Oct 27

Maker’s Mark, KY Straight Bourbon Whisky

Maker’s Mark, a Kentucky Straight Bourbon whisky from the Beam Suntory stable, is one of those nearly iconic whiskys with widespread recognition and broad appeal. Almost certainly, you will find a bottle on the shelf at almost any bar or restaurant, easily recognized by its traditional squarish bottle and the distinctive, hand-dipped, red wax seal with the long drips running down the neck. Also note, that while Maker’s Mark is a bourbon, it uses the Scottish spelling, Whisky, not the whiskey spelling more commonly applied to US spirits.

As we know, to be an official bourbon, a whisky’s mash bill must contain a minimum of 51% corn. Beyond that mandated corn minimum, distillers have some flexibility. Many bourbons use rye as a secondary grain; the rye introducing floral and spice notes that work well with the sweetness of the corn. Maker’s Mark, though, is a wheated bourbon, using red winter wheat instead of rye as the secondary grain. Wheated bourbons (such as the famed Pappy van Winkle bourbons!) tend to be a bit “softer,” with a creamy texture and bready notes. 

First released in 1958, Maker’s Mark is reportedly aged for around six years. Also, according to Wikipedia:

“Maker’s Mark is one of the few distillers to rotate the barrels from the upper to the lower levels of the aging warehouses during the aging process to even out the differences in temperature during the process. The upper floors are exposed to the greatest temperature variations during the year, so rotating the barrels ensures that the bourbon in all the barrels have the same quality and taste.”

I picked up this bottle – and, yes, this is a 1.75 L bottle, not a small glass – for a party we were hosting where I knew a couple of the guests really enjoyed Maker’s Mark. Normally, I don’t buy these “jug” bottles, but it was on sale! Plus, I knew it would be appreciated by our guests, so what the heck. It won’t go to wasted!


Okay, so we know that Maker’s Mark has an extensive presence, but is that due to salesmanship or is Maker’s Mark that good? Let’s find out!




Review: Maker’s Mark, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky, 45% abv

Color: A warm golden amber.

Nose: Starts with a good dose of brown sugar, melted butter, and cream. Soon, fruit notes become more evident, with red apple, strawberry, and even some banana. Along the fruit lines, I also get a hint of cherry liqueur. There is a nice, subtle, warm spiciness with touches of black pepper, cumin, and nutmeg. Underneath lies a soft vanilla note. A touch of burnt caramel.

Taste: A relatively delicate, very creamy, initial arrival that is focused on vanilla, oak spices, and butter cream. There is a bit of alcohol heat as the whiskey sits on the tongue. The fruits pick up in the mid-palate: the same notes of black cherry, red apple, and a little banana. Warm bread with butter. More brown sugar and black pepper again late, along with the burnt caramel. Becomes just a tad bitter in the end. 

Finish: The oak spices lead into the fruits, buttered toast and vanilla, ending with a blast of peppery spice. Quite long; a very nice finish. 

Overall: There is good reason that Maker’s Mark is found everywhere; this is a very good, very honest bourbon. It is brightly flavored, nicely dense, and has a soft, delicate, creamy body. This is definitely a bourbon, with a very sweet base, but it also has just enough spicy elements to keep it from being too sweet. The 45% abv contributes to a vibrancy in the flavors and body that is appreciable, with just a touch of burn on the palate.

Rating 81



Details: Maker’s Mark, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky

Region: Kentucky

Distillery: Beam Suntory

Type: Straight Bourbon Whisky

Age: NAS

ABV: 45%

Maturation: New american oak 

Price: +/- $45 (1.75 Lit), $21.99 (750 ml)

Availability: Readily available at almost any retail location

Sample Source: My own bottle 

Oct 25

NWC July 2016 Meeting – Glenmorangie

Ok, still in catch up mode! Here is the menu from our July meeting when we sampled whiskies from The Glenmorangie Distillery. Our “theme” for the evening was The Finish Line, and the objective was to explore the impacts of finishing maturation. For this purpose, Glenmorangie is the perfect choice, offering a wonderful set of whiskies to do that!

The Whiskies of Glenmorangie!


To start the evening, we began with The Original, a 10 year old malt that is a staple in most bars and whisky cabinets. Clean, floral, delicate and subtle, this whisky perfectly set the table for what was to follow – sampling four distinct whiskies that take Glenmorangie’s 10 year old as the base spirit and then finishes them in alternative methods to put unique spins on the flavor profile.

