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.
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.
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.
This was from Josh (again), a housewarming gift. Josh knows what warms a home. Like last episode’s Whistle Pig, this whisky is also finished in ex-wine barrels—this time in Pinot Noir barrels. Pinot Noir is the signature wine of Oregon, apropos for an Oregon spirit.
Freeland Spirits is a fairly new distillery in Portland, OR which also produces several varieties of gin (which does not take as much aging). Like my favorite distillery, Talisker, Freeland is run by women. Freeland is also woman-owned, and is named after the tee-totaling ‘Meemaw’ (Grandma) Freeland. Their master distiller, Molly Troupe, has excellent credentials: a Masters Degree in Distillation from Heriot Watt, a major business university in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Odd fact, I have been there and did some work with them long ago.) The Freeland web site explains the bourbon operation only started in 2018, and that their bourbon was produced in partnership with another distiller. Freeland then finished the spirit.
This was another gift (thank you Josh)! This is an interesting whisky to cover because the name is so long and it all tells a story. Located in the far northeast of the U.S. in Vermont, Whistle Pig is a fairly new entrant (established 2015) in the field, and is a rye whisky specialist. They produce various expressions and have a good reputation. This expression is a Canadian Rye whiskey. The interesting story starts there: Canada has no specific rules about rye whiskey. How much rye you get depends on the producer’s taste. The WP team started as rye aficionados, so we can assume a healthy serving of rye in the mash bill (which they do not post).
I don’t have a lot of experience with Japanese whisky, at least that I remember. When I traveled there, my Japanese hosts were always very social and invited me to nights that were longer than I’m used to! I do remember a glass (with too much ice) in a Kabuki-cho club where we all sang karaoke, but whisky was not the usual tipple. My colleagues were more likely to go to a shōchū bar than a whisky bar. But whisky is very popular in Japan.
In my experience, the Japanese are meticulous in execution when they take on a task. Shibui is a reflection of that. The packaging is elegant: completely original, and conveys a modern Eastern esthetic blended with traditional calligraphy. Their website has just enough information–how they constructed the spirit and tasting notes–and is also well-presented. Note that in Japan, there is no law regarding how much time a whisky has to be in cask to be called whisky, and with no age statement on this whisky we can only guess at its age