Whisky Review: Peat Monster, Tenth Anniversary Limited Edition

, | September 3, 2016

peat monster (2)

Photo by Whisky Kirk. Image copyright The Whiskey Wash.

Peat Monster’s Tenth Anniversary Limited Edition is a creature comfort, to be sure. Like its namesake, the dram is a brooding admixture of peaty oomph. And yet, a sense of balance shines through, as with most of John Glaser’s creations.

I’ve sent John a few emails over the years, and he was quick to answer. This really tickled me. In fact, I was surprised to learn that the founder of Compass Box was born in Michigan, and grew up in Minnesota. He started his company at the turn of the twenty-first century in his home kitchen.

These days, John’s office in London overlooks a rather elaborate blending room, and that’s no surprise. He is anything if not dedicated to the art of his trade.

What’s in Your Bottle?

Innovative and quality blending is what Compass Box, and Glaser, are known for. At times, his passion for creating masterful broths has gotten him in hot water with the Scottish Whisky industry. For instance, just last year, two of his releases were criticized as being too forthright in terms of their ingredients.

I have one of those bottles in my whisky cabinet: Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary Edition. I bought the wonderful blend of old and new whisky before the “fit hit the shan,” so to speak. It contains 27.1% 30 Year Old Caol Ila, 24.1% 20 Year Old Clynelish, 38.5% 14 Year Old Caol Ila, and 10.3% Nameless Highland Malt. The end result is quite enchanting.

One of the reasons I bought a bottle of Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary in the first place was due to my happiness about learning precisely what I’d be drinking. Of course, I’m not alone. More and more people around the world these days are cultivating an interest in the technical side of blending and making Scotch whisky.

Part of this interest is due to the fact that single malt Scotch can be expensive. However, part of it is also due to a fascination with the art of making high quality, amply aged elixirs…a process which might be likened to capturing reluctant genies in bottles.

I can’t help but feel the whisky industry is “kicking against the pricks,” so to speak, in regard to customers who are willing to plunk down over fifty bucks on a bottle of blended whisky. They want to know precisely what’s behind the label, as in, the sorts of barrels used to age the whiskies in the blend, their precise ages, and whether they’ve been chill filtered with added colorant. Even information about grain whisky in a craft blend is apropos.

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Nostradamus Never Did This

For the longest time, especially before the Internet grew into a marketing behemoth of immense proportions, customers who regularly purchased whisky blends were, more or less, content to use name brand recognition as their primary means of determining what they purchased. These days, however, many want more. When it comes to high end blends, collectors and drinkers alike want to know the nitty-gritty details about what’s inside a bottle, every bit as much as they want to know what’s inside a bottle of high-end bottle of single malt Scotch.

In all fairness, some folks just don’t want to think. They grab for a bottle of their tried and true whisky blend, and they drink it down fairly quickly with ice. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that sort of whisky drinking experience! All I’m saying, is that another market is opening up–a market which the “big boys” needn’t fear. It’s not really in competition with them, anyhow, but it needs the freedom to express itself without being censored.

Yes, that’s right, the market for specialized blends is knocking on the door of commerce in Scotland, demanding the right to list, in no uncertain terms, precisely what is being sold in a bottle of blended whisky. This doesn’t mean the ingredients should be listed; merely that companies should have the right to list pertinent facts such as dates, ages, cask types, and percentages – if they so desire.

We all know who’s facilitating resistance in the Scottish whisky industry to full disclosure: big name blends that benefit from name recognition more than from a craft-orientated blend of high quality malt and grain whiskies. The big boys can resist the trend that is moving towards optional disclosure, like King Canute trying to hold back the tide with his broadsword. Ultimately, however, the market will correct itself. And I predict that the huge corporations, which make the lion’s share of the profits in terms of gross bottles sold, will begrudgingly diversify.

The time is not so distant when behemoth-sized blenders will be forced to move some of their resources into smaller, craft-oriented niches like the one that John Glaser has created for himself. Of course, the looming shortage of older single malt whisky stock will also be a precipitating factor, as prices soar even higher, and middle class drinkers are forced out of the market. These people will be looking for a gourmet whisky drinking experience, and guess what they will be able to afford? Bottles like Great King Street on the low end, and Peat Monster, Flaming Heart, Spice Tree, and Hedonism on the higher end.

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It doesn’t take a wizard stirring a bowl of water with a stick, and then falling into a deep trance, to predict the future. The writing’s on the wall…or, in this case, on the label of every bottle of Compass Box whisky.