So getting into the meat of our theme, we moved on to our second whisky of the evening, the Nectar D’Or, a whisky that was finished Sauternes Casks. The Nectar D’Or is part of the Core Range offered by Glenmorangie and is normally available at most retail locations.

From there we tasted one of the “Private Edition” limited releases, Milsean, which was extra matured in re-toasted wine casks. Re-toasting of casks involves scraping the inside to remove old char and to expose a new wood surface. After being scraped, the cask is toasted (toasting is lighter than charring – both have various levels) to Glenmorangie’s specifications. The act of scraping and toasting provides a new “surface”, providing the maturing spirit more wood interaction.

Next, we sampled another whisky from the core range, Lasanta, a whisky that has a secondary sherry cask finish. Sherry cask maturation, either as an initial fill or as a finish, is very common to scotch whisky and brings out some great flavors!

After the Lasanta, we moved on to the Quinta Ruban, which has a port cask finish. The port cask finish brought out some wonderful fruit and chocolate notes!

To end the evening, we tasted the Extremely Rare 18 year old, part of the “Prestige Range” which includes Signet and the Glenmorangie 25 year old. Tasting the 18 year old gave us an opportunity to compare the impact of aging as opposed to the results of secondary finishes.

It was a very successful experiment and we learned a lot about just what a good Master Blender can accomplish through the use of casks that have previously held different liquids. And, as most of these whiskies are reasonably affordable, given the current state of whisky prices, this is a lineup you can recreate for further personal explorations!



Oct 24

Compass Box, The Circus

For the final review in this series of Compass Box whiskies, I’m going to review The Circus, another of the recent limited releases that Compass Box brought to the market in 2015-2016. During its relatively brief history, Compass has put together some truly exceptional limited releases, often composed of very old, well-matured whiskies. My first experience with just how extraordinary some of these whiskies could be was when I first tasted The General, was another blended scotch in which one component whisky was 33 years old and the second was reported (by a number of whisky sites and blogs) to be 40 years old! Suffice to say that The General was an absolutely amazing tasting experience and I was fortunate to be offered a bottle by a friend (Thanks Greg G!). Now I just need to find the right opportunity to open it and share it with friends!

Anyway, after having been wonderfully spoiled by the opportunity to taste two of the most recent limited releases, the Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary Edition and Enlightenment at this tasting, it was a total surprise that Marius then brought out our samples of The Circus! I had secretly hoped that we would have this chance; in the early reports that I read, The Circus was expected (hoped) to be a worthy successor to The General, so I really thought it was a bit of a pipe dream that we would get to try it, especially given that The Circus had a price tag of around $300. But one could always hope, right?

img_0036As you can see, Marius really outdid himself in this latest Trinity Hall tasting! Thanks Marius!!


The Circus

A true, blended scotch whisky, The Circus is uniquely, and very interestingly, made up of four component whiskies that include two different blended scotches, one blended grain, and one single malt from the Benrinnes distillery. The three blends were matured/married in refill sherry butts and the Benrinnes single malt was matured in a first fill sherry butt.

While Compass Box usually offers very good descriptive information about how they make their whiskies, providing details about the style, the distillery, the maturation, and the ratios, etc. they admit that with The Circus they really don’t too much about origins of the various blend components. From their website, here’s what they do know:


“Such is the case with this whisky, for which we were lucky enough to uncover that rarest of finds – old parcels of blended Scotch and Blended Grain whisky that had been aged pre-blended in cask for many years. In such parcels, what you get are whisky blends so seamless, so complex that they function for us as single components. We know little of the component distillery whiskies used in these blends for The Circus, only that they contain both single malt and single grain whiskies and that the ‘marrying casks’ are sherry butts. However, the provenance of the components isn’t important to us now, as what we have are old casks containing whiskies that are extraordinary.”


Review: Compass Box, The Circus, Blended Scotch Whisky, Bottled 2016, 49% abv

As described in the graphic above, The Circus is a blended scotch whisky made with blended malt and blended grain whiskies along with a single malt from the Benrinnes distillery. No ages are offered, both because of the limitations imposed by the SWA and that, apparently, Compass Box knew very little about the actual component whiskies. Release in March 2016, The Circus is a very limited release of just 2,490 bottles worldwide! And the bottle has a really cool, partially embossed label!




