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Compass Box Delilah’s and Peat Monster 10th Anniversary

The Compass Box motto is and always has been, Above all, share and enjoy. For any Douglas Adams fans, this is also uncannily similar to the anthem of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation. Fortunately, whisky creator John Glaser’s products are on another planet compared with the shoddy robots you find in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

In 2013, John’s output has underlined the company’s commitment to great whisky, great packaging and a pervasive philosophy of appreciation without taking yourself too seriously. Enter Delilah’s, a blended Scotch whisky constructed in partnership with the Chicago punk whisky bar of the same name. The iconic venue celebrated its 20th anniversary this autumn and owner Mike Miller wanted something special to mark the occasion. However, having fun remained the principal goal. Compass Box released just over 6,000 bottles of their new blend, created with roughly 50% Cameronbridge grain whisky and 50% malt (Longmorn* and Teaninich) matured in new and rejuvenated American oak casks. The serve? A shot to enjoy alongside a beer. Uncomplicated. Off-beat. But if speed is not of the essence, what does this whisky taste like?

Compass Box Delilah’s 40% (natural colour, unchillfiltered) 6,324 bottles £47.50

Colour – rich orangey gold.

Nose – soft, sweet and creamy at first, like white chocolate mice. The grains have an oily, golden syrup presence. Vanilla and peeled tangerine, peach and mango verging on to lush florals. Getting stuck in, it is so soft; light but purposeful. Silky almond milk-like grains introduce spun sugar malts with orange peel and sultana. Honeydew melon and banana. Has the rounded oaky spice of a younger Bourbon – almost wheated. Lovely.

Palate – creamy sweetness + spice. Rounded vanilla with cinnamon and chilli, then orange zest fuses the two. Lingering.

Finish – something like heather and runny honey (but not heather honey). Still creamy but the oak develops a nipping core at the end.

Adding water dimmed the nose by quite a bit – those exuberant oak notes just overplayed their hand a touch, becoming tired and inhibiting. A little dried mango and banana, as well as coconut and apricot emerge but the oak/spirit balance has been lost. The palate, on the other hand, is extraordinary: pearlescent green fruits (my favourite Longmorn fingerprint*) with melon balls, grape and pear with honeycomb. So wonderful. The oakiness stays away and the pear builds before a tickle of spice rounds things off with echoes of very mature grains.

As well as marking the anniversaries of others, Compass Box has a milestone of its own to celebrate. It has been ten years since the first Peat Monster was concocted and released. Back then, it was for an American customer and called only The Monster. As the years have gone by the smoky style of Scotch whisky has gained a rabid following and John has sought to up the peaty ante. It is now the best-seller in the Compass box range and loved by many for its pristine oak sugars and thick though never terrifying smoke profile. In celebration of the Monster reaching a decade on the shelves, John has recalibrated the recipe slightly, going odder and older with what I am assuming is Ardmore. Richness, boldness and smoke are the watchwords here, with Caol Ila and Laphroaig puffing away. Clynelish is the instrumental play-maker.

Compass Box The Peat Monster 10th Anniversary 48.9% 5,700 bottles £75.85

Colour – pale straw.

Nose – robust, round but deep and dark peat at first. Behind is serious oaky weight, ash, sandiness and barbecued green apple. Approaching the glass and it is phenolic and earthy. Tremendously oily but sweet, reminding me of Kilchoman with the engine oil and vanilla ice cream effect. Glints of barley malt and a strain of acidic fruits emerge with the impression of hot copper stills. An engagingly different smoky experience.

Palate – awesome. dry, kiln-clinging smoke with smoked oysters and caramelised malt husks. An explosion of peat on swallowing then saliva-inducing chilli. Did I say awesome?

Finish – hard to know when it begins to fade. This is powerful stuff: rich, dry, thick, lovely. Peat and turf roots with a slice of oak. Dulse and barnacles. Sweet grist has the final say.

