Compass Box seem to have the whisky geek version of “most favoured nations” status but try as I might I have not yet come across an expression from this innovative bottler that to my palate has matched its reputation, story or stylish presentation (though I did like the Eleuthera). I should say in advance that this is also true of this bottle of Great King Street (which is a blend of single malt and grain whisky). I opened this as well for our local whisky group’s June tasting and it wasn’t just my lowest whisky of the night, it was pretty much everyone’s—and everyone but me was tasting everything blind. As with all their whiskies, it does have a nice label and an evocative name. Unlike most of their whiskies it’s at 43%.
Compass Box, Great King Street (43%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Mild sweet fruit (apples mostly) and a light grassy note. With more time there’s some soft, buttery oak and some cream. With more time there’s some citrus mixed in with the sweet fruit.
Palate: As on the nose except without the grassy note and more vanilla. Gentle texture. On subsequent sips the grassy note appears in a slightly metallic avatar. With more time a little bit of lemon appears on the palate.
Finish: Medium. Mild oak, some indistinct sweetness and then the metallic thing. With time there’s some pepper as well.
Comments: I think I did like it more tonight than I did back in June. It’s pleasant enough but there’s still not a whole lot of there there. It feels a lot of effort was gone to in order to replicate the qualities of unremarkable Speyside malts. There’s some small proportion of sherry casks in this but I’m not really tasting what they brought to the vatting. Your mileage may, and probably will, vary.
Rating: 82 points.
From what I can tell, this was meant to be a scotch & soda whisky, which is automatically going to be kind of boring. Unfortunately for CB, there are lots of ways to do that that don’t cost so much money.
The CB GKS NY Blend was a whole ‘nother beast, though. Waiting to see which direction they go with the line.
My least favorite of the Compass Box offerings. Compass Box, as a blending house, tends to aim for smoother and creamier flavor profiles for broader appeal. The classic expressions of this are Asyla, Oak Cross and Hedonism. Their fame is based on throwing in an iconoclastic wrinkle. Hedonism was a vatted grain whisky when the conventional wisdom was still that grain whisky was what was wrong with blends. That product opened a lot of eyes (including mine). Spice Tree, by introducing French Oak spiciness onto a Clynelish-heavy highland vatting also seemed iconoclastic. Their high profile battle with the SWA over the way they added the French Oak staves didn’t hurt that reputation either. But that “rebel” veneer, which makes them heroes to whisky geeks isn’t reflected in all their stuff. E.g. Peat Monster – it has often been noted – is a very gentle and creamy peated dram (and not a monster at all). Flaming Heart is much more of an actual peat monster – but it’s still a play for balance rather than the ludicrous monstrosity of real beasts (Octomore & Supernova and their ilk). Compass box uses first fill ex-Bourbon barrels to marry their vattings – and this is the probable source of that sweetness roundness that their vattings get. Great King St. got a lot of press as their first straight up blended whisky. Given Hedonism and Spice Tree a lot of people were expecting a high end blend (like Black Bull). But Great King St. Artist’s blend ended up being lighter, like a lemon chiffon whip. Not my thing, personally. When I put it up against Johnnie Walker Black I preferred the Black (e150, chill filtering, and the faint residual taste of evil not withstanding). My issue was that GKSAB needed a kiss of peat or something dark somewhere. That got answered with Great King St. New York blend which is delicious and addresses that issue perfectly – but at $70 is at a price point where a lot of very good single malts live. But that’s a different issue. My advice: don’t judge Compass Box by Great King St. Artist’s Blend. It’s a play for the Dewars 12 and Johnnie Walker Black market segment. It’s a player in that space for sure. Someone of your awesome palate will find more of interest with Flaming Heart, the General, Great King St. New York Blend, or Spice Tree.
Yeah, I was surprised by how not monstrous Peat Monster wound up being. I found it sort of herbal, which was nice, but not that peaty.
GKSAB is totally and thoroughly okay, nothing more, nothing less. And as much of a vanilla-filled wispy meringue as it is, I found it to be disappointing after all of the fuss made about it during its original release. If it was a $25 blend, I’d be happy to recommend it to people, but at $40 I can’t. And, like Josh, I prefer Black Label to GKSAB, Diageo and all.
So, after two strikes (Hedonism and GKS), MAO, are you eyeing a third current Compass Box release? For what it’s worth, I like Oak Cross and really dig Spice Tree…though I thought Hedonism was decent.
I’ve had others, I’ve just not reviewed them. Not sure why I haven’t reviewed the Flaming Heart in particular as I went through a bottle of that after starting the blog. Still have a large sample saved.