Compass Box “Asyla” (40%, OB, Circa 2006)

After the Chivas Regal 12yo, a Blended Whisky from a big company, let’s see what the little, more independent, guy can do. A guy with a passion for blending. Obviously I’m talking about John Glaser, and his Compass Box Whisky Company. A company that all Single Malt aficionado’s seem to love. We’ll have a look at an early “Asyla” here. Asyla is part of Compass Box’s signature range, or core range for us normal folks. A quick look at the website of Compass Box learns us that Asyla is the lightest of the signature range, calling it delicate and sweet.

Only Whiskies from first fill used American oak casks were used, for vanilla purposes obviously. The Malt’s used are Linkwood (30%), Glen Elgin (10%) and Teaninich (10%) and the Grain comes from Cameronbridge (50%). Sometimes Longmorn is also named as an “ingredient” for this blend, because the Compass Box website mentions that the Malts for this blend hail from the towns of Longmorn and Alness. Looking at the map you can say that Linkwood and Glen Elgin come form the town of Longmorn, so I’m not sure that there is any Longmorn in this blend. Since Asyla is around for quite some time, maybe the Malts that go into this blend differ from time to time. For now I’ll stick to Linkwood, Glen Elgin and Teaninich though. Before I forget, the other four offerings from the signature range are: “Oak Cross”, “The Spice Tree”, “The Peat Monster” and “Hedonism”. Of course outside of the signature range, a plethora of other bottlings exist.

Compass Box AsylaColor: Light gold.

Nose: Grainy, light, yet perfumed. Floral at first but also fruity, with a tiny hint of pineapple and green sour apple skin. Sometimes I even get a trace of lavas. Heaps of vanilla shoveled on top, and given some time even some spicy wood. More than a hint of Calvados, an Apple Cider distillate from Normandy or Brittany. Dry and powdery. Sweetness is mentioned by Compass Box themselves, but for me the nose doesn’t carry a promise of sweetness, in any way or form. Elegant and light, but alas also a bit thin and anonymous.

Taste: Paper and grain come first, after that a blend of sweetness and (virgin) oak, although no virgin oak was used for this one. The vanilla presents itself after the paper and grain, and a slight bitter note, fade out. Not a lot of development going on, and you’re probably not surprised this doesn’t have a long finish as well. The finish itself seems to be a bit unbalanced, due to some acidity from the oak. The oak seems a bit fresh, as in not used for a long time when it contained Bourbon (or Tennessee Whiskey).

To be honest other bottlings of Compass Box made me expect more from this. Something in the order of a variant of Delilah’s. It should have been more creamy and even more towards the vanilla note so vehemently advertised.

Sure. Whisky is the product of spirit and wood (amongst others), but the bitterness it could do without, and as I said, it should have been more creamy. If you can find it, get a Delilah’s by the same bottler, and you’ll know what I mean.

I do like a lot of Compass Box Whiskies, but this one is not entirely for me, and that’s a surprise, because I expected this would be better than the Chivas Regal 12yo. Maybe age does matter?

Score: 72

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Chivas Regal 12yo (40%, OB, 2012)

After two highly specialized, anorak type of Glen Scotia’s, because, besides us, who in the world has ever heard of Glen Scotia? It’s time to move on and get back to basics again. Back to Blended Whisky even. This time we will have a look at Chivas Brothers Chivas Regal 12yo. This is something you might encounter in almost every hotel bar around the world, as well as any Whisky selling supermarket. It’s been around since the beginning of the twentieth century. Blends have homes and the “home” of this blend is the Strathisla Distillery.

Chivas Regal 12Color: Gold.

Nose: Barley with funky honey sweetness. Quite fruity too. Lemon, apple skins and apricot water, because it has quite a watered down nose. Vanilla powder and distant hints of charred oak. For a 12yo, this has remarkable little wood aroma, but I have to say that the whole is rather thin and light. Apart from that, the nose seems to be designed to have a certain composition. This composition is there all the time. No development whatsoever. Is that typical for a blend like this, a blend from a big company, blends we al know as well as our ancestors?

Taste: Sweet and honeyed, but not thick, and very likable, just like a lemonade in the summer. Lots of grainy elements, but before you can make your mind up if you like this grainy element it is already surpassed by the fruit, (peach and banana), and a delicious sweetness. Very rounded out, like you get from caramel colouring. When the sweetness slowly travels down your throat a more bitter note is left behind in my mouth. Here’s the wood, and here is maybe the age, I guess. This lingers on for a while, fruity sweet yoghurt, which is nice. The end of the body and the finish are the same. The bitterness fades out and there hardly is any aftertaste. Just an echo of the body, which is good, because you don’t want the slight bitterness to be the note that stays behind. So not a very long finish and the aftertaste lets it down a bit.

