Compass Box – Great King Street Artist’s Blend (43%)

compassboxGKSABI’ve been killing a lot of time, lately. I haven’t been waiting for something in particular, more like wandering for the sake of wandering… on the internet.

First, I pretended I was going to learn Spanish, again. Yea right. Four minutes later I was neck deep in a pile of YouTube videos. Did you know you can light a fire with your pee? Crazy. Someday, that information will change the quality of your life, drastically.

Next, I considered building an earth oven in the backyard; you know, for that once or twice a year I make bread, when the weather’s right, my antidepressants are chugging along at full capacity, and I randomly had the foresight to cold ferment the dough long enough beforehand to make it all worthwhile? So basically, I’d need three perfect days in a row to use it. Or maybe two perfect days with a shitty day separating them. Whatever. I would use it so many times that a raccoon would probably move in and live a long, healthy, bread-less life before the second time I fired it up.

When my brain felt like it was starting to slow down, I turned to online sudoku. Interestingly enough, Sudoku is where my brain goes to die, now.

Eventually in my wandering, I gave up seeking out engaging intellectual sustenance altogether, so I turned to Facebook. There, I stalked some people I went to middle school with, filled out a few fun surveys and learned some dark, dark things about humanity. The most mature of these recent insights, is that the quality of drink I tend to choose is directly affected by my mood and that both my drink and mood are heavily influenced by my preference for extreme variety. It wasn’t all zen insight on facebook, though. There were dick jokes… so many dick jokes. And cat pics. Cat pics and dick jokes. It occurs to me, if there were a contest for the biggest waste of time among all of the time-killing hobbies I’m celebrating here, writing about them still has a great shot at taking home the grand prize. Moving on.

typeofbread

The Great King Street Artist’s Blend is like the internet of whisky. Great King Street doesn’t make you work for its brand of instant gratification. It’s just there, waiting to be plucked from the glass. It’s not fancy. It doesn’t beg. It can be questionable in ways but it’s extremely useful and the price is right. I would call it public library whisky, a frill-less way to indulge your thirst. In that way, the Artist’s Blend is a deliciously casual choice if you need to bring something to a party for everyone to share.

Nose: Floral. Gentle with sun bleached hay bales. Fresh cream and malted barley. Subtle canned pears. A an empty tin that used to hold those thumbprint cookies with the Hershey’s Kisses on top. Green banana peels by the beach.

Palate: Not too sweet. Not too hot. A little youthful and a bit like a shortbread cookie with a light dusting of cayenne. Sprightly. Light citrus with kiwi. Milk chocolate, at times, verging on bitter. Poached raisins in black pepper on the finish. Not incredibly bold or complicated.

Rating: RecommendedAt $35, the Great King Street Artist’s Blend is a no-brainer. I love this whisky. It’s easy going, light and extremely drinkable. The price seals the deal and proves that affordable Scotch doesn’t have to suck. I’d love to see a high proof version,  but this is still great.

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Compass Box – Boxed Set

compass box cover

Compass Box is a blending house, so their obvious goal is to blend “accessible” whiskies. If you’re more of a fan of cask strength single malts or bolder American styles, these probably won’t be that enticing. Having said that, if Johnnie Walker is your benchmark for good blended whisky, then these are going to blow your mind. Personally, I’m cheering for them. I hope they’ll be able to wrestle the idea of blended Scotch away from the terror that lurks on those shelves today. It’s nice to see a few affordable blends that don’t suck.

Compass Box has a long history of smartly packaging their products, and this box set is no exception. The wooden box opens up to five vials of different Compass Box releases; Hedonism, Asyla, Oak Cross, Spice Tree, and Peat Monster. I really dig sample packs like this; all the fun of compulsively emptying vials like an alchemist of some sort, coupled with a chance to get a more fleshed out picture of the company’s vision before making a judgement about their talents.

So without further ado, let’s see how the whiskies stack up.

 

Hedonism (43%)
Blended Grain

Nose: Light and sugary. Over-seasoned “greywood”. Dry almond, like a thumbprint cookie. Warm butterscotch. It has a bright bite to it, very much like a Canadian whisky. Freshly constructed barn rafters. A little water helps the perfume rise.

Palate: Mild with wisps of Sugar Crisp cereal. Buttery, cherry danish with sliced almonds. Dirty penny with slightly peppery notes that drag out the finish. Water dilutes the bitter metallic part a little bit and lets the caramel/vanilla notes’ show.

Rating: Try itIn a blind tasting, I would swear this was Canadian. I really don’t like very much Canadian style whisky, and this certainly isn’t my cup of tea, but if it were competing against all of the Canadian stuff I’ve tried, I’d say this is a great example.