As with the Delilah’s, I wasn’t sure that water helped. The nose kept its density and complexity with the fruits coming out a touch more. Sweeter notes from the casks now (there’s a percentage of French oak in the marriage). Laphroaig Cask Strength-esque fudgey smoke. Cardamom. Rock pools on a scorching day. Grows a tad too perfumed for my liking. The palate was lighter at first, the smoke billowing before condensing. So bold and powerful – an outdoor whisky for sure. Doesn’t hit the heights of the straight sample. The finish is almost winey with puckering fruits. Like the peaty Great King Street it has a mineral character.

So…?      I was bowled over by the variety on display in these whiskies and both received very high scores in my personal ratings system. I had thought Delilah’s might just be a reformulation of Asyla (they share many core ingredients) but this is certainly its own whisky. Keep the water away, however, to retain the gorgeous airiness but subtle impact of the nose. The Peat Monster 10th Anniversary, though, is the powerhouse whisky and one I would need to return to a number of times to fully understand. There is so much going on in there and its sense of purpose is so convincing. It is a whisky to surrender to. And what a label! They should really do posters, as well…

* Chris Maybin of Compass Box who kindly furnished me with the samples has been in touch with a correction for me. It transpires that the ‘Elgin’ malt used in Delilah’s is in fact Glen Elgin – not Longmorn - and I was attributing that mesmeric fruitiness on the palate to the wrong distillery! Embarrassing, but it does not mar my admiration for the blend or indeed my devoted attitude towards Longmorn. My thanks to Chris for pointing this out, and credit where it is due to Diageo.

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Blue Hanger 7

I’m doing something rather different and exciting tomorrow. Not to brag, or anything, but I’m really looking forward to it and hopefully the eleven other people who have signed up to my little event are, too. I’ll give the evasiveness a rest: tomorrow night I’m hosting a blend your own whisky workshop for my whisky society here in St Andrews. With any luck, I can debunk a few myths and instil an appreciation of the craft and skill of a master blender. I don’t wish to be too reverent, however: my aim is that guests will realise it is something they can get up to in their living rooms with whatever is to hand. The possibilities are endless.

I take my cue from whisky folk such as Doug McIvor, spirits manager at London wine and spirit merchants Berry Bros. and Rudd. In 2003 he revived the Blue Hangar brand which had formerly graced the label of a Berry Bros. blend back in the 1930s. Named after William ‘Blue’ Hanger, the Third Lord Coleraine and one of the firm’s most frequent customers, the story goes that he was the best dressed man of his time and the company wanted to revive this aura of taste and refinement. I suppose for today’s equivalent you would have to look at Hoban and Tiger from Edinburgh Whisky Blog (see below).

The latest release is the seventh rendition of the Blue Hanger blended malt, 3,088 bottles bound for the USA, long a Berry Bros. core market courtesy of Cutty Sark. It’s constituent parts are helpfully itemised in the press release but without going into too much detail, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain (peated and unpeated) and quite a lot of Miltonduff make up the liquid.

What did I think?

Blue Hanger 7 (Berry Bros. and Rudd) 45.6%

Colour – full gold.

Nose – creamy maltiness: unctuous, thick and moreish at first. Sweet citrus at the top and oily nuttiness at the bottom. Next comes a procession of aromas, light and cerealy to oily and dark. Weighty fruit character with apricot, orange and cherry especially. Sours with time, and becomes quite dusty.

Palate – weighty (again) with peat coming through initially then rich malty cereal and stem ginger/cinnamon oak. The peat is rich also and later combines nicely with vanilla notes.

Finish – the peat smoke is incredibly heavy but also grassy in character, somehow. Sweetening with time towards lemon jelly beans.

Adding water improved the nose but blunted the delivery slightly across other areas. Extra aromas on the nose included a Macallan-like oily/brown sugar maltiness. It grew oily and creamy, hinting at the age underlying the whisky as a whole. The effect was of a deepening, but also a freshening. The palate changed emphasis completely: grassy barley, light pear; peat and oak add a crackle of spice. Grunginess leads into the finish with an oak and earth emphasis. A dab of honey and malty biscuit, also.

So…?      I savoured the opportunity to encounter this whisky for the first time having heard many good things about it. Ultimately, however, I didn’t feel the impressive components pulled together as one. While undoubtedly complex, and in certain areas rather satisfying, it didn’t have the coherence of a Compass Box Spice Tree for me, which will always be my yardstick for a rich, expressive blended malt. Whilst it wasn’t entirely to my taste, I can see this working very well to counteract the colder evenings we will be having and would recommend it to those with a predisposition towards peat and the fustier end of the whisky spectrum.

