That bottom shelf blend can’t possibly be as good as the $200 single malt on the top shelf, right? But 82% of all scotch imported to the U.S. is blended. Worldwide, that number is 90%.
The No. 1 scotch in the world is Johnnie Walker Red. So, what’s the difference? All Scotch whisky is made from water, yeast and grain. In single malt Scotch whisky, the grain must be 100% malted barley. The other component in blended scotch is grain whisky, which could be made of any combination of grains: malted or unmalted barley, oats, corn, wheat, etc. It also differs from malt in that it can be distilled in a column still, like Irish or bourbon. Single malt must be distilled in a pot still. To be called scotch, both must age a minimum of three years in Scotland. Those inexpensive bottles are usually on the young end of that range, and I can feel the acid-like burn of young grain whisky.
The blended Scotch whisky category changed in 2000 when American John Glaser, who was previously the marketing manager for Johnnie Walker, started Compass Box. He quietly began producing exceptional blends sourced from across Scotland. Like traditional blenders of the past, Compass Box does not own a distillery. It has several blended malts available here, including Spice Tree, Peat Monster, The Spaniard and blended grain Hedonism. They also produce Artist Blend and Glasgow Blend. These are made with both malt and grain whisky. I enjoy sampling different whiskies and hesitate to spend $100 just to try a bottle. Thankfully, Compass Box offers several tasting packs with three small bottles for around $20.
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Today, we review The Peat Monster, Spice Tree and The Spaniard.
Starting with the Spice Tree, at 46%, it’s full of orchard fruits on the nose. It’s more complex than I imagined, and that 46% is enough to give it that spice it’s named for, like a nice sipping rye whiskey. A nice long finish too. My favorite of the three.
The Spaniard is lower proof at 43% and an easy sipper. I get more oak from this one, and more of an alcohol burn than the Spice Tree, even at a lower proof. Another nice long finish. Some red wine notes too. This one I would consider a classic blend, unoffensive and easy to drink. Well rounded.
The Peat Monster has classic peat smoke nose and a very light color. Not what I expected, honeyed peat, with some woody notes on the finish. Not overpowering peat at all. More of a peat gecko than a peat monster.
All three of these bottles are available at the larger stores in Lincoln: The Still, Wall to Wall Wine, and Wine, Beer and Spirits. The Still also carries two different three-pack samplers.
Whisky news and notes: Just one – there’s a new Balvenie 17-year coming named “new wood.” Balvenie discontinued the old 17 “Doublewood” a year or so back.
Until next time, slainté!
The author, Mark Feit, is a Certified Whisky Ambassador and has visited 57 distilleries in Scotland. You can reach Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.