Still, Canadian whisky is CHEAP! There’s no reason to buy this when there are so many more affordable whiskies coming out of Canada. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great Canadian-style whisky if that’s what you’re looking for, but with a cost approaching $90, it’s definitely over-priced. At half the price, try looking for Forty Creek, instead.

 

Asyla (40%)
Blended Scotch

A blended Scotch,  which means it’s comprised of both grain and malt whiskies. As would be expected, the profile is somewhere between the Hedonism and the Oak Cross.

Nose: Almost like a light Clynelish. Malty pear with a drop of farm and flowers. Still very light and approachable. If you can smell past the sweetness there are some delicious green pepper notes hiding in the drink.

Palate: Sweet and easy drinking. Malty pear flavors usually predict peppery notes and are hot, but here the pepper is extremely watery. Rich, Canadian-whisky type butterscotch as it trails off.

Rating: Try itLike the Hedonism, this whisky comes with a luxury price tag. Clynelish and Old Pulteney both provide the same profile at the same price point but with a depth of flavor not found in this. Now, unseasoned whisky drinkers may find the mildness desirable, so choose between these with that in mind. This is an extremely accessible whisky and would be a good middle step for converting non-whisky people to the drink.

 

-This review brought to you in part by-

weezwares

 

Oak Cross (43%)
Blended Malt

Nose: Bolder and spicier. Dried trail mix carrots. The profile is definitely getting meatier. Grassy notes start to appear, alongside hints of ginger powder and green apple peels. It’s still a little watery to me.

Palate: A little Cognac, a little honey, a little potting soil. Slightly drying. Peppery with a nice medium finish that leaves a rich tingle on the tongue.

Rating: Try itIn conversation, very few people would speak ill of Compass Box, and that this is a blended malt whisky is great, for its category, but the whole point of any blend is to make it more affordable. The trade off is cost to taste while attempting to balance the two. While these seem to be good for blending expositions, so far, they’re anything but affordable.

 

Spice Tree (46%)
Blended Malt

Nose: Tiny rubbery note, with a nice, rich, butter-drenched fruitiness layered over it. Raisins and dried pineapple. Nutmeg and ginger powder. Dried orange peel. Caramelized malted barley baked into a brittle.

Palate: The pepper in this one amplifies as time passes and is the most aggressive yet. Numbing clove and Sichuan pepper on the tongue. Almost phenolic. Sweet and sherried with nutmeg and dried fig. Lime and polished leather.

Rating: RecommendedMoving in a linear line, the Spice Tree has the most spice and sherry. The sweetness tones down a bit, though that’s not a bad thing. This one best frames some of the similarities between French Sessile oak (what we usually think of as wine casks) and Spanish Pendunculate oak (what we typically think of as sherry casks). Now we’re talking! This one is delicious and at around $60 right in the sweet spot of the flavor/price balancing act.

 

compass box sampler

Peat Monster (46%)
Blended Malt

I didn’t have high hopes for this one, seeing as the status quo for Compass Box is to blend “accessibly,” whatever that means. Most of the blends in this box have been less than inspiring for the price, kind of defeating the purpose of a blend, to me.

Nose: Surf and Turf! Bacon wrapped scallops served over seared chicken skin. Iodine-rich seawater. Slightly stony. Fresh sea breeze and crushed barnacles. Dried sage and sambal chili paste. Not super complex, but delicious smelling all the same. Smells a bit like there’s some Laphroaig mixed in there…

Palate: It’s surprisingly gentle on the palate. The peat creeps in and blossoms into bright iodine with a lime tang. Umami and mushrooms with salt that revs up in the finish into spicy fire. Easy going bandage phenols and a tiny bit of copper. The finish is delightful as the fumes expand through your mid-section and rise back up to your head, inescapably reminding you that you definitely drank a good dose of peat.

Rating: RecommendedIt’s not exactly what it says it is; not quite a monster… maybe a very desirable beast of peaty burden to carry you through your cravings. This provides a terrific example of how a whisky can be “accessible” and still please the whisky anoraks. For just under $50, the price is right, too!

The proof on these is on the low side, so if you’re looking for a face-melter, these won’t do. I think these are best suited to coax gentle drinkers in to the fold with easy to explore Scotches they can nose and drink comfortably.

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Arran – Devil’s Punchbowl Chapter III (53.4%)

Devils Punchbowl 3And now, regrettably, we come to the conclusion of the Devil’s Punchbowl trilogy. Saying I’m going to miss this series, would be a colossal understatement.