Color: Deep golden amber

Nose: Nosing this whisky shows just a distant sherry influence, here: baking spices, figs, orange marmalade, dark chocolate and some leafy tobacco notes, cloves, and some old leather. There is a rising fruitiness – red fruits, some stewed fruits, and a dash of pepper. After a few more minutes, there is a distinct vanilla toffee note, brown sugar, and some buttered bread.

Taste: Deep and richly flavored in the arrival, very “fat” on the tongue. The red fruits play a more significant role on the palate. The sherry notes kick in again with the baking spices, cloves, and tobacco notes supplanting the fruits. There is a vanilla cream and definite warm bread element that I suspect comes from the grains, but these are balanced beautifully by this clean, rather fresh maltiness and the sherry tobacco and spice notes. Toward the end, it is the earthy tobacco and spice notes that are the highlights.

Finish: Quite a rich finish. The flavors are lively and expressive. Red fruits and vanilla cream sprinkled with baking spices. Orange and chocolate, with that earthy cigar tobacco rounding it out.

Overall: Surprisingly, given the sherry-maturation focus, the color of this whisky is relatively modest, not a deep, dark mahogany color as you often get with such heavy use of sherry casks. And, while there is a definite sherry-focus here, it is a rather “light” sherry, very fresh. Where The General was a rich, dark, moody, old library whisky, The Circus is more like a picnic dessert on a warm summer evening type of whisky. Vibrant, yet mature and polished, balanced and intriguing, sweet, fresh, spiced, fruity and elegant. It may not be The General, but it has its own identity and is simply outstanding!

Rating 89




Region: Scotland

Distillery: Single Malt – Benrinnes; blends – undisclosed/unknown

Whisky Maker: Compass Box Whisky Co.

Type: Blended Scotch Whisky

Age: NAS

ABV: 49%

Maturation: Refill and first fill sherry casks

Price: $250 – $450 (USD) retail,

Availability: Very limited

Sample Source: Trinity Hall




Oct 18

Compass Box Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary Edition

So, I will try to keep the preamble short for this one! As I mentioned in the previous post, when I went to the Compass Box tasting at Trinity Hall, my hope was that Marius would offer one of the more recent, limited edition releases, and he did, and then some! If you’re one of my three regular readers, you know that in my last post, I reviewed one of the limited releases, the Enlightenment, a big fruit bomb of a whisky. So my wish had been met, however, Marius didn’t stop there! Nope, he just kept surprising us! For the next whisky, Marius brought out another Limited Release, the Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary Edition!


Due to all sorts of reasons, I had not yet tasted the Flaming Heart, even though I have a couple of bottles (somewhere) amongst my stockpile. Despite not having tasted it before, I knew of this whisky, and really suspected that I would like it a lot! So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to sample this recent release.


Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary Edition

Once more, as I seem to always do when discussing Compass Box, I want to share the information that they make available regarding their whiskies!

compassbox_flamingheart15thanniv_factsheetHere is their summary of the Flaming Heart, including a breakdown of the components (minus the age references) and the associated graphic pulled directly from their website:

“First released in 2006, Flaming Heart was the first whisky to combine the rich, complex spice of Scotch aged in new French oak with the evocative peat-fired smoke of Islay malt. It created a genre-defying style that was smouldering, spicy, complex – and so popular that we re-released it three more times in the years that followed. In this our fifteenth year, we felt compelled to revisit this unique style one more time. Our anniversary release is a huge, layered, long-lasting mouthful of a whisky to enjoy late into the night. Brooding, indulgent and older than ever before, this is a whisky born of oak, smoke and fire – with a big heart all of its own.”
Flavour Descriptors:
A unique interplay between spice, sweet and smoke characteristics. Sweet fruits and wood-smoke on the nose. Fat and full-bodied on the palate with a spicy sweetness and a brooding complexity that is rich, sweet and addictively decadent.


So, with all that fun stuff out of the way, on to the whisky!





Review: Flaming Heart Fifteenth Anniversary Edition, Bottled July 2015, 48.9% abv, 12,060 total bottles, Natural Color, Not chill filtered.


The Flaming Heart Fifteenth Anniversary Edition is a blended malt scotch whisky composed of single malts from the Caol Ila and Clynelish distilleries, plus a “Highland Malt”* that is a vatting of Clynelish, Teaninich and Dailuaine malts that are then given a secondary maturation for a minimum of two years in Compass Box’s own new French Oak hybrid casks.


Color: Soft golden amber

Nose: A peppery peat at first nosing – earthy and slightly spicy. There is a coastal, seaweed-y note, a hint of rubber boots, and a dash of lemon juice. After a few minutes, some soft white fruit notes, hints of herbal spices, and a touch of vanilla show up, but this remains very peat forward.

