Scotch Whisky Regulations (SWR) are written by the industry, and thus arguably don't serve the consumer as well as they might.
This fine dram is, I think, a case in point. Compass Box are so constrained by the SWR that they can only say that one component of the blend is 33 years old. We can infer that the other is older, and I've been verbally assured that the second component is forty years old, but it's all a bit unsatisfactory really.
Compass Box can tell us, however, that the two components which make up the General were both blended at a much younger age and then left in barrel, which isn't usually the case. Most blends will have only a brief marrying period, often in a huge steel vat, before bottling. I think that extended second ageing has contributed to the flavour of the resulting dram.
My grumblings about rules and regulations aside, I do think that this is a very, very fine dram indeed. Here are my notes.
Nose: A promising mix of woody and fruity aromas. Caramel, butter, and oranges. It seems very fresh and lively for such an old whisky. The caramel is evolving into Cream Line toffee, and the woody notes are growing stronger. There's even a little touch of fust or dunnage warehouse. Adding water releases much more sherrywood character, and now the toffee is moving over into tablet territory, and then further into Murray mints.
(For those of you who didn't grow up in Scotland in the 1970s: Cream Line was a brittle toffee with very strong creamy character. Tablet is a Scottish delicacy made by boiling up cream, butter, and sugar. Murray mints were a mildly minty boiled sweet.)
The palate is rather grippy with wood tannins, but also super-sweet, in the same toffee and fruit vein as the nose. There's also a touch of struck match from the sherry influence. The finish is malty, in a beery sort of way, but then loops back to the fruit toffee notes before going out on a kind of herbal mintiness. With water it settles down to an unctuous creamy toffee, underscored by a savoury note which rather reminds me of a Madeira-based gravy.
In conclusion, this is an absolutely superb blended whisky. It's thick and sweet and deeply satisfying to drink, but also complex enough to intrigue malt snobs. I recently tasted the Whyte and Mackay 40 Year Old, which costs about twice as much as this bottle, and I reckon this is the better of the two. Well done Compass Box.
For another take on this whisky, have a look at Steve Prentice's review over on Somerset Whisky Blog.