This is actually not bad. Love the taste, and do concentrate on the taste, since in no way you’ll get the “12yo”, and there isn’t any noteworthy development going on in the glass as well. So, not bad, but would you go for “not bad” or should we expect some more from our blends these days? Sipping along, yes, its nice initially, but I also get bored quickly with this. After a glass of this, which I enjoyed, I wouldn’t pour me a second one soon. So my pick from the hotel bar would be Glenfiddich 12yo, since it always sits next to this Chivas Regal.

Points: 74

Compass Box “20th Anniversary of Delilah’s” (40%, OB, 6324 bottles)

Well here is a novelty from the Compass Box Whisky Co. This Blend was made for the 20th anniversary of Delilah’s, a Chicago based punk rock whisky bar Delilah’s in 2013. It was meant to go well with Beer and was intended to let it “think” it’s a Bourbon.

Compass Box Delilah'sThis Blend was made by John Glaser with the help of Mike Miller, the owner of Delilah’s. On The website of Compass Box they mention that the Whisky used has aged in a mix of experimental new American oak barrels and rejuvenated American oak hogsheads.

Color: Almost gold.

Nose: Grainy and fruity. Candy and waxy too. Very light. The nose is dominated by American oak, as I suppose John was aiming at. The (paper like) grain smells nice, and the fruitiness is nice too. Obvious vanilla from the American oak. Quite a simple offering and for me it is exactly what you would get blending Grain and Malt Whiskies, matured in American Oak. Pudding, custard. Yes all vanilla.

Taste: Sweet vanilla Ice cream, with a backbone of oak. Very tasty. Light, sweet and simple, but very, very pleasant and highly drinkable. Clotted cream. Towards the finish the oak plays a greater role, and dries the whole out a bit. The wood actually moves into the realm of pencil shavings. The finish itself is quite short, no surprise there, and leaves a light and pleasant aftertaste. It’s almost too drinkable. Well made stuff and pretty good for a modern blend.

As I mentioned above, the Blend should be close to Bourbon, and in a way it is. It is pretty sweet, yes, but Bourbon-y, no, not really. For me it is a typical mixture of a lot of grain Whisky and (fruity) Malt Whisky. It’s all about grain, malts and wood. Giving notes of wood, vanilla and cream. Sure it is sweeter than most other Whiskies, but not too much. It’s not overpowering.

Points: 83

Campbeltown Loch 30yo (40%, Springbank Distillery, 09/507)

I get this all the time. “You always write about Single Malt Whisky, as if there is no other Whisky”. Yes, those people might have a point, but I do prefer Single Malt over today’s Blends, but forgetting about blends altogether, would be a mistake. Just have a go with a blend from the olden days to convince yourself. Mind you, most of them still are very inexpensive at auctions, so it doesn’t cost a lot to be adventurous.

Here we have a Blend that was brought to you by the good people of Springbank. Hence the use of the standard Springbank bottle. For now, let’s give this 30yo blend a go, and more about the ingredients of this Blend later…

Campbeltown Loch 30yoColor: Gold.

Nose: Grainy, dull at first, with some paper notes. Cola freshness. The whole is very malty and light, so there probably is a lot of Grain in this Blend. Not a lot of old Whisky aroma is oozing out of my glass. Hints of old Sherried Malt, yeast and cardboard. Next some old wood emerges with dusty and, slightly smoky, notes of very dried out apricots. So slightly fruity and waxy, typical for old Bourbon casked Malt. Oak spice and some woody mint, but not as much as you would expect after 30 years.

Taste: Grainy, Malty and sweet. Very light. Light mocha and milk chocolate notes. Nice cookie dough and waxy depth and although quite thin, it has a bit of chewiness to it. Still, the body remains very light and fragile, grainy and lightly fruity. Towards the end a vegetal and a soury note from the oak leads into the weakish and quite short finish. It comes across as watered down, and hardly seems 40% ABV at all. You know what my next remark would be…

Before we continue, here is what Springbank had to say about this Blend: “Around 45% of the Campbeltown Loch 30yo is made up of the old 25yo, which was allowed to mature on. That 25yo blend was almost 100% malt and contained some 1964 Springbank along with other single malts including 1977 Ardmore, 1977 North Port, 1978 Tomatin, 1977 Imperial, 1976 Glengarioch, 1976 Ardbeg and 1976 Glen Grant. 30yo grain from Girvan was added to that, to complete the new 30yo Campbeltown Loch.“ Well I couldn’t have said that any better myself.

The old 25yo they mention was made from almost 100% Malt Whisky, so it almost was a Blended Malt, or Vatted Malt we used to call it back then. This 30yo however, contains only 40% Malt Whisky, so a lot of that Girvan was added to the old 25yo.

