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Spirits Review: Scotch

As this is my first of what I hope will be many more posts reviewing spirits it seems only fitting that I should lead off with the spirit that first captivated me, made me interested in learning about spirits and taught me much in the way of appreciating a fine spirit – namely Scotch.  It also took a lot of control to not lead off with traditional Islay style whiskies (actually one of the selections below is from Islay, it is not in the traditional smoke house blend that we all so love).  It is also appropriate as this is our first spirits review post, or attempt at a review, that we lay out theSpeakista’s methodology — don’t worry, it’s neither scientific nor scary and will hopefully evolve over time.

There are essentially four stages to my taste testing a spirit, with a focus on taste and aroma:

Tasting Step 1: Neat, no added water or ice.  What is the spirit, as presented in the bottle for sale, like? What is its flavor profile? Aroma?

Tasting Step 2: Add a splash of room temperature or slightly chilled, distilled and/or filtered water.  How have things changed from Step 1 above?

Tasting Step 3: Over large cubed or balled ice (measuring 2 ounces per tasting).  Again, how have things changed from the first two steps including the aroma?

Tasting Step 4: find a suitable cocktail (if applicable), mix it up and see how the spirit interacts in the drink? Review the drink and spirit together as a single unit.

I fully expect that certain spirits may be much better off on their own in a glass and not part of a drink (and vice versa).  Let’s see.

Ok, ok .. enough with the formalities.

*Note: severe technical difficulties prevented photo taking of the actual used spirits bottles.  Next time …

Spirit Type: Scotch (whisky)

Distillery or Company: Compass Box Whisky Company, distilled and bottled in Scotland

Spirit Name: Compass Box Asyla

Style: Blended Scotch whisky – blend of malt whiskies, aged in first-fill American oak casks blended with grain whisky. It is non-chilled filtered and no non-natural colorings are used.

Testing: Occurred over two days (initially)

Tasting Step 1: Neat, all on its own

- Appearance: faint yellowish gold color; like mature field hay

- Aroma: faint honey, woody and a little grassy

- Taste: slight oaky, woody taste at the start; yields to a some what sweet, flowery profile ending with a bit of grain taste and some “heat”

Tasting Step 2: With a splash of filtered water

- Appearance: a little hazier, fainter yellow color

- Aroma: no real change

- Taste: less heat. Mellower, milder taste of wood and oak ending with a faint vanilla sweetness

Tasting Step 3: Served over large cubed ice

- Appearance: much hazier, almost faded yellow in appearance

- Aroma: completed muted behind the ice

- Taste: the heat returns hitting the palate first.  Less wood but a stronger taste “char” from the wood; sweetness has vanished with a more grassy, grain taste in the background

Tasting Step 4: Mixed into a drink (review below)

Second Sip
Recipe created by Brian Miller at Death & Co.

•    2 oz Compass Box Asyla Scotch
•    1/2 oz Carpano Antica vermouth
•    1/2 oz Cockburn 20 yr old Tawny Port (Taylor Fladgate was used)
•    1/4 oz Fernet Branca
•    2 dashes of Bitter Truth, Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters
•    Garnish: none
Glass: champagne coupe
Tools: mixing glass, barspoon and a julep strainer

Assembly: Combine all of the ingredients in the mixing glass with ice and stir for at least 30 seconds until well chilled, strain the mixture into the serving glass.

The verdict: A nice, full flavored drink.  The port and Carpano combine to bring forth a lot of floral and fruit sweetness followed by a nice herbal funk (I’m sure also from the punch of Fernet).  The Asyla is a little muted here and while you get that Scotch is present and lending something interesting to the mix I’m not sure that this is the best drink to highlight this scotch … the other ingredients are far bolder in the flavor stature department.

Tasting Notes Summary: This whisky does better with a little water added to the glass – this seemed to more fully open up the overall taste, mute the already very mild heat and maintain the pleasant aroma.  This Scotch tends toward an overall lighter profile and does not seem to lend itself, at least to the drink tried, as a good drink mixer.

Final Thoughts/Overall: A nice, middle of the road pleasant Scotch whisky.  I wasn’t knocked over by it but this whisky is fairly easy to drink and I agree with the packaging that indicates it would serve as a great aperitif spirit resulting from its lighter profile.

theSpeakista’s Rating: 3 3/4 stars (out of  5 stars)

Spirit Type: Scotch (whisky)

Distillery or Company: Progressive Hebridean Distillers, distilled and bottled in Scotland

Spirit Name: Bruichladdich “Rocks”

Style: A lightly unpeated single malt Islay whisky that has been matured first in spent bourbon casks and then finished in French wine casks

Testing: Occurred over two days (initially)

Step 1: Neat, all on its own

- Appearance: light amber, brown in color; non-hazy at the start

- Aroma: slight woody, charred wood smell that turns to a nice mix of salty and sweet

- Taste: a warm heat hits the front palate; gives to an interesting fruit profile; also somewhat briny with a light peat on the finish

Step 2: With a splash of filtered water

- Appearance: no real change

- Aroma: stronger oaky, sweet aroma then before

- Taste: nice change from before – softer on the palate, less heat at first that warms later on.  Sweeter secondary flavor, stronger hints of dried fruits with a bigger punch of sea water/brine.