Chapter I took us to the edge of what Arran is capable of; a zesty islander, with tons of malt, pepper and just the right amount of peat and spice. Chapter II, Angels & Devils, brought us a slightly toned down pepper, with a hefty dose of sherry added to the mix. Chapter III leaves out the peat completely, and substitutes the missing casks with French Oak barriques (a barrique is, more or less, what wine makers call their barrel sized casks).

I think the third’s packaging artwork is the coolest of the three, though the disappearance of the dates of the casks is unfortunate. If there were one criticism of the series I could voice, it would be that Arran had a terrific opportunity to open conversations about age statements, but caved to marketing pressures. This is a delicious malt, and worth every penny of the ~$130 it sold for.

Nose: The apricots have evolved into juicy peaches marinated in white ver jus. Grapefruit zest and coconut along with the sweet hay we’ve come to expect. More wood with more elegance than the other two chapters. Digging a little deeper I find chocolate syrup and green lime gummy bears. No peat in this one, so the nose is deliciously clean and mouth watering.

Palate: Ver jus sweetness kicks off with the extreme malt and hay that hallmarks the series. The sweet notes balance the peppery notes toning the fire down despite Chapter III having the highest proof of the three. The tart grapes are a perfect balance to the extra wood. Pears in syrup, gentle cinnamon, and Golden Grahams. Slight wine and a loooong finish.

Rating: Highly RecommendChapter III, The Fiendish Finale, is easily my favorite of the three. If you find a bottle on a shelf, you should immediately ask yourself WWTDD; What Would The Devil Drink? It would be supple, fiery, addictive and powerful. This is it.

wwtddMany thanks to ImPex Beverages for the sample!

 

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Arran – Devil’s Punchbowl Chapter II (53.1%)

Devils Punchbowl Chapter 2While taking down my notes for the Devil’s Punchbowl series, I found myself exploring my old CD collection for bands I had forgotten; bands that might inspire the evil in these whiskies to fully manifest while I wrote.

Looking for the darkest band I could find, my first stop was Type O Negative. After a few minutes, I felt like they were too obvious a choice. Plus, I had too much fun at Type O shows. Pete Steel was a legend, but staple my hand to my forehead for me, Type O just wasn’t evil enough.

On through the next most obvious choices, I poured over Skinny Puppy. I forgot they were Canadian. Too polite. Nine Inch Nails? Despite an awesome sweet spot between their second and third albums, too commercial. GG Allin? Well, he was certainly terrible enough musically, but I’m not sure shoving a banana up your ass and playing with your poop on stage is evil so much as crazy. Lonestar? Just kidding… I don’t own a Lonestar CD.

How about King 810? They’re from Flint Michigan. That’s pretty brutal. The video for their song Killem All is pretty gruesome, too, and leaves me with an empty feeling inside. So far so good. After a few minutes though, I feel like they were just screaming over watered down Pantera riffs, and let’s never forget how Pantera started.

Eventually, I found myself skipping through Throbbing Gristle tracks. The complete chaos and abject terror songs like We Hate You (Little Girls) dump into your soul was inspiring enough. I was definitely getting closer, but I almost felt like Throbbing Gristle was too nerdy an outfit to be the most evil one I could find. Also, I couldn’t really concentrate while it was playing.

Then I stumbled on the last stack of CD’s I listened to; the ones I never shuffled back into their respective spots, rather left at the end of the collection in a pile of sloth. The last CD in the stack was perfect. A band so brutal that the lead singer, stage named Dead, slit his wrists and throat before shooting himself in the face with a shotgun. Ever the thoughtful gent, and realizing the messy affair he was about to leave behind in his band mates’ home, he made sure to leave a note. It began with a casual “Excuse the blood…”. Now that’s dark, but it gets worse.

The guitarist who found the body first, Eronymous, ran out to the store for a disposable camera so he could stage some pictures with the body before alerting authorities. One of the pictures became the cover of a concert bootleg. Eronymous also kept a few pieces of Dead’s skull and made jewelry out of them to give to other bands he liked.

After that, Eronymous and bassist Varg Vikernes burned down a few churches together for, I dunno, fun? Varg Vikernes would later stab Eronymous to death outside his home before going to prison for the arson and murder.

So, the band was definitely evil enough. The music was simple enough, without much skill or critical thinking involved. Plus, it was a pioneering force in the most paradoxically evil and hilarious genre of all… Norwegian Black Metal. Yes. This was definitely it. The whole package. Mayhem.

In deference, I have written my notes for the second chapter using lyrics from their song Freezing Moon. Feel free to follow the link above if you want to sing along.


Freezing Moon – by Mayhem with amendments by HowToDrinkWhisky.com in bold


This dog is fucking evil!!!