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Compass Box at the Quaich Society (Again)

For a brand swooping ever onwards and upwards, founder John Glaser is quite prepared to repeat himself now and again. ‘Who here has been to a Compass Box tasting before?’ he asked our assembly of Quaichers. The majority of hands went up. ‘You know what’s coming, then’.

Familiarity breeds anything but contempt when Glaser’s mission is so straightforward in its tenets and so extraordinary in its execution. That most of us had experienced the Compass Box effect previously only made attending this event all the more imperative. I think it’s what John describes as that something which ‘calls you back to the glass’…

The array of melodious glasses at the final Quaich tasting of the year.

There were no less than eight Glencairns to be called back to for every attendee, not all of which contained Compass creations. John’s intention was to move away from brands and to focus on flavour in order to demonstrate the logic of his whisky-making ethos. It was not an auspicious start. ‘Blend X’ boasted a couple of attractive fresh fruit notes on the nose, but the palate had no sooner whispered ‘caramel’ than it had vanished again into a black hole of indifference.

The contrast between it and the plump, fresh and intense Great King Street could not have been starker. Despite the numerous first-fill ex-Bourbon casks, this remained quite a pale whisky in terms of colour; the same cannot be said of the flavour. Great King Street remains one of my all-time favourite whiskies, blend or single malt. We were advised to look out for ‘sweetness, richness and bigness’ and the abundant vanilla character occupied all three camps. To balance I find the juiciest grassy barley, which can only be Longmorn.

Whiskies three and four keep John awake at night. In the case of three, especially, it epitomises the class of spirit he yearns to assemble at Compass Box. He may have to move to Japan. Upon receiving a measure of Hibiki 12yo from the man who made it, the Suntory master blender Seiichi Koshimizu, last summer, I was in the presence of greatness on two counts. The man deserves every accolade for elevating Japanese whisky of all descriptions, while the whisky astonished me with its clarity and richness for such a comparatively young blended whisky.

Although he admired the next dram, John also took it to task when the dragon of artificial colour raised its ugly nut brown head. ‘Forget the colour,’ he implored us, ‘it’s fake.’ For my first – blind – encounter with Ballantine’s 17yo I was fairly underwhelmed, especially when Great King Street continued to sing so beautifully a couple of glasses further back.

The core Compass Box range filled the final four berths of this epic tasting, and all excelled themselves. At my third tasting with the company, I could appreciate how my tastes evolve from one year to the next: in 2011 the Asyla had bowled me over, last year I had fallen for the Hedonism but on this occasion my socks were well and truly blown off by the Peat Monster.

John confessed that the virtue of leading your own bespoke blending operation is that you are free to make the odd tweak here and there, which the men and women charged with preserving the legacy of the biggest names in whisky cannot get away with. The constituent parts have changed significantly in the ten years of the Peat Monster’s life with Caol Ila replaced by Ledaig, and Laphroaig brought in to add even more phenolic devilry. However, John also experimented recently at the bottling hall through the addition of 1% Spice Tree liquid to the latest batches. A tiny amount, but I sensed an added sensuous sweetness to an already extraordinary mouthfeel. It was my pick of the evening.

In a promising aside, John also revealed that they were experimenting with their supply chain. Rather than buy mature casks from distillers when they want to bottle something, Compass Box have instead invested in a more changeable future through the purchase of new make from five sites around Scotland, filling them into their own casks. Spirit from Caol Ila, Blair Athol, Linkwood and John’s favourite malt to manipulate, Clynelish, as well as grain from Cameronbridge, are presently maturing at an undisclosed location. That’s quite an ingredients cupboard.

Relaxed, informative and zealously passionate all at the same time, John put on another astonishing evening of whisky the way it ought to be. Twitter hints suggest Compass Box will be showing the whisky world beyond St Andrews a thing or two next month when a couple of experimental (but how could they be otherwise?) releases hit the shelves, and I for one will be camping outside the off licence.

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Follow the Compass!

