Back in the year 2000 John Glaser, an American ex-pat with previous experience in the wine industry and an excellent knowledge of the whisky industry, decided to create "Compass Box Whisky Company", with an emphasis on evolving practices in the industry to make Scotch whisky more approachable, and relevant, to more people.
Right from the start his ambition was to create an exciting whisky company that re-established the standards for quality and style within the industry and, with this vision, Compass Box soon gathered serious momentum which, in turn, was backed up by releases of new, imaginative whiskies that pushed the boundaries and grabbed attention.
Some of these releases included:
"Spice Tree" which, in it's initial form, ruffled a few feathers at the Scotch Whisky Association. This was subsequently adjusted and is now presented as a blend of Highland malts that have been aged in special casks that have been fitted with new French Oak heads.
"The Peat Monster" which is a blend comprising of an Islay malt and other medium peated Highland whiskies.
"Hedonism" which is a unique blend of grain whiskies that have been mostly aged in first fill American oak casks.
All releases appear a little different from "the norm" and all seem to point towards the company heading in an exciting direction.
The innovation does not simply stop with the contents of their bottles as Compass Box have added a top notch website into the mix. Visitors to this well maintained site are treated to nothing less than an intoxication of knowledge, and insight, that is rarely seen elsewhere in the whisky industry.
Compass Box don't hold back when discussing their whiskies and will go as far as they legally can to inform their fans, and customers, as to what is in their bottles. Such transparency is hardly commonplace and, while I understand the absolute need for certain secrecy, I am drawn to the refreshing nature of Compass Box's openness.
Now that I've given a quick overview of Compass Box I shall move onto the whisky at hand - Great King Street (The Artist's Blend).
Compass Box believed they had identified an issue with "blended" whiskies in that people had grown accustomed to taking the term "blended" to mean that the whisky was somehow inferior and, with this in mind, they set about creating the Great King Street range.
In order to change these perceptions the premise behind the Great King Street range was to show these persons, that would otherwise shun "blended" whisky, that this style can be excellent and, to achieve this, they adopted a course of action to marry "the very best whiskies that have been aged in the finest quality oak".
The two styles that have been created, so far, are the Artist's Blend and the Glasgow Blend.
For these styles they have brought together a high proportion of malt whisky, over 50% in the Artist's Blend, with grain whisky that has been completely matured in first fill American barrels.
With regards the Artist's Blend, specifically, the "no holds barred" attitude towards information sharing is displayed brilliantly on their website with the following details.
The Artist's Blend is made up of the following:
46% Lowland grain whisky
28% Northern Highland single malt whisky
17% Another Northern Highland single malt whisky
9% Speyside single malt whisky
And with regards maturation they continue:
66% First fill American oak
26% New French oak finish (New-headed barrel)
8% First fill sherry butt
All of these components have been brought together with no chill-filtration, no colouring and have been bottled at 43% ABV.
Amen to all that!!
Onto my notes:
Nose - Fresh and clean. All butter lemon biscuits, soft light grains and gentle orange. I have to say that I picked up a slight sense of a light fresh coastal feel with a touch of sea air and a little mineral chalkiness. No smoke here whatsoever. Milk chocolate, soft raisin and a light malt sweetness which is smooth and creamy.
Palate - The soft light grain dominates the arrival and is ably backed up by the malt component. Fresh citrus, lemon, orange and now some nice peppery notes that give a good lip smacking warmth to the experience. A little wood sap, from the casks, gives a green feel and again the whole style is smooth and sweet.
Finish - Light pepper, apple and citrus which is again clean, fresh and delicately delicious.
Overall this is a fantastic blend that, in my opinion, is ideal for the summer but would stand up at any time of the year. Undoubtedly well made and displaying a strong complexity. I'm not one to say that the term "blended" means inferiority but this certainly has raised the profile of the category.
I personally felt this had a slight Irish feel to it, with a gentle nod towards some of the good grain coming from Cooley, and, after reading the openness of the ingredients online, I was hooked into seeing how well the components would work together. In this case, there's no doubt at all, they work exceptionally well.
I'm all for whisky companies pushing the boundaries in the right way, with a true understanding of how to make good whisky, and having sampled what Compass Box are creating I, for one, will be back for more.
I've included a link for the website below and strongly urge you all to have a good look yourselves and see what they're up to.
Lastly I'd just like to thank Kirsty and Stewart of whiskycorner.co.uk for the sample, cheers guys.
Until next time,
Compass Box Website - http://www.compassboxwhisky.com/index.php