|Great King St.'s bottle is Edwardian elegance.|
Here's what the Great King St. Artist's Blend (GKSAB from here on in) is made of, according to the Great King St. page on the Compass Box web site:
Whisky Spirit Character Amount (%)
Lowland Grain Whisky Fruity/perfumed 51.4%
Northern Highland Single Malt Malty, Fruity 23.2%
Northern Highland Single Malt Grassy/Perfumed 17.7%
Speyside Single Malt Meaty 7.7%
Wood Type Flavour Impact Amount
First Fill American Oak Barrel Vanilla 62.3%
New French Oak Finish (New-Headed Barrel)
Grilled Marshmallow, toastiness, roasted coffee 27.7%
First Fill Sherry Butt Wine, dried fruits 10.0%
So, GKSAB is almost half malt, and mainly aged in oak but over a quarter aged in the spicy oak cross sessle oak barrels discussed in my previous post. There's also 10% sherry butt - a new thing for Compass Box. Let's see if we taste all this careful blending and barrel management:
abv: 43% Price at Shopper's Vineyard $37. At Union Square Liquors $43.
Color: yellow gold
Nose: Green apple, lemon curd parfait, cake batter or raw pie shell dough, a yogurt or yeast note, and a hint of sherry. There's a bit of rawness in the uncooked bakery stuff that I don't love - but the lemony aspect is really nice.
|A lovely light gold color.|
|GKSAB (left) JWBL (right)|
Color: GKSAB pale gold. JWBL rich dark gold - granted JWBL uses caramel color and GKSAB specifically states that it uses no colorings and is not chill filtered.
Nose: GKSAB: Lemon yogurt parfait and buttery cake batter and faint sherry. JWBL: Malt toffee, hint of peat, clear sherry note.
Flavor: GKSAB is distinctive and has complexity, but the slight thinness in the body and slight bitter note on the finish do not compare well head to head with JWBL which has a slightly thicker mouth feel and a firmer malt body through the midpalate and a more lingering wooded and graceful finish. JWBL feels denser and tastes like it has a higher proportion of malt. (I'm not saying that it actually has a higher percentage of malt - just that it tastes like it does). It has a sophisticated balance that comes off as more mature. Part of this might be the peat and bit of smoke in the JWBL flavor profile. GKSAB feels a bit younger and thinner and more grainy. So, JWBL wins hands down on price, density, and on hitting the archetypical "Scotch" flavor profile. GKSAB succeeds in being soft, sweet, original, and different. The difference doesn't serve as a better introduction to the segment in my opinion. I have no problem recommending both - but Johnny Walker Black retains its place as the mainstream default pick in my opinion. This reminds me of a survey of the ketchup market I read a few years back. Interesting new artesanal ketchups didn't beat boring old Heinz because Heinz nailed the center of the ketchup flavor profile everyone expects and loves. JWBL just nails the archetype of the Highland Scotch flavor profile. GKSAB is something totally new. It's really not a straightforward comparison at all.
|GKSAB (left) Chivas 12 (right)|
How about head to head against Chivas Regal 12? Here GKSAB is the clear winner. Chivas is slightly richer in color, but has the thinner nose and less richness on the palate. Chivas' mild sweet nose is too simple by comparison with GKSAB, there is less going on. The cake batter note in Chivas puts the flavor profile in the same light sweet doughy region as GKSAB, but with less flavor density, complexity, and heft. GKSAB has far more interest and complexity, as well as better flavor density, more grain body, and a longer, more interesting finish.
So, in the context of the both Johnny Walker and Chivas we see Great King St. slot squarely into the pack - but clearly very close to leading. But the uniqueness of its flavor profile and it's elegant poise makes it a compelling pick. The lightness and softness of Great King St. is part of the family trait of Compass Box - but it works better with the floral lightness and body-tautness of, say, Asyla than it does here. I applaud the Artist's Blend for the many things it does right - but I want more heft in the middle and a bit more oak in the finish. Still, I can't help feeling that these are quibbles. Great King St. Artist's blend is on my short list of recommended blended Scotches for new Scotch drinkers.
|"Artist's Blend is soft and full on the palate"|
Update 4/5/12: Two weeks later I find I'm enjoying Artist's Blend even more with time. The brightness and firmness hold up to repeated drinking. It's a new flavor profile - but with familiarity comes affection. Great King St. Artist's Blend is working for me.