas lurking behind this. Not so with this Compass Box creation. Once a few drops of water are added, there is not a hint of alcohol burn with all these layers of complexity are clearly laid out for you like a London Underground Tube map.
The London Underground map is one of the design wonders of the world. Harry Beck’s brilliant original design of the London Underground, as it was back in 1931, is still, even after 86 years, immediately recognisable in today’s much more complex London Underground Tube system of today. This is solid proof of the 100% soundness of scalability of his original design concept, beyond even Harry’s wildest dreams. I really don’t know many other man-made designs which match this in shear perfection.
On the nose, as well as sweet salty seaweed and smoke, there is a wonderful fruitiness not found in any Islay whisky I know. The fruit smell and taste consistently connected with Islay is lemon and there is indeed a substantial lemon in this but also oranges, melon, yellow apples, pair travel sweets, vanilla ice cream, kitchen dry spices, lavender, roses and a mild farm field fresh hay smell giving it a terrific body to it. The notes from the Compass Box page inform us the majority single malt in this malt blend is Laphroaig yet there is no hint of hospital medicinal smells which would lead anyone who was told that it contained predominantly Islay whisky but was not told which distillery to reject any notion of Laphroaig or Ardbeg and probably guess Caol Ila. By the way, you would rule out Kilchoman as this whisky lacks that creamy barley character which is the Kilchoman house style.
What else is in this Peat Monster? Well, my eldest son recognised something really significant from the get go. Whoever has ever drunk Tobermory’s peated Ledaig 10 will instantly recognise the influence in this malt blend. However, Ledaig is dominant farmyard, wet hay and other farmyard smells best left undescribed. Some people love it, others think it’s rancid. Even those who hate Ledaig, recognising its influence in this whisky will nonetheless be a very pleasant experience. Leadaig’s influence adds character and body without being offensive in anyway. Remarkably, it gives it a flowery perfume which is Ledaig influence yet not present in Ledaig single malt.
You are very much aware of notes of heavy Flowers in blossom. Roses in a garden. Lilac and Lavender. This whisky has a mosaic of intoxicating and perfectly combined aromas. But, wait, let’s now taste this whisky and see if the promise of near whisky perfection translates into flavour?
The Peat Monster has hefty and significant mouthfeel of flavour and texture.
The initial taste screams out Islay style but unlike any Islay whisky you know because this is full of lush soft fruits. Again, had I not known it was a malt blend I would have guessed this was some kind of special edition or independent bottling of a Caol Ila in a 100% natural and clean presentation. It is soft like Caol Ila yet not exclusively lemony like this single malt, but with a variety of fruits. Crispy green apples, cider crab apples, ripe pears, a tough of orange and lemon rind, some bitter chocolate in here as well. There is some mild breakfast tea tannin flavours in the middle of the tongue. A sweet and salty seaweediness, a coastal influence but with a prominent floral and fruity sweetness as well. Fresh barley field farm heavy body which is definitely not present in either Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg or in fact Caol Ila.
After tasting this, had someone told me that this was some 20-Year-Old special edition costing £200 I would have believed them.
The Peat Monster has a soft and gentle floral perfume element to it. I have to admit that in general, I don’t much like floral notes in my whisky. As much fruit as you can throw at me but floral I can do without. However, in this whisky, it adds complexity to the whisky without dominating. It’s present but never interferes with tastier flavours. This substantial floral perfume is definitely coming from the Ledaig but drinking Ledaig 10, you would not notice it under all that farmyard character.
The finish is sophisticated, long and satisfying. The whole experience from start to finish is immensely enjoyable. It produces a strong urge to want to share this whisky with everyone. The Peat Heads, the Lowland fruity admirers, the floral Speyside fans and the herbly West Highland enthusiasts. There is also that Northern Highlands waxiness of Clynelish in the background. This seems to be the malt for all regions. I have a friend who only enjots gentle brandy like sweet malts and would not normally touch an Islay malt with a barge poll. You know something, I think she might just enjoy this Peat Monster!? I’ll let you know in an update, bli neder.
This review was written after two tasting sessions. Last Shabbat with friends and this Shabbat with all the family including my married kids and their spouses. I had not told my family any of the whiskies in this malt blend, only that it was made up from a number of peated malts. As mentioned above, my eldest son identified the Ledaig immediately. My daughter, whose favourite whisky is The Glenlivet Nàdurra 16 and has never been keen on peated whiskies before. However, she said that she really enjoyed this. There was something really different about The Peat Monster!
As it happened, I had something rather interesting for her to compare this to. Only the evening before I had bought a bottle of The Glenlivet “Nadurra Peated Whisky Cask Finish”. It just suddenly appeared this week in all the wine shops in Yerushalayim. However, I saw it in Efrat for some NIS 80 cheaper than anywhere else and could not resist. Yes, it is a NAS whisky but non-chilled filtered, appears natural colour and bottled at natural cask strength of an amazing 62% abv!!! (Anyone who insists on drinking this neat is a complete idiot!)
Although made in a completely different way, they do have one thing in common. Dominant peat yet the fruitiness and floral flavours are there in quantity to make it appeal to a far wider audience. Which one did she prefer? Whereas I preferred the Compass Box, she enjoyed the Glenlivet more. Interesting. Suddenly she was drinking peaty whiskies and enjoying them!
A whisky that will encourage those who way they do not like peated whiskies to change their minds. What’s more, it might even encourage real Peat Heads to rediscover non-peated whiskies from the Highlands and even, dare I say, from the Speyside region!!!?
This is a masterpiece of marriages between quality single malts bringing out the best of all and even some things which were not apparent in the single malts on their own. I definitely intend to go and get another bottle of this ASAP! It is simply delicious.
Up until now, I have turned my nose up at malt blends considering them an inferior option to single malts. A perfect example of this is the rather boring and unforgettable William Grant’s Monkey Shoulder. Not so with this malted blend from Compass Box. This is a completely different beast; indeed, it is a monster of a whisky!
Not only do I highly recommend this for its smell and taste, The Peat Monster has been for me a real eye opener and education as to what Malt Blends can be and changed my whole thinking about the nature of single malts and has got me thinking about producing some malted blends of my own. Stay tuned.
The main page for Compass Box’s “The Peat Monster” is here:
Go to the page and click on “View INFOGRAPHIC”, (not the Fact sheet).
You will get this amazing page of information. If the law (or interpretation of the law) is ever changed we will Be’ezrat Hashem, one day be able to see this information printed on the box instead of hidden away in the corner of the online page.