Yes it’s nice, but also very light. This Blend has a lot of fans and why not, just read the list of its contents again. Check out the age again. Personally, I don’t really get a lot of the old malts in this blend and I don’t think the Girvan was matured in very active casks, that mask the old Malts even more. Nevertheless, nice stuff and I won’t have a problem finishing this, but I can’t help but feel this could have been even better by adding less Girvan and bottling fewer bottles, since there weren’t any more old Malts available. I do hope I get to try the old 25yo Blend someday…

Points: 85

The Michael Jackson Special Blend (43%, Whisky Magazine & Berry Bros. & Rudd, 1.000 bottles, 2009)

The late Michael Jackson, born 27th of March, 1942, was a writer who was mainly known for writing about Beer and later in his career about Whisky. Like many Whisky aficionado’s or anoraks, his Malt Whisky Companion was my first book on the topic. Michael JacksonNot a lot of books like that existed back then, and it opened a world for me. I almost wore the book out. In hindsight I liked his book on Belgian Beers better, due to its thorough research and obvious love and passion for the subject. The Whisky Companion itself started to gather some dust since a lot of the scores in the book weren’t very realistic to say the least. Just look at the scores for the Macallan Traveller Series to name but four. In 2009, the Whisky Magazine and Berry Bros & Rudd blended the remains of his collection of open bottles together and other Whisky was added to “correct” the result. A proportion of the profits raised with this bottling was donated to The Parkinson’s Disease Society, an illness Michael suffered from, for more than a decade.

The Michael Jackson Special BlendColor: Dark Gold.

Nose: Funky Sherry, quite dark and brooding. Sweet tea, wax and lots of cask toast and (burnt) caramel. Slightly rotting apples and other creamy fruits. Hints of smoke and rubber tires. Quite special and waxy. Lots of wood, caramel and toffee, but also a fresher, more fruity side. Sweet grain. I have to say I quite like the way this smells. This must have some pretty high quality and old components. Vanilla with pencil shavings and slightly animalesk (probably a non-existent word). Meaty and flowery. It seems endless. Very nice nose.

Taste: Spicy and woody, licorice, but also quite sweet. Very aromatic. Right off the bat, a tad too low in ABV. This probably would have been better at 46% ABV if possible. I guess the sweetness comes from some younger (grain) whisky used to balance the whole out. Pretty fruity but also hints of paper and cardboard. Spicy and a bit dusty. Hints of mint from toothpaste. Very easily drinkable. Toffee and almonds. Very distinct nuttiness. Well balanced, but it is the kind of balance usually achieved with caramel coloring, it seems that way, but it doesn’t have to be true. Overall not very complex, medium (beer like) finish that is a bit bitter, but still quite nice and drinkable.

This is a piece of history. Especially the nose shows that some pretty awesome Whisky was put into this blend. I’m glad it is a decent dram, because Mr. Jackson deserves a farewell with a Whisky like this. Not for collecting but Whisky made for drinking. In a way Michael is sharing a dram with friends for the last time. Michael died of a heart attack on the 30th of August 2007.

points: 79

Cadenhead Creations 20yo ‘Rich Fruity Sherry’ (46%, Batch No. 1, 2013)

Cadenheads CreationsMerry Christmas everybody! In 2013 Cadenheads released a home-made blend called Cadenhead Creations (Rich Fruity Sherry). This first batch had an age statement of 20yo and was bottled in 2013. The blend was made with two casks of Single Malt and two casks of Single Grains. Samples of those casks are pictured here on the right. From left to right: Mortlach 1992 (cask #7848), Bruichladdich 1993 (cask #1648), Cameronbridge 1989 (cask #22804) and Invergordon 1991 (cask #39006). Since then two more Cadenhead Creations were released. A 21yo (black label, silver stripe, Blended Malt made with Ardbeg, Bowmore and Caol Ila) and a 17yo (white label, yellow stripe, another Blended Whisky made with Ardmore, Auchroisk, Caperdonich, Clynelish and Invergordon).

Cadenhead Creations 20yo 'Rich Fruity Sherry' (46%, Batch No. 1, 2013)Color: Full Gold.

Nose: Although it seems that this is a 50/50 mixture of Single Malt and Single Grain, the nose is more on the grainy side. Malty and waxy, paper and cardboard. Very nice wood. Meaty, nutty and spicy. Deeper down some hints of Sherry, not upfront as the label suggests. Fruity (but not sweet) and lots of character.

Taste: Malty and grainy again. The waxiness is here to, but here it is fruity and accompanied with a little bit of sweetness. Sweet paper and cardboard again. Some short, hot or red peppery attacks. Spicy and slightly bitter wood. Aspartame sweetness. The wood upfront and may be too strong. The wood makes it right across the body of the Whisky into the finish. Along the way the wood picks up a little bit of oaky bitterness, with together with the red peppery attack make the finish.

Rich, yes, rich wood. Fruity, well not so much if you ask me, the wood is way more pronounced. Sherry, well if you expect the dark Sherries from the picture above, that´s not the case here. It doesn’t remind me of Oloroso or PX-Sherry casks at all. This blend is about wood in many guises.