This adorable fellow just finished burning down a church.

 

Everything here is
a little grungier than Chapters 1 and 3.
Everything here is so dark but
still has lots of the classic apricot and hay.
I remember it as from a dream,
an odd fart smell, at first,
in the nose of this bottle.

Diabolic spices float by
out from the dark sherry butts.
I remember it was here I found
some ginger powder

by following the slightly bitter finish to Hell.

It’s night again,
with a tiny bit of peat
.

Night, you definitely should have washed that pot you boiled shrimp in
instead of just rinsing it.
I please my hunger on the honey of living humans.
Night of hunger, sucking on paper.
Follow its stony call.
Follow the freezing raisin moon.

Roasted peanuts are growing.
The palate opens to vacuum bags filled with pears and green apples.
The mildest pepper of the three lights up again.
As in ancient times,
falling wine vapors die behind the back of my throat
by following the freezing grainy moon.

 


 

Rating: RecommendedIt’s definitely my least favorite of the three Chapters, though I definitely wouldn’t turn my nose up if someone offered me a glass and I wouldn’t argue that this isn’t delicious, despite the mildly off-putting funk in the nose. The palate still shines, just maybe not as bright, as the finish stumbles a bit, too.

Thank you to the kind folks at ImpEx Beverages Inc. for the sample. Cheers!

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Arran – Devil’s Punchbowl, Chapter I (52.3%)

Devils Punchbowl 1

“Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.” -Dante Alighieri 

My home state of Connecticut has become rotten with self-proclaimed craft brewers. We have locals cranking out watermelon atrocities (hooorker), cannoli flavored sluice that tastes more like a fizzy glass of clove cigarettes (shablechhhhh), and even a few ales and lagers that smell like someone left raw chicken in the break room refrigerator too long (yeeeeeeeerk).

Believe it or not, it’s actually worse than I’m making it sound. I’ve personally seen brewers who seemed like they couldn’t quite figure out how to properly sterilize their tap lines and glassware, if they even knew that they should. I’ve seen revered locals that were so baffled by the technical aspects of temperature that they were sideswiped when their warehouse got hot in the summer. It’s amazing how terrible (most of) the local beer is here, sure, but it’s even more amazing that they navigated enough of the legal system to become licensed and viable. How did they do it?! They must have made some sort of deal with some sort of powerful entity.

Meanwhile in the southern half of the state, one of the few brewers actually making drinkable beer for us is receiving threats from a handful of confused nitwits for using Gandhi’s image on one of their most rabidly consumed beers, the Gandhi-Bot. Ignore that the eponymous, non-alcoholic Gandhi was a peaceful man. Ignore that Gandhi-Bot barely makes its way out of New Haven County, much less all the way to India, where a lawsuit has even been filed against them. Worst of all, they eventually caved to the pressure and sacrificed their own artistic license on the altar of the perpetually offended.

Ghandi Bot DFHE

Can someone at NEBCO make this happen? Please?

What’s causing the sudden surge of unrest in the world? Why are people so angry and why are we still charging them with the task of brewing us barely-carbonated hate in $9 growlers? Why are we caving to jingoistic terror? What the Hell is going on?!?

It’s not just the destruction of something good, the poisonings or the threats of violence, either; the craft beer movement finds itself in devilish company, with the booming resurgence of shitty frozen yogurt clones and waves of sourced whisky. Truly, these are accursed times. How much more evil can things get?

As was foretold, written in dairy and grain, the Devil has returned to destroy us all. But seriously, what better time for Arran to finish its demonic trilogy, The Devil’s Punchbowl, than now, during the vile age of toxic beer, mystery whisky and infernal yogurt shops? A wiser man would have seen this coming. Today, we’ll speak about the first chapter, released sometime around 2012.

Nose: Classically Arran, with sweet hay and a malty body. It’s a bit green, like a dried alfalfa and apples. Tropical undertones of mango and whiffs of an empty Count Chocula box. Fried masa, fresh ginger, and mild iodine round out the nose. 

Palate: Exceptionally well blended. Apricots and apples, along with Arran’s traditional peppery finish. Mellow peat. Salty with blanched seaweed and oyster shells. It has a gritty sugary quality, kind of like sucking the finish off of a handful of honey roasted peanuts.

Rating: RecommendedThis is a solid punch to the whisky drinking part of your face. I’ll take it!

It is a limited edition, but I’ve seen a few in the wild recently so they are still out there. The packaging is appropriately badass, too, unfolding like some ancient tome to the list of all the casks vatted for this single malt. Quality and packaging symbiotically justify the hefty price tag for me; around $120 or so.

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