If John Glaser were a festive foodstuff he would be Heston’s Waitrose Christmas Pudding: sold out in minutes with everyone wanting a piece. His presence is requested at international whisky functions; his views are cited in seemingly any article discussing innovation, independence, blended whisky, or indeed whisky; his energy drives record-breaking tastings like this summer’s undertaking with Dominic Roskrow across the Whisky Shops of the United Kingdom. And in his spare moments he still manages to craft whiskies of stunning integrity and intrigue under the Compass Box standard, while journeying to the Fife coast annually to deliver the most engrossing and enlightening tastings the Quaich Society has seen.

In all facets and at every juncture, the message – and the passion with which it is communicated – remain identical. Quality oak produces quality whiskies which can be married together to create a spirit which is more than the sum of its parts. Never compromise on quality. For more than 12 years Glaser has been as good as his word – perhaps even better if you have been fortunate enough to encounter the irrepressible zeal with which he articulates his mission. Indeed, John can at times overshadow his products.

A long-awaited re-evaluation, and a new acquaintance.

If there is one Compass Box expression that enjoys cult status on a par with its creator, however, it is the Flaming Heart limited release. Now onto its fourth outing, Flaming Heart’s flavour profile demands a highly particular assortment of whiskies, not to mention one of the most striking label designs anywhere in whisky. Glaser states on the Compass Box website that ‘It is unlike any other whisky, owing to the combination of distillery whiskies we use and the variety and quality of the casks.’ This is the first Flaming Heart vatting to contain Sherry-matured whiskies, too.

I first sipped this behemoth of a dram at the Quaich Society in 2011, although by the time we reached the Flaming Heart my palate was listing with exhaustion due to the platoon of fine whiskies Glaser had brought with him. Tragically, the other 10th Anniversary release, and penultimate pour, of Double Single also suffered as a result of my fatigue. Courtesy of those wonderful gentlemen at Master of Malt, however, I was able to track down a Drinks By The Dram sample of both the latest Flaming Heart, and that elusive Double Single.

Compass Box Double Single 53.3% £92.02 here

Colour – straw gold.

Nose – prickly and pickled at first: lush green fruits with a wine-y acidic edge. Abundant softness from the grain with some chewy caramel and fresh spiritiness at the margins. Apple and mango juice drink. Very clean, with the grain component now suggesting pineapple syrup. Some golden rum sugariness and a touch of mint from the cask.

Water – sweeter: vanilla, a sugary texture with freshly sawn oak. Gin-like citrus peels. More mango than apple now, although a touch of pear creeps in. Lovely texture. Final hint of honeydew melon. The malt spirit has wonderful poise and purity, and controls the flavour spectrum embellished by the grain.

Palate – grain and malt in complete harmony: caramel and green apple. Some hefty cask presence. Gristy sugars on the lips before a gentle earthy dryness appears.

Water – lime and apple peel, sweet cereal and gingery oak. Supremely balanced. Lots of apple juice (Innocent apple juice, if you have tried it). Hay and brown sugar. Very clean.

Finish – soft with again a stand-out texture in the shape of lush green fruit. Vanilla biscuit and grassiness. A touch of pineapple on the end.

Water – brought out a spicy character: mustard powder and coriander. Short crust pastry with almond and apple. The flavour development is quite short but the lovely texture endures.

Compass Box Flaming Heart.

Compass Box Flaming Heart Fourth Release 48.9% £69.12 here

Colour – full, burnished gold.

Nose – peat leads the charge: viscous, huge, with rich smokiness and baked wholemeal bread. The singed quality creates a bridge to a waxiness which picks out delicate pear and apple. Crisp, with log fire impressions. Richness and delicacy. Thyme and oregano thrown on a barbecue. Then a massive grist/vanilla sweetness appears underpinning everything.

Water – still peat-driven with a gently singed smokiness. Northern Highland textured lush fruitness. Like smoky rock candy. Greener, with a coniferous needle and sap character. Sweet grist and tablet. Lime and cola. With more time, honey and toffee emerge from the oak with more coastal aromas of turf, rocks and seaweed. Sheer weight of maltiness underneath. Fabulous.

