Sunday 9 February 2014

Tasting Note: Compass Box The General

The 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.

Friday 7 February 2014

Tasting Note: 10 Year Old Rip Van Winkle

Last night I helped an ex colleague out by running a wine tasting for him (he was double booked, and doing another wine tasting upstairs in the Art Club). It was something of a boozy affair, with a welcome glass of fizz, eight wines, and a half-time Mezcal. My friend, having finished his tasting and returned, decided that the best way to encourage the punters to leave was by mixing up G&Ts and playing darts with them. Once we had seen them off the premises we tidied up a little and sat down to a few drams.

I offer this preamble as some sort of excuse for the rather vague tasting note which follows, but also to remind myself that the best way to enjoy whisk(e)y is in good company.

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year Old  (53.5%)

The nose is an attractive mix of spicy oak wood and what seems like rye to me (I know, I know, wheated bourbon. Nevertheless, I feel obliged to report my perception). It's also much more fresh and lifted than most distillates (as if it were a wine) and there's even a minty note. Over time it seems to develop a nutty aspect (I wonder if that's down to the wheat?).

The palate is soft and round, but also somehow alkaline. Perhaps that's because it's my first whisky after a selection of wines (or, I guess I could blame the Mezcal).

The flavours match the nose nicely. There's spicy rye, and it's  soft, woody, and very easy to drink. There are lots of American white oak notes like coconut, and a lovely mild spice in the finish.

I'm not usually all that enthusiastic about American whiskeys, since I usually find them too sweet and oak dominated. But this I enjoyed - as I said already, the best way to enjoy whisk(e)y is in good company. It was a great night.