By Richard Thomas
The artisanal micro-distillery Compass Box set out to make its Great King Street scotch, named for the company’s Edinburgh address, with a simple mission in mind. In Compass Box’s opinion, blended scotch gets a bad rap because the market is flooded with cheap, poorly made blends. At The Whiskey Reviewer, we partially agree with that sentiment. In my opinion, what has long been missing from the blended scotch market is the equivalent of the bourbon small batch — whiskeys that aren’t expensive and might not necessarily bear a distinguished age statement, but are top notch, well-made and provide enormous bang for the buck.
This is the niche Compass Box set out to fill with Great King Street, and they succeeded. Also called “The Artist’s Blend,” Great King Street is a mix of Lowland grain whiskey, Highland malt whiskey, and a touch of Speyside malt. Compass Box says the grains involved are of the highest quality, and the blend is almost 50% malt, higher than the norm for a blended scotch. The scotch is aged in first-fill American oak, first-fill European oak ex-Sherry butts, and new, heavily toasted French oak. Finally, Great King Street has two old fashioned touches: it is bottled at 43% alcohol, and is not chill filtered.
In the glass, Great King Street has a pleasant mid-yellow color, reminiscent of a full-bodied Chardonnay or what Pilsner might look like if it weren’t carbonated. The scent is sweet and soft, although the slightly elevated alcohol content give it a crisp tinge towards the end. The aroma is sweet and laden with apples and pears, with decidedly grainy notes.
The scotch has an understated flavor, richly sweet while remaining subtle enough that no flavor really dominates the others. The whiskey tastes something like a well-baked apple pie, rich in apple and vanilla notes, but alongside that are strong hints of wood and peat. The finish is richly oaky, with the sweetness shifting to focus on the accompanying vanilla.
Compass Box bills Great King Street as a scotch that works well neat, with a splash of water, on the rocks or in a cocktail. I’m a fan of drinking my scotch neat, but I can see where a smooth, subtle, sweet whiskey like this one would work well with ice on a warmer day. It is far too nice, however, for a cocktail; smothering the flavor of this scotch in coke, ginger ale or club soda and sugar is a waste.
Compass Box lists the Great King Street blend for £27 in its website shop. In the United States, retail prices range between $35 and $40.