Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Last Vatted Malt by Compass Box

The time is one minute to midnight on Tuesday the 22nd of November and we were standing on Westminster Bridge watching two men filling a bottle with whisky in the cold. Were we mad? No. Were we slightly tipsy? Maybe a little. Were we witnessing history? Yes.

The reason that we were there is to see the last bottle of whisky that can legally be called a 'vatted malt' being bottled.  The new name of 'blended malt' would legally have to be used on the same product if it were bottled just over one minute later thanks to a UK Government law change. The two men were John Glaser and Chris Maybin of artisan whisky company Compass Box and their business is based on creating 'vatted malts'.

The term 'vatted malt' has been legally used since the 19th century and refers to a Scotch whisky that is created using a combination of two or more single malts.  These single malts can be from different distilleries, be of differing ages and of differing styles.  They are created in the industry by highly skilled whisky makers - they use the characteristics of the differing single malts to produce a final whisky with aromas and flavour profiles that a single malt could not produce on its own.  This is the style of whisky in which Compass Box specialise and also what has gained them many awards around the globe.

Compass Box was founded in 2000 by John Glaser and is based in west London.  They also now have offices in Edinburgh. Their ethos is to buy whisky from a small number of distilleries and then craft them together into their own unique products. All are produced and released in small batches, often using only two or three whiskies to create a unique product with a catchy name. By doing their own blending and vatting, Compass Box have less restrictions than traditional independent bottlers and is a former winner of the prestigious Whisky Magazine's Innovator of the Year.

Compass Box believe that the new naming regulations will create ambiguity with consumers, who may confuse the new 'blended malts' with regular 'blended whiskies' (these contain single malts plus whisky made from other grains).  Therefore, they are on a massive education drive to inform the public of the new changes and legal definitions.  The five new definitions fall under The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009, which came in to force on 23 November.  They are ...

Blended Scotch Whisky
A blend of one or more single malt Scotch whiskies with one or more single grain Scotch whiskies.
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
A blend of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies that have been distilled at more than one distillery. (previously known as Vatted Malt or Pure Malt Scotch Whisky).
Blended Grain Scotch Whisky
A blend of two or more single grain Scotch whiskies that have been distilled at more than one distillery. (previously known as Vatted Grain Scotch Whisky).
Single Malt Scotch Whisky
A Scotch whisky that has been distilled in pot stills in one or more batches at a single distillery from water and malted barley, without the addition of any other cereals.
Single Grain Scotch Whisky
A Scotch whisky that has been distilled at a single distillery except 'Single Malt Scotch Whisky' or a 'Blended Scotch Whisky'.

To mark the passing of the new law, Compass Box have released a special whisky entitled The Last Vatted Malt (pictured, below).  This was the whisky which we witnessed being filled on Westminster Bridge as Big Ben struck midnight.

The whisky is made up of just two un-named single malts - a 36 year old distilled in 1974 and from Speyside which has been matured in first-fill ex-sherry casks, and a 26 year old distilled in 1984 from Islay which have been matured in ex-bourbon American oak casks.  It is being released at the natural cask strength of 53.7% ABV and there are just 1,323 bottles, retailing at £175 each. We will be reviewing this shortly, so watch out for our tasting notes.

This is joined by The Last Vatted Grain, which is even more limited in number (only 297 bottles).  This is constructed from four different grain whiskies - Cameronbridge 1997, Carsebridge 1979, Invergordon 1965 & Port Dundas 1991 - all of which have been maturing in first-fill ex-bourbon casks.  This is bottled at 46% ABV and retails at £130 (rumours are that it has already sold out!).

So after a few hours warming up in the ├╝ber cool basement bar of DuckSoup in Soho (by 'warming up' we mean supping on well made cocktails, especially the Last Vatted Punch - a mix of Compass Box Spice Tree whisky, tea and herbs - created in honour of the occasion), the group moved down to Westminster Bridge for the final act.  Under the view of Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament, where the law was made, we witnessed the last vatted malt being bottled.  We were felt privileged to be part of a selected group of people that were invited to be there. We also recorded the short clip below to capture the moment, we hope that you enjoy watching ...

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