Blending with the Stars

One of the things I really love about The Peat Monster Tenth Anniversary is its label. The artwork reminds me of a cross between Hieronymus Bosch, Salvador Dali, and a Monty Python Terry Gilliam creation: really tasteful and cool, right down to faux cracks that make the illustration seem as though it’s been ravaged a bit by the prying fingers of time.

Despite the name of this whisky, it’s really not that much of a monster when compared to something like a Bruichladdich Octomore. Ironically, the title “Octomore,” to me, seems rather austere and refined. But, of course, the broth awaiting inside Bruichladdich’s rather ominous black bottles is loaded with far and away more phenols than Peat Monster Tenth Anniversary.

Ironically, the Peat Monster series has not been terribly upfront and forward about what’s inside its bottles. This vagueness, no doubt, has pleased authorities in the Scottish Whisky industry, for whom “less is more.”

I hear-tell that some peaty Clynelish was added to the mix of this very special anniversary bottling. Some people rave about Caol Ila; however, in my estimation, a nice Highland malt like Clynelish seems like a welcome addition to any rough-and-tumble blend, as a way to help brighten the corners.

And if you’ve been following my reviews, it’s no secret that I’m a sucker for peaty, oceanic Clynies. Why? Because they remind me of the old smoky Broras that I can’t lay hands on any longer, since that venerable distillery is gone baby gone. In addition to Clynelish, I’m guessing there is some sharper and feistier Caol Ila in my glass of Peat Monster, as well. In more recent standard editions, Laphroaig often got into the mix…but I’m not catching any tell-tale medicinal hints in the nose, or on the palate, this time around.

Let’s not blame John Glaser for the fact that The Peat Monster, Tenth Anniversary, like its namesake, is a creature of mystery. I’m sure that if he’d gotten his way, the ingredients of would have been outed, in toto.

Tasting Notes

Vital Stats: 48.9% ABV, non chill filtered, natural color, wide ranging price in the USA from $50-100 depending upon where you buy.

Appearance: White wine

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Nose: Whisps of smoke, along with mellow peaty goodness; creme brulee; some ashes; wet tweed; smoked herring; pine needles, along with a hint of lively oak.

Palate: A workout for the mouth, from the roof all the way down to the back of the tongue: “Release the kraken!” This is where John’s blend comes into its own by perking up one’s taste buds with multiple kinds of peat at once. There is also a subtle maritime note deep in the blend, lying in wait. It’s obvious that some of the whisky was aged at the sea shore.

I notice a heightened wave of flavors once this tempest-tossed broth has time to rest a spell in my glass. Now, there comes a welcome hint of sooty ash, sharper peat smoke than is apparent on the nose, and some lemon zest. I’m also picking up Blue Castello cheese, Salish alderwood smoked salt, and a malty side to the blend that reminds me of Jewish marble rye.

The addition of water accents this blend’s younger side, bringing out a tequila note. I’m reminded of Fortaleza’s stone ground agave hearts in the nose. On the palate, there is a creamier mouth feel now with a touch of vanilla bean ; however, some of the complexity withdraws, leaving fewer tentacles to grab one’s taste buds.

Finish: Ashes on the sides of the tongue, oak on the tip, and well-rounded peat washing down one’s throat. A slightly bitter oakiness surfaces at the death, along with curls of smoke that smolder, like the remnants of a fire on the beach.

Final Thoughts

I can remember being wowed by The Peat Monster Tenth Anniverary at Portland Whiskeyfest a few years ago, where I volunteered as a bartender. Today, I’m not feeling the same degree of warm fuzzies, but I must say the glass is a lot of fun to ponder.

As always, John Glaser has put together a really intriguing blend that is presented in a classy bottle and box. Yes, it’s true that the whisky comes up short when compared to the limited edition Flaming Heart 15th EditionStill, I don’t regret my purchase.

Pssssst, speaking of which . . . if you are smart about where you buy, you can pick up The Peat Monster Tenth Anniversary these days for almost half the price of a Flaming Heart 15th Edition. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, there’s a store online currently selling bottles for a mere fifty clams. Even with shipping, that’s a “phenol-menal” bargain!

Ouch. Did I really close my article with an insider’s Scotch whisky pun? Yes, by kraky, I believe I did.      

Final Score: 86/100 [SHOP FOR A BOTTLE OF COMPASS BOX PEAT MONSTER TENTH ANNIVERSARY]

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Whisky Kirk

Kirk discovered the brilliance of Scottish whisky in 1987 while vacationing in Edinburgh. Over the course of three and a half decades that followed, he's built upon a knowledge of distilleries and the industry, as well as world whisky. Kirk prides himself on speaking honestly while avoiding the usual flattery...