Some Compass Box Love

The Compass Box Logo

The Compass Box Logo

In September 2013, a few members of the Isle of Man Whisky Club attended The Whisky Lounge’s Liverpool Whisky Festival. While there we had the chance to sample many varied drams from the distillers who had tables there, but the ones which left the biggest impression by far were those from Compass Box.

This was not only due to the staff of Compass Box (who spent best part of an hour and a half speaking to us about their samples), but also the incredibly unique whisky they had on their table.

These ranged from incredibly complex blends which defied any preconceptions we might have had to the surprising Delilah’s, a whisky which was described to me as “something you can just knock back again and again for the whole night”.

For a brief description of where Compass Box came from, here is an unashamedly copy-pasted paragraph from their site:

“After many years in the wine trade, American ex-pat John Glaser entered the world of Scotch whisky, learning his art through one of the industry’s largest companies. In 2000, he started Compass Box Whisky Company, based on his commitment to evolving practices in the industry to make great Scotch whisky more approachable and relevant to more people. From the beginning, his vision has been to create one of Scotland’s finest and most exciting whisky companies, re-establishing the standards for quality and style in the industry. Today, John Glaser is considered one of the most respected whisky makers of his generation.”

Looking through the marketing material and reading various other reviews I find that they have a reputation for producing unique blends and offering something a little different from the norm. This individual streak is also something which was being fully embraced by the members of Compass Box while we were at the festival, proudly delivering the background to drinks which had been refused classification as scotch whiskies due to the way they were blended or the woods used in construction of the casks.

This approach will obviously not be to everyone’s tastes, but I believe it is something we should all be happy exists. Wandering round the hall the festival was held in, we received different reactions from every table we approached. As I mentioned above, Compass Box were by far the most receptive to any questions we had and were incredibly enthusiastic about all their products.

At the opposite end of the spectrum there were a few companies which seemed completely disinterested in speaking to us at all, with one distillery simply pouring us a small dram when we asked for a sample without uttering a single word to us. In my opinion this was a disgraceful practise, not only showing a lack of care to their customers (existing or potential) but also a lack of interest in the products they were meant to be convincing us to buy.

The poor experience with this producer early in the afternoon only served to highlight the incredible passion and enthusiasm of Compass Box. Not only did they have what I believe to be fantastic products, but they were also willing to add personal investments by speaking to everyone who visited their table individually, asking how far we had come and discussing our local whisky scene at length.

This combination of fantastically unique products and excellent customer service has led to the Compass Box brand’s mystique in a very short time. You may have noticed that I haven’t really mentioned many of their products by name, and haven’t even touched on the subjects of nose and taste. This is because I simply don’t have the space to even briefly detail these subjects as far as Compass Box is concerned. They were the only table on which we tried every drink on offer (of which I believe there were nine), and they were all completely unique and all worth your time trying.

Compass Box may not have the history or reputation of some other brands, but they offer a unique and ingenious take on whisky which is all fuelled by incredible enthusiasm and love for what they do. This alone makes them worth your time.

Whiskey Sour

A Whiskey Sour

A Whiskey Sour

It came to my attention earlier today that we have started moving on to the more obscure whiskey cocktails without really finishing the ‘official’ cocktails approved by the International Bartenders Association. With that in mind I was lucky enough to find one that I already had the ingredients for and I have actually never tried:- the Whiskey Sour.

Who actually invented this cocktail is a topic of some debate as it seems it appeared in the Puruvian newspaper Mercurio Peruano as well as the United States newspaper Waukesha Plaindealer at about the same time in the early 1870s. As with any cocktail not born in the modern age (as well as a lot of modern ones actually) it would be impossible to find out its definitive origins. It is also entirely possible many people came up with the same idea at the same time.

Regardless of it’s origin story, we can be relatively certain that it started life in the new world and was probably more akin to a Pisco Sour which uses a type of fortified wine rather than whiskey. Over the years there have been many other cocktails that have been based on the same premise but it is only the Pisco Sour and Whiskey Sour that have been recognised by the IBA. Suck it all other spirits!


Wanting to try it the ‘official’ IBA way, I followed the recipe to the letter

3 shot of whiskey (bourbon worked very well! Knob Creek is an awesome bourbon as a side note)
2 shots of lemon juice
1 shot of simple syrup (sugar and water)

Put all ingredients in a shaker and shake that bad boy up (with ice if you feel like it, in which case strain after!). Afterwards pour into a glass and add ice, a lemon wedge or a sugared rim to taste.