Palate – dry, lightly-peated malt at first, although the peat increases in weight, descending with an oregano hint and a pine tree character. Very full-bodied and fascinating.

Water – mouthcoating peatiness, with pear, cinnamon and lovely rich and smooth malt appearing. Sweetness is the key here, together with chunky peat and a cedar lift.

Finish – the peat and the malt continue to hold court. Some old wood flavours. A spruce Christmas garland.

Water – lush grass and earth, green fruit lends a delicate fleshiness. The smoke is so well-controlled and supplies a thick fragrance in the upper reaches. So much appley and gristy sweetness.

So…? The Double Single comprises three quarters 18yo Glen Elgin and one quarter 21yo Port Dundas. Glaser’s intention was to demonstrate the true elegance one can achieve from a sympathetic blending of malt and grain spirit. With this testament to fruit and syrupy sweetness, he has succeeded. Not only did the best of the grain whisky flavour spectrum step forward to be counted, the lush fruity Glen Elgin make pulled the strings so wonderfully and subtly. The real highlight for me, however, was the silken texture achieved from just two different spirits.

John’s own description of Flaming Heart cannot – I feel – be improved upon: ‘a whisky born of fire, yet one with a big heart’. The longer one spent with it, the more this fabulous dualism began to make complete sense. His Northern Highland spirit (Clynelish) melded seemlessly with the bruising Islay South-Coast malt (most likely Laphroaig) to envelope the senses in a flavoursome and textural perfect storm.

Both blends benefited from a little extra time to stretch their legs, and what was abundantly clear about Glaser’s spirits was that strength of personality became more self-evident. Much like the man himself. As we approach January 1st, I can think of no better whisky resolution than to discover Compass Box.

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Delicious Luck with Compass Box

Never have I wanted to win the Quaich Society Raffle more.

As I confessed in my previous post, against all probability (and decency in the eyes of some), my ticket was drawn first in our post Compass Box tasting Raffle. When John Glaser had discussed his contributions to the Raffle with us, words such as ‘exceptional’ and ‘one-of-a-kind’ had leapt out at me. ‘When will I next have the opportunity to taste a Compass Box expression in its rawest incarnation?’ I asked myself, and plumped for the ‘Oak Cross ’08 HM – Single Heavy Toasted French Oak’ sample bottle. ‘How will I smuggle me and it out of here tonight without getting lynched?’ was another, more private speculation.

I succeeded, however, and when I escaped from a lecture theatre on this wet and windy Wednesday in St Andrews out came the ruby-tinted rarity by way of consolation.

Compass Box Oak Cross ’08 HM 56.7% abv.

Nose – With a measure poured and the glass far from my nostrils, scents of creamy milk chocolate, vanilla and winey fruits fill the room. Getting started, there is a mass of stewed red fruits, some tannic oak and then fresh, spicy and vibrant American oak casks: a hogshead-packed filling store. Later, snuffed-out birthday cake candles emerge and papaya provides a gentle tropical texture. Fat, oily honey is tucked away, too. I suspect that there is a fair proportion of Clynelish in here with that wonderfully hard to put one’s finger on note of lemon/apple which is at once jellied and crystallised. More time reveals marmalade and gingerbread, in addition to cinnamon and clove.

Adding water evokes glazed biscuits: gingerbread men and custard. Gorgeous spice-accented creamy oak. In the centre is an almost bourbon-like dense core of malty sugars, orange rind and caramel. The orange softens and lightens and separates from the rich malt. With extra breathing time, airy but rich and rounded walnut notes emerge as well as not quite ripe plum. White chocolate, rich, frothy wash, jasmine and bran flake Frosties burst out all at once. It is sublime in its weight and delicacy of aroma. It reminded me of some of the later drams on the Auchentoshan VIP Tour, or the stillroom and warehouse on the Aberlour tour. There is even some gentle fragrant smoke underneath it all, like a cask freshly charred and quietly smoking in a cooperage.

Palate – Full, spicy and fruity with plenty of oak. Lovely, tongue-coating tannins and wood sugars. Adelphi Breath of Speyside-esque. Then toffee and malt surface before releasing, fresh and firm seashore citrus.

