By Richard Thomas
In 2013, Compass Box came into a pair of very unusual consignments. Both were blended scotches that had been married while very young, put back into casks, and then left in what was essentially secondary maturation for a very, very long time. The company claims one of the two blends is 33 years old, and claims that they can’t say much about the second blend without possibly running afoul of the strict 2009 scotch regulations.
You read that right: Compass Box says the rules might actually prohibit them from providing information. Contrary to what some very misguided Americans think, not only is the sourcing whiskey in Scotland sometimes opaque, but from time to time the law makes them more so.
But back to The General. Although both of the two blends might have made a good release in their own right, Compass Box Maestro John Glaser felt they would be better blended together (again). That new blend of some rather old scotch became The General, named after the 1926 Buster Keaton film.
Although much of the background for The General’s constituent whiskeys is unknown, but the educated guess is that some of it was aged in ex-American whiskey barrels, and some in old sherry casks. The General was bottled at “cask strength,” 53.4% abv, and had a production run limited to 1,698 bottles. The General hit the market in November 2013, and at the time of writing it was still available for sale.
The scotch has a very un-scotch like appearance, taking on a light, polished amber coloring. If that sounds bourbon-like, the nose continues in a similar vein. The scent packs a basket of apricot, plum, and apple, spiced with a dollop of vanilla and carrying a whiff of dry wood.
After following a pseudo-bourbon line, The General jinks hard on the palate. A little sweet and lightly spiced with cinnamon, the flavor is predominately woody, with both notes of toasty oak and pine. The taste is big and bold, but still smooth in spite of the unusually high (for scotch) alcohol content. Complimenting the flavor is the oily mouthfeel. From there, the finish winds down with a spicy afterglow.
The General is a great sipping whiskey, but it has a whopping price tag reflecting the reputed rarity of its sources: £200 on the Compass Box website. Some vendors have the scotch marked down to £180, but even with the discount, it is still an expensive whiskey and certainly in the collectable category.