Points: 81 (for character)

Dunedin “Double Wood” 10yo (40%, OB, 6y American Oak, 4y French Oak, ex-New Zealand Red Wine barrels, Blended Whisky)

Here at Master Quill, when writing about whisky, we foremost are keeping up busy with the Scottish version of the tipple. However in the early 19th century lots of Scots moved across the world and settled in New Zealand. Finding a lot of Scottish (Whisky) heritage in New Zealand is not all that unusual. Even today a lot of small or micro-distilleries do pop up in the country. (like Southern, Hokonui and Thomson, to name but a few).

This time we’ll concentrate on the biggest and best known of the New Zealand Whisky producers, al be it under a lot of different names, and also under quite some different management.

In December 1969 the Baker family started distillation in Dunedin (on the south Island, to the south of Oamaru). They named their distillery “Willowbank”. The Whisky was released under their Wilson’s brand name since 1974. By 1974 The distillery was named after it’s Whisky “Wilson Distillery”. In 1981 the giant Seagram’s bought the distillery. Seagrams made a “minor” contribution by replacing the copper necked stainless steel stills for more traditional whole copper stills. Seagram’s released their Whisky as Lammerlaw. Lammerlaw being a nearby mountain range, but also the source of water for Whisky production. The distillery was mothballed in 1995 and Seagram’s sold the distillery to Foster’s in 1997, who had it untill 2002. The two copper stills and the four column grain still were eventually sold to Fiji to distill rum, but the gin still remained in New Zealand. It is now located in pieces at the McCashin’s Brewery in Nelson, and may be used again in the future.

First Warren Preston bought the Distillery and some 600 ageing casks of amongst others Lammerlaw Malt Whisky and starting a firm called The New Zealand Malt Whisky Company (NZMWC). The Casks were laid down in Oamaru. Some 150 of those casks were bottled (under the Milfort brand name, but also Blended Whisky under the Preston’s brand name). Alas NZMWC went bankrupt and in 2010 the Forward looking entrepreneur Greg Ramsay (leading a consortium of investors) took over and renamed the firm The New Zealand Whisky Company (NZWC). Mr. Ramsay bought the last 450 casks of Whisky of which half were Lammerlaw Malt Whisky (18 to 24yo) and the other half Wilson’s Whisky (at least 12yo). By 2012 some 90 casks were bottled for the current range, so by now only 360 casks are left. In the grand scheme of things and the good promotion for the Whisky being carried out, I guess that the whole stock will be sold by the end of 2016. So be quick, because, this New Zealand whisky is rapidly becoming extinct!

Plans are to build a new distillery (or two). Obvious choices for new sites are Oamaru, but also Dunedin. Less obvious choices would be Auckland and Nelson, both Auckland and Nelson showed more interest than Oamaru and Dunedin in being the home of a new New Zealand Whisky distillery.

Color: Red copper.

Nose: Fresh and woody at first, and a little bit winey, well that’s a surprise! Spicy and a little bit of sweet, toffee-like wood. It does have a sweet side to it, but overall pretty dark, with already hints of grain whisky. Maybe some cask toast and influences (tannins) from the wine. Spicy Syrah? Next, the grain whisky starts to play its part. This is spicy and definitely smells like a volcanic red wine, so I got even some terroir in this (Syrah again). That’s not completely strange since the Red Wine finish was done for a whopping 4 years, whereas others finish their whiskies for mere months. (I understand that there also is, or was, a 15yo Double Wood that was finished for 10 whole years in Wine casks!) This one is dark and brooding after the initial freshness right out of the bottle. Very appetizing.

Taste: Less woody than one might think, half-sweet cookie dough and nicely fruity. Slightly acidic at first, but quickly taken over by the sweet red fruits. Not even a lot of Wine to this, so the 4 years in Wine barrels didn’t do the Whisky any harm. Maybe the grain balances the Whisky out? That said, it doesn’t mean the wine didn’t impair a lot of taste onto the Whisky, because it did (sweet fruits, red fruits, plums, Merlot?), especially after some breathing. The Whisky just doesn’t taste like Wine, although some markers are definitely there. Seems to me that the 70/30 ratio of malt and grain is pretty much spot on. Nice and half-long, warming and sweetish finish, with some hints of oak. Very well made, likeable and drinkable blend.

Yes, this is a blended Whisky, the NZWC itself calls it a Master Blended Whisky. With 70% Single Malt this really is a sort of super premium luxury blend. Stuff that the Scots these days put into expensive crystal decanters. Nice aroma’s and pretty different and bold. For the Whisky it is, this is bottled at the right ABV. Recommended!

Points: 84 Points

Thanks go out to Cyril and Greg for the Whiskies and the additional info!