Water makes for a ceaseless, joyous barrage of flavour. Nutty and densely fruity initially, I quickly gained the impression of Speyside in summer: slight charred oak, rich barley and strawberry jam. Fronds of crystal malt tickle the palate too. It is a bold spirit, speaking of dark, green leaves and malt husks.

Finish – Chewy/creamy oak: lots of power but there is agility, too. Vanilla and butterscotch ice cream. Final notes of rich and juicy fruitcake with marzipan.

With water the spirit retains the density from the reduced palate, offering toffee and some high-grade dark chocolate. The oak is really stupendous. Heathery honey meets sticky wine cask. Sweetly earthy at the end.

So…?

If Mr Glaser was prepared to bottle this, price would have to be no object. With the addition of water, this is one of the most complex but satisfying whiskies I have had the pleasure of encountering in many months; you are persistently aware that there is more to find, but far too relaxed by the langourous sequence of mighty oak flavours and the magnificence of well-made, well-matured Speysiders that sing of summer to worry about looking too hard. The alcohol simply does not exist on the nose, and only a little water removes any brashness from the palate. In terms of poise and power, this Oak Cross/ Spice Tree sample cannot be surpassed. It confirms the genius of Glaser, and hints at the supreme quality of whiskies coming from lesser-known distilleries throughout Scotland. A triumph.

Exciting news for those of you who cannot wait to run out and buy a bottle of fine Compass Box whisky. Master of Malt are running a competition at the moment in which the first 250 people to purchase one of Mr Glaser’s creations will be entered into a draw to win the eceedingly rare Canto Cask 48, the now Illegal Spice Tree and Canto Cask 20. Also, in addition to your purchased bottle, Master of Malt will throw in a 3cl Drinks by the Dram sample of another Compass Box whisky! Follow the links, and get buying.

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Compass Box at the Quaich Society II

The superb range for the 2012 Compass Box extravaganza.

Lyrical poets of yesteryear contended that Spring was the season for new loves. We at the Quaich Society feel it is a great excuse to rendezvous with old ones, too.

When it comes to Compass Box, however, where a passionate need to innovate is the only thing that remains constant, ‘old’ cannot really apply. John Glaser swept into the Scores Hotel for a second time during my tenure at the Society with four of the same whiskies as last year. Except they are not, of course, the same whiskies. Glaser has dedicated himself to quality, a pursuit that has won him many devoted fans, although few of those are in the Scotch Whisky Association. Rather than replicate previous batches, he prefers to work with samples of whiskies which excite him and which nudge his creativity into uncharted, if related, territories. Therefore, Oak Cross, Spice Tree, Peat Monster and Hedonism were warmly welcomed like old friends, though their genetic make ups would be significantly altered.

The Great King Street Highball.

Courtesy of government legislation which passed into law on the 22 November, 2011, they also had new faces. ‘Vatted’ has been ostracised into the whisky archives, although it shall live on in the memories of a lucky few who could enjoy the highly limited Last Vatted Malt and Last Vatted Grain whiskies Glaser released in tandem with the law change. Many expressions such as Peat Monster then needed new labelling. This was Compass Box, but not as we had known it.

First to wet the lips of the patrons in the sold out Scores Hotel was Glaser’s latest fascination, unearthed from drinking history: the Scotch highball. On the Monday I had received an email with a very specific list of requirements and it looked for all the world like the Quaich Society was about to take its first tentative steps into mixology. We were entertained with an anecdote from Scotch and the highball’s introduction to American, and an insight into a completely different drinking culture to that which we would be practising that night. Equal parts Great King Street (with the addition of a little independently produced Cognac) and soda water, with a splash of orange bitters, lemon peel and ice completed a delicious confection. The whisky was – as Glaser had intended – the star of the show, but the textures of the soda and the fixing quality supplied by the bitters has persuaded me that a few additions to the drinks cabinet may be in order.

Refreshed, we stripped the ancillary ingredients away and investigated Great King Street. Matt and Karen at Whisky4Everyone rather liked this blend last year and I adored its immediate ancestor, Asyla, so hoped for good things. John told us that Great King Street was going to become a dedicated brand, or sub-genre, within Compass Box. It will form the engine room of his quest to bring great quality blended Scotch to people who are interested, while Compass Box will continue to lead the field in the blended malts and blended grains market. Asyla, he promised, would witness a return and how delighted I was to hear that.

