Whisky and Words Number 96: Compass Box Artist Blend

Artist Blend with artistic shadows.

Compass Box is quite the opposite of the typical Scotch whisky maker. It is a very new entrant, having been founded in AD 2000. Instead of hailing their age-old styles and techniques, they have been innovative, sometimes pushing the envelope of where the Scotch industry is willing to go. They are like the old guard in that they are rather expensive—their signature lines start at over $80 here in Oregon, and the top of the line ‘Hedonism’ is over $140…for a non-age statement (NAS) blended whisky. Wow. I’ll get to that one some day.

Today’s pick is their relatively affordable Artist Blend. Artist Blend is also NAS (as most blends are). You can pick this up for about fifty bucks. Still, that’s a cool $15 more than Johnnie Walker Black, which is aged for 12 years. That’s nearly a 50% premium. So, from that perspective, the Artist Blend is a pricey find and I expect it to deliver.

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Whisky and Words Number 95: Aberlour 12-year Speyside Whisky

I was tardy reviewing, apparently the wife likes the stuff!

Early in my whisky journey and well before my trip to Scotland, I had tried Aberlour 12 and was underwhelmed. But we had a good tour at Aberlour and an excellent tasting at the end, and I remember being more enamored of their product at that time. So it is time to revisit and do a proper review.

Aberlour was established by one James Fleming in 1880, an enterprising man who pursued various businesses to become a prominent local landowner and philanthropist. For instance, he funded the building of the Victoria Bridge, which spans the river Spey not far from the distillery (I’ve got a photo in my Aberlour tour post). The distillery has passed to multiple hands and since 1975 has been a part of Pernod Ricard.

A chatty carton (click for hi-res)

The 12-year expression is ‘double cask matured’ in sherry seasoned and oak casks. Their web site and bottle labeling are not entirely clear on whether they age in the sherry casks for a full 12 years and marry those with ex-bourbon casks, but that appears to be the case given the text on the carton back (see photo at left, click to enlarge). The bottle is a stout, rounded shape with a handy bulge in the neck that makes for steady pours. Labeling is understated. The effect is classy and restrained.

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Whisky and Words Number 89: The Arran Cask Finish – Sauternes

The Arran Cask Finish, Sauternes, liquid sunshine.

I originally brought in the Arran Cask Finish Sauternes for a comparison to the Glenmorangie Nectar D’or, in review 49. But this whisky deserves its own post. The Island of Arran has some history with illicit whisky-making, and one legal distillery ran in the 1800s. The Arran distillery was made new in 1994-1995, founded by a private company, Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd. As far as I can tell, Arran is still an independent distiller (with a new sister distillery also on the island, Lagg).

I paid $77, for this dram in 2019, though it’s up to $86 now with the tariffs. The Arran is  true craft offering, bottled at 50% ABV, non-chill filtered and uses no artificial colors. It is a really gorgeous dram as you can see from the photos (click for a hi-res view), a very clear medium amber. The front label declares ‘Each cask is specially selected by our master distiller’ and signed by James MacTaggart. You can see James here, in their brief profile. 45 years in the industry marks James as an old hand indeed.

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Whisky and Words Number 87: Dalwhinnie 15 (vs. Clynelish 14)

Deep color and a stout bottle with classic labeling.

Dalwhinnie 15 is a whisky that has flown under my radar for too long. Before the pandemic, the Dalwhinnie was mentioned by a whisky buddy as her favorite. I smacked myself in the forehead, of course! How had I missed it?

Located on the Trium, a tributary of the Spey, Dalwhinnie is considered both a Speysider but also a Highland distillery. The distillery is located on the far side of Cairngorms National Park from Dufftown (heart of the Speyside region) and they brag about it being the highest and coldest whisky distillery in Scotland, so I’m approaching it as a Highlander and will compare to the Clynelish 14, a lower-priced dram, but also a Highlander. Both are from Diageo and I’m interested to see how they are differentiated.

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Whisky and Words Number 85: Highland Park 18

The HP-18 gets its amazing color from 18 years in all sherry-treated casks.

Highland Park first came to my attention early on when I was reading many other blogs about Scotch. The HP 12-year was mentioned as a solid, well-made scotch at a reasonable price by a couple reviewers, but it was Jason Debly’s blog post here that sold me. In my own review of the 12-year, I covered some details of Highland Park’s creation: barrel selection and treatment, and where they get their barley:

We are malting 20% of the total malt we use onsite. We then peat this malt before drying. Our makeup of malt is 20% peated (malted and peated on site) and 80% unpeated (bought from commercial maltsters).

So I encourage you to give that review a look if you’re interested in some of the Highland Park production details. The snippet above gives you a hint to their whisky’s flavor profile: HP is mildly peated, with only 20% of the malt having been treated with peat smoke. It won’t clear out a room when you open it, sending peat neophytes grabbing for their masks (as an Octomore would). But it does have enough smokiness to help you imagine being near a cheery bonfire at the beach. Just not downwind.

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