It can be tough not to let the sexiness of the label affect how I feel about a whisky. Some great whiskies stand out despite their “humble” presentation (Ardbeg, Glenfarclas) while others try to use sexy printing techniques and fancy boxes to mask highly mediocre whisky (the Explorer’s Club Collection by Johnnie Walker comes to mind). It pays to be extra critical of good looking, highly marketed whiskies to defend your tastebuds against your eyes.
Which made this one particularly difficult. The Artist’s Blend from the Great King Street range by Compass Box is simply the sexiest whisky bottle I’ve ever seen. The kind of bottle you can’t imagine throwing away, but rather repurposing into some wife-unfriendly piece of modern art or flower vase. While the bottle and box are fairly simple (a standard cardboard tube), that label is just ridiculously cool – appealing to my architectural and design nerdery.
The Great King Street range is all about blends – higher malt content from a few carefully selected distilleries combined with quality grain spirit, as opposed to the more common mass-market concoctions of dozens of malts (in low proportion) with young, questionable grain whisky. They style the Artist’s Blend as a base for cocktails (hmmm…) and have embedded it as a favourite among bartenders and “mixologists” for this very purpose – you can find it at most decent whisky bars and cocktail joints.
I’m a big blend (and Compass Box) fan, so I was eager to see if the liquid lives up to the label. All aboard!
Light gold. Sparkly.
If there isn’t a pile of Clynelish in there I’ll cut me own throat. Clynelish is the go-to ingredient for most Compass Box blends, so it’s a fairly safe assumption. That waxy, orangey goodness is a dead giveaway. There’s also a strong smell of butter and cream – I’m reminded a heck of a lot of JW Gold Label Reserve, which undoubtedly shares Clynelish as a core component underneath that grainy foundation. (Now that I think about it, John Glaser used to work for Johnnie Walker, so this really shouldn’t come as a surprise.)
Lurking in the background is the gentlest of peat, fresh pastry, a little pepper and whipped cream. Great stuff.
Here’s where the comparison to Gold Label Reserve promptly ends. While I have very few complaints about Johnnie Walker’s douchiest expression, The Artist’s Blend body slams it into submission.
Rich, creamy and spicy. Undoubtedly malty for a blend – you get that earthiness right the way through. Chewy. Some faint milk chocolate, lemon zest. And robust at 43% – yowza. Punchy and fiery, like all great blends.
Hmmm… A slightly underwhelming finish given my initial impressions. Short and grassy. However, I can totally see how this is justified in a cocktail – that malty, zesty, waxy whisky hit without too much complexity to be ruined by bitters, triple sec or (God forbid) Coke or whatever. (To be fair, I imagine it gets served in some pretty fancy cocktails in some fairly pretentious bars – Great King Street ain’t cheap, particularly given those little 500ml bottles. So I doubt anyone is just throwing this together with some Sprite and a plastic swizzle stick).
A few drops of water held up pretty well (floral, fruity, although less zesty). If anything, this is another reason not to freak out over Great King Street’s suggested use as a mixing blend – it can take a beating.
True to form, I finished my little bottle of The Artist’s Blend by making a very amateur, very heretical mock-Old Fashioned, replete with orange bitters and maple syrup. It was pretty damn excellent, if I do say so myself. It had an ice ball and everything.
That being said, I also really enjoyed The Artist’s Blend neat. Outside of the evil corporate profiteering I’m a somewhat-closeted Johnnie Walker fanboy, and The Artist’s Blend is like a homage to the style but with far more oomph and interest. While it would be tough to pick this up over the jaw-dropping Green Label, perhaps it’s not fair to compare against a blended malt… In which case, while the slightly pricier Platinum Label and Chivas 18 would certainly tempt me more, I can think of no other blend I’d prefer in this price range.
A truly exceptional blend (in classic Compass Box style) and a surefire way of converting crusty single malt farts over to the dark side. Compass Box strikes again!
Next up – The Glasgow Blend!