Step 3: Served over large cubed ice

- Appearance: cloudy, lighter brownish hue

- Aroma: hidden behind the cold/ice

- Taste: the heat has returned but is less so then straight out of the bottle; there is almost no wood or charred taste this go around and the sweet, fruit flavors have been heavily muted.  The brine and peat are more enhanced in this trial – with the peat and heat picking up on the back of the swallow

Step 4: Mixed into a drink (review below)

Young Laddie
Recipe created by Joaquin Simo at Death & Co.

•    2 oz Bruichladdich “Rocks” Scotch Whisky
•    1/4 oz simple syrup
•    1 dash of Peychaud Bitters
•    1 dash of Grapefruit Bitters (Fees Brothers brand was used)
•    Garnish: orange twist (wide) and grapefruit twist (wide)
Glass: old fashioned glass
Tools: mixing glass, barspoon and a julep strainer

Assembly: Combine all of the ingredients in the mixing glass with ice and stir for at least 30 seconds until well chilled, strain the mixture into the serving glass with a large round or block ice cube.  Garnish with the two twists.

The verdict: Nice citrus aroma from the twists yields to a lovely slightly peaty sweetness.  This is a nice riff on the classic — the Rocks pairs nicely with the bitters, and the simple syrup seems to enhance what is a subtle, natural sweetness in this Scotch.  A nice wave of brine and peat blends with the bitters to form a really nice after taste.

Tasting Notes Summary: Like the Asyla, the Rocks opens up nicely to a little added water which seemed to enhance the natural sweetness a bit as well as bring forth more of that lovely ocean flavor profile.

Final Thoughts/Overall: There is more depth to this Scotch then was found in the Asyla – I’m sure its single malt, Islay construction has something to do with this. As has clearly been apparent over my prior posts I favor boldly flavored,  stronger flavored spirits (especially whiskies) and this one while not as strong as many makes a great effort at bringing forth a unique flavor profile.

theSpeakista’s Rating: 3 ¾ to 4 (soft) stars (out of  5 stars)

Next up, let’s see if we can target a few bourbons for testing.

theSpeakista asks:

1. Thoughts on the above review, layout, structure, etc?

2. How could these be more user friendly in the future?

3. Have you tried either of these to Scotch’s and what did you think as compared to my review?

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{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Robin Robinson June 17, 2010, 9:26 am

    Hi, thanks for the nice review of Asyla and Brian’s drink is definitely a big hit (as well as Joaquin’s with Bruichladdich). I wanted to make a small correction regarding your review, as you mention “grain spirits” as part of the blend. Asyla, and indeed all “blended Scotch whisky” contain no grain spirits, but grain “whisky”. While both spirits and whisky may start out similar (a mash of various cereal grains), the distillation and maturation of each is what makes the crucial, and legal, difference. Spirits, like vodka or eau de vie, are distilled at a higher proof point than whisky and are not required to mature. Scotch whisky has a lower proof point at distillation and must spend at least 3 years in wood. A “blended Scotch whisky” such as Asyla or Dewar’s is therefore a combination of grain and single malt whiskies, no spirits added, as required by law. Canadian whisky is different, and grain “spirits” are allowed into the blend, as allowed by their law. Very confusing and it starts more arguments than caused by drinking too much of either! Congratulations on the blog, much luck.

  • KeithP June 17, 2010, 5:04 pm

    Thank you very much Robin for the comment — I’m ashamed to admit that I did know the difference, and this case in particular knew, but simply miss-worded my post to say spirits vs. whisky. I will correct this shortly. That’s part of the problem, I was rushing to get to reporting on the fine whisky I tasted and dropped the easy part of the post. I’m always eager to learn more about the production of spirits, do you have materials that are for public consumption that you can email re: Compass Box whiskies (if so, and I hope so, my email is in the About tab up above)?

    I am a big fan of the Asyla – it is a perfect sipping Scotch. If I was able to take a picture of the bottle used folks would have seen that it is virtually gone (and is on the list of spirits to be replaced shortly). My only trouble – mind you this is not a bad trouble to have – is that I want to add an additional Scotch to my cabinet and I’m torn between purchasing the Oak Cross or the Peat Monster. I have sampled both many times and enjoy them both a lot plus they are in my sweet spot in terms of taste profile.

    Thank you again for the comment Robin.

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