Until not too long ago, the word 'blend' was anathema to Scotch aficionados. Despite the fact that the lion's share of whisky sales have historically been blends, the whisky cognoscenti viewed them as a cheap substitute for single malts, only suitable for the odd whisky soda. However, the landscape has shifted in the past decade—largely due to the efforts of one man, John Glaser of Compass Box.
Glaser entered the Scotch world with a background in wine, gaining experience in the world of blends as a marketing manager with Johnnie Walker. He left JW to start his own whisky company, Compass Box, in 2000. Over the years, with his prolific output of impressive and refreshingly new whiskies, he has become a giant on the blending scene, a man that John Hansell describes as "one of the most progressive and innovative whisky 'blenders' in this generation." The impact that Compass Box has made on the whisky scene is hard to overstate.
They have many lovely bottlings in their lineup, but arguably the breakthrough whisky was Peat Monster—an unapologetically peaty blend of single malts that has a balanced sweetness to it that makes it an entirely distinct style of whiskey. This year Compass Box celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Peat Monster with a limited edition anniversary release.
Due to legal reasons, Compass Box is slightly coy about the single malts used in their blends, but they've provided us with enough information to guess the malts used to assemble this fine whisky. Here's the text if you want to play along: "Islay single malts distilled on the south shore of the island and in the village of Port Askaig, balanced with a rich, smoky Highland single malt, and a fruity oily malt from the village of Brora." Finer minds than mine have deduced that the distilleries in question are quite likely to be Laphroaig, Caol Ila, Ardmore, and Clynelish. So how does this celebration go down?
Bottled at 97.8 proof, it's a strong whisky that is still perfectly enjoyable at bottle strength. The aroma is intensely peaty with a strong smoke framework, but a hint of malty fruit and apple lends balance. I could bury my nose in this whisky for longer than I care to admit. The flavor doesn't disappoint, leading with seaside brine, burnt rubber (the good kind), and peat, but it's remarkably lush and round. Don't get me wrong, it is a monster, but it's a very easygoing monster, somehow managing a full peaty complexity and character without the rough edges that typically accompany peat. Compass Box's trademark balance is on full display. The finish is long and enveloping, wrapping you up in a blanket of peat fire and spices.
Adding a bit of water to the dram douses the peat just a wee bit, letting vanilla and spice come more to the foreground. A testament to the power of the act of blending, the Peat Monster 10th Anniversary ably combines single malts to create an unique whisky that is more than the sum of its parts.
Compass Box Peat Monster 10th Anniversary Limited Edition will be available at the end of October nationwide, $100 suggested retail for 750mL.
About the author: Andrew Strenio is a lover of all things potable. Since sneaking his grandmother's bourbon balls, he's moved on to touring distilleries and sipping snifters. He works by day making documentary television and films for an independent production company in Brooklyn.
Tasting sample provided for review consideration.