Final thought

This has actually been my second favourite of the cocktails I have looked at so far (second to a Mint Julep). The sourness of the lemon, sweetness of the sugar and general kick of the bourbon really plays nicely together, I would definitely serve this to a non whiskey drinker!

Glenfarclas 10yo

A bottle of Glenfarclas

A bottle of Glenfarclas


The Easter weekend has totally ruined my update schedule, so I am going to be posting this review and then another one tomorrow morning to try and catch up in time for my usual Friday. I am sorry if anyone checks the site and missed them.

This was a bottle that InsanityCrap brought to club a few months ago. Though I have seen Glenfarclas around a lot over the years it occurred to me at the time that I had actually never tasted any. Had to fix that.

A small bit of history

I was unable to find any definitive history of the Glenfarclas site (Rechlerich Farm, on the Ballindalloch Estate) predating the legal establishment of the distillery in 1836 but every source I have found has agreed that drink making was being done there long beforehand under the leadership of a local family farmer called Robert Hay.

His own personal story has been lost to the ages unfortunately as the company and brand really begins (at least as far as the sources I could find are concerned) when Robert moved off the site in 1865 and it was leased as prime farming land to a highly successful Aberdeen Angus farmer called John Grant. The distillery was sold as a little extra for £511.

Though the farm was perfectly placed in regard to the many other family businesses in the region, John and his sons had little interest in making the water of life. Rather than taking a dabble in it themselves at this point they leased their building to a respectable distiller called John Smith (of Glenlivet acclaim) for the foreseeable future.

This set up did not last long however. John Smith had set up the infrastructure for the most part when he jumped into business with his father George and formed George & J.G. Smith, Ltd in 1869. He left soon after to concentrate on building and running the Cragganmore distillery the other side of Ballindalloch.

Luckily John Grant’s son George (it is like all other names were outlawed for a time) was rather business savvy and was able to help take on the running of the businesses including the distillery on the site. John ensured the future of the family business by teaching George everything before his death in 1889. Or so he thought…

Less than a year after John had died he was joined in the ground by George leaving the business in a state of disarray and chaos. When the dust settled George’s sons John and George (I am not kidding) were in charge of the (then shrinking) farm business and the (greatly picking up) whisky business.

When the relatively well known wholesalers Pattison, Elder and Co approached the brothers in 1895 to create a new business partnership, John and George were no doubt in awe of their success and jumped at the opportunity. They had however been wooed by suits and sharp words.

In 1898 the Pattison’s business collapsed and took a fair number of small distilleries with it. It took 15 years of tough decisions, hard work and no doubt a sizable chunk of the family fortune just to keep this particular distillery afloat.

By 1914 the J. & G. Grant company had been formed as a totally independent entity and the brothers vowed to never trust or rely on outside investors again. Though most whisky businesses went through the worst during the wars, the worst for J & G was definitely over. By the time the lease on the land was up in 1930 the company was able to purchase the site outright.

After a short time, a new name from the Grant family began to take the reigns. Indeed in 1950 it was a time for George Grant (son of the last George Grant, son of George Grant, son of John Grant). He managed to ferry the company through the second world war without much issue and (if you are to believe the company’s own history on the matter) managed to market the whisky so well that they had to start rationing the amount they gave to blenders in 1960.

It was also thanks to his foresight to continue production at the same rate after the whisky boom of the 1960s ended that the company has such a massive stock of well aged spirit. This combined with his son’s (John) decision to stop selling as much to blenders and concentrate on single malt has allowed them to stock and sell a 43 whisky back catalogue, one for every year from 1952 to 1994. I will review one of them if I ever get hold of one. 😉

This specific bottle is one of their flagship product and is the one you are most likely to find at your local supermarket.

Noteworthy awards

Though Glenfarclas has many awards under it’s belt. I could not find any for the 10yo I am afraid. Totally happy to update this if someone wants to correct me. :)

Taste notes

Your first smell of this dram will be of sherry and honey with spicy undertones joined by a hint of dark toffee.

Going in for the taste you will find the spiciness intensify slightly but be joined by the undeniable taste of Christmas cake with hints of cinnamon and orange peel.

Finally, the finish lasts a relatively long time, still keeps the spice but is joined by an overall smokiness that lasts throughout.

When I suggest drinking it

I am afraid this will not be making my best whiskies list but I do feel like I have been judging them on their cheapest product.

I came across many reviews and articles when researching that had nothing but praise for their range, and indeed, a company making substandard whisky is unlikely to have lasted anywhere near as long as theirs.

I would say you should try Glenfarclas if you get a chance, but if it is between the 10yo and one of their older whiskies I would definitely go for the latter.