On the nose, Great King Street boasted vanilla and caramel, while bursting with gentle, textured citrus. Lime and coconut were in there. The palate was sharp but with a growing richness and spice: I got cumin and coriander. Some bursting berries appeared. Going back to the nose, kiwi oozed out. 50% Girvan grain whisky, with the remainder taken up with Clynelish (John’s favourite malt to work with), Teaninich and Dailuaine, it boasted the most innovative wood management of any blend I have come across. In addition to ex-Bourbon casks, new French Oak and first-fill Sherry have been used.

John Glaser: it's all about the oak.

While introducing Oak Cross, John divulged an interesting snippet. For the first time, Compass Box have bought spirit straight off the still and put it into their own oak. In fifteen years’ time, there shall be home-grown whiskies emerging from Compass Box and I cannot wait to see what those expressions will taste like having had Glaser’s keen and caring eye watching over them for all their days.

Spice Tree leapt out at me more than it had done last time around, with thick creaminess and wonderful oak notes. 80% of the whiskies used have been maturing in toasted French oak for a minimum of 3 years which on the palate made for a rich and fruity whisky, with cardamom and fudge. Peach was a sublime scent on the reduced nose.

When arranging the whiskies for the evening, I was surprised to see Hedonism placed after the Peat Monster, which certainly devoured the palate with attacking smoky dryness. It wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but that simply meant there was more for me.

On to Hedonism, then, a dram which a year ago had provoked my neighbour to profanity: ‘F****** hell – coconut!’ He had approved then, and I became intoxicated once again on Thursday night. Hedonism boasts some seriously old, serious sensuous grain whiskies which, as Glaser assured us, could astonish with flavour if given the right wood. The nose was simply stunning: full, rich with gorse bush and vanilla. The warmth of those grains was heavenly. There was also a green fruit quality, like gooseberries. The palate was of a similarly unctuous, gorgeous mode: so full with sweetened bread and orange rind. The creaminess unfolded in fat rolls. The dictionary definition ought to forget about the word’s Ancient Greek etymology: this is truly hedonism.

New Society Vice-President, Xander, with the two cask samples.

As with all Quaich Society meetings, the event concluded with a hugely charitable Raffle. John had excelled himself, even from last year when a Compass Box t-shirt was more sought-after than a Louis Vuitton handbag. A tasting set of Compass Box whiskies was up for grabs, in addition to two one-of-a-kind bottles. Glowing goldenly from one was a single cask Laphroaig which John was especially taken with, and in the other a sample drawn straight from a French oak cask containing the next Spice Tree. Raffle tickets were purchased with single-minded ferocity with such extraordinarily special and generous prizes on offer and, having missed out on Highland Park Thor earlier in the semester and the 20cl Port Ellen we had secured for our Committee Tasting, one of my 26 tickets was the first to be drawn. It didn’t help that a few minutes before I had been announced as the Society’s new President. Or that I had drawn the Raffle myself. I promise there was no chicanery involved and I can also confirm that the Spice Tree sample is deliriously extraordinary. But I shall bring you full tasting notes soon. I expect that will be the limit of my luck in the Raffle for the next two years…

Until I can think of a more sincerely grandiose manner of showing my appreciation (like buying him a Caribbean island, perhaps), for now we must simply express our thanks to John Glaser for making the trip up from London to see us again. Since encountering him last year, and discovering that there was a new choir I really needed to join in the Church of Whisky Evangelism, I have recommended his creations and the man himself as a talisman for how Scotch ought to be made, discussed and marketed. As ambassadors go, he is peerless not simply for his own brand, but for whisky as it ought to be. To that end, he told the Committee of his ongoing assault with the SWA. Pointing to the proliferation of craft distillers in the US, Glaser wants to know why Scotch cannot do something similar to promote flavour creation and innovation in the Auld Whisky Kingdom. With a calculated grin, he confirmed that a meeting had been set up. Maybe the powers that be are starting to listen to the visionary and the truth he espouses.

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