Taste: A splash of bright lemon juice on arrival, then some green apples and just a delicate, softly spiced, vanilla, before the peat makes its reasserts itself and this whisky becomes beautifully smoky! There is a burst of heat late. Water only serves to emphasize the peat and smoke elements, bringing in a softly ashy ending.

Finish: A touch of lemon-vanilla, soft wood smoke, a quick splash of brine, and the white fruits, then it winds up with a clean peaty, woody smoke and a softly ashy ending.

Overall: Outstanding! Not sure what else I can say about the Flaming Heart. I found this whisky to be quite complex and with a beautiful balance. While the Caol Ila controls the show, with their trademark peat notes that come across to me as “fresh” with a subtle lemony aspect, there are spice notes, an underlying sweetness, and enough complementary elements to make this a very engaging whisky.



Rating 87




Region: Scotland

Distillery: Caol Ila (27.1% vol); Clynelish (24.1% vol); “Highland Malt”* (10.3% vol); Caol Ila (38.5% vol)

Whisky Maker: Compass Box Whisky Company

Type: Blended Malt

Age: Not disclosed

ABV: 48.9%

Maturation: Refill American Oak hogshead (Caol Ila), Rejuvenated American Oak hogshead (Clynelish), New French Oak hybrid barrel (Highland Malt)

Price: $120 – $160

Availability: Likely no longer on retail shelves.

Sample Source: Trinity Hall


Oct 17

Compass Box – Enlightenment

Let’s continue our Compass Box reviews from the tasting in October at Trinity HallIn the second of this series I am going to bypass the actual second and third whiskies we tasted, the Oak Cross and The Lost Blend because I reviewed them both previously this past March I and don’t think I need to return to them so soon. Suffice it to say that I like the Oak Cross (rated 82) a blended malt that uses both traditional American oak ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks for the initial maturation, but adds a twist in the use of casks made from American oak ex-bourbon barrels that are fitted with new French oak heads for marrying. And I rated The Lost Blend very highly (88). For me, The Lost Blend ticked all the right boxes. If you’ve not tried either of these, you should, but if you can only have one, go with The Lost Blend!


Anyway, getting back on track, as I mentioned in the first post in this series, the review of the Great King St. Glasgow Blend, Compass Box recently released several new whiskies – to good reviews – that I was very curious about. Naturally, I hoped Marius would have one of these on the menu, and Marius didn’t disappoint – in fact he went above and beyond, as you will see, so stay tuned!!! The fourth whisky we sampled was one of those recent releases, Enlightenment! (sorry for the poor photo quality!)


As usual, Compass Box has been forthcoming with information about this whisky, although you may notice that there is a lack of disclosure about the ages of the component whiskies, which compassbox_enlightenment_legendCompass Box has provided for other releases. Sadly, the dreaded SWA (Scotch Whisky Association), in their inimitable wisdom, has decided that such disclosures do not comply with EU laws.


The result of this decision for Compass Box is two-fold: first, they ceased publishing the ages on either the box or in their materials – although they will provide this information if you contact them, but they don’t want anyone else to publish it, either. Second, they released a blended scotch whisky that they branded, Three Year Old Deluxe. In producing this whisky, Compass Box is effectively thumbing their noses at the SWA by producing a bottling of aged whiskies that were “teaspooned” with a three year-old whisky – teaspooning is the act of adding a very small portion of another whisky (most commonly used when a distillery sells casks to another distillery. The primary distillery adds a small amount of whisky from another distillery, meaning that the whisky is no longer a single malt), The moment that Compass Box teaspooned the Three Year Old Deluxe with the young whisky, they were required to declare this as a three year-old whisky if they wished to include any age statement, despite the fact that the other, primary, components were significantly older. I’m not sure who won the battle, but it does show to what lengths Compass Box will go to push for an ability to be more visible….and it is kind of fun to watch to see how it will all turn our!


But that’s enough nerdy details, on to the whisky!




Review: Enlightenment, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

Enlightenment is blended malt scotch whisky, An official bottling composed of several Highland malt whiskies, Enlightenment was first released in April 2016. This is a limited release of 5,922 bottles worldwide and it was bottled at 46% abv and was bottled with natural color and no chill filtering. 

In the attached graphic, Compass Box tells us that Enlightenment is a blended malt made up of 48.2% bright, waxy, apple-y Clynelish