Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Have just tried - Great King Street Experimental Batches

The originial version of Great King Street, the multi award-winning blend from artisan whisky company Compass Box, is one of our all time favourite whiskies.  In fact, we awarded it the prestigious honour (well, it's prestigious in the WFE household at least ...) of our 'Whisky of the Year' in 2011.  So when we heard that Compass Box were planning a second full time addition to the range, we were very interested.  There have been special editions, most notably the New York Edition last year, but now we have the opportunity to try two of the new experimental blends ...

Compass Box was founded in 2000 by John Glaser and has premises in London and Edinburgh. Their ethos is to buy whisky from a small number of distilleries and then craft them together into a unique product. All are produced and released in small batches, often using only two or three whiskies to create a new product, and all are then given a catchy name. By doing their own blending and vatting, Compass Box have less restrictions than traditional independent bottlers and they are a widely regarded as one of the most innovative whisky makers in the industry.

The two experimental batches of Great King Street were released in the Autumn of last year following consumer research.  The two most popular requests were for either a sherry cask influenced blend or for a smoky blend.  The guys at Compass Box couldn't decide, so they made a small batch of each and have let the whisky drinking public decide their favourite to be a permanent addition to the range.  The result will be announced shortly ...

Experimental Batch 00-V4
This blend is also known as the I Love Sherry Experimental and has been influenced by some ex-sherry cask maturated whiskies.  It has been bottled at 43% ABV and is presented in 50cl bottles, just as the original Great King Street is.  There are 3,439 bottles and they are available in selected specialist retailers in Asia and Europe only.  A bottle should cost £30-35.

The golden colour has an amber tint to it and the nose is a lovely mix of grainy/malty cereals and dried fruity aromas.  There are sultanas, candied orange peel, honey, vanilla, dried apple and a big pinch of cinnamon present.  On the palate there is an instant hit of crumbly brown sugar, before some of the prominent notes from the nose kick in.  These include juicy sultanas, lots of honey, robust bittersweet malty cerelas and plenty of candied orange peel.  Underneath are notes of golden syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg and hints of white chocolate and treacle.  The finish is long and warming with the sugary sweetness and rich fruitiness fading to bring the drier wood spices to the fore.

Experimental Batch TR-06
This blend has been affectionately named the I Love Smoke Experimental and has smoky, peaty whiskies at its heart.  As with the other expressions, it is also bottled at 43% ABV and in 50cl bottles.  There are just 3,805 bottles in the batch and these are available for around the £30-35 mark from selected specialist whisky retailers, again only in Asia and Europe.

The colour is a pale golden yellow and the nose is instantly feisty with dry, bonfire-like smoke packing a big phenolic punch.  Underneath are aromas of honey and malted cereals, plus ginger and lemon zest.  On the palate this whisky feels creamy with cereal and vanilla notes driving this.  Freshness is added by an uplifting lemon zest element and some spicy heat is added in the form of green chilli.  Further sweetness contrasts these in the form of honey and icing sugar.  The feisty bonfire smoke is never far away and it weaves its way in between all of the elements.  The finish is long and increasingly dry and smoky.  The sweetness quickly dissipates, as does the sharp tangy lemon, and this leaves the dry bonfire smoke to smoulder away for ages.

What's the verdict?
Both of these experimental whiskies are lovely and interesting plays on the Great King Street theme.  Both take the brand in differing directions and offer something new.  The addition of some sherry casks gives Batch 00-V4 extra richness, sweetness and viscosity.  The foundation of Batch TR-06 is more like the original, but the use of peaty whisky in the blend has beefed it up with some feisty smoke.  It is a difficult choice as to which our favourite is ... if we had to choose right now, it would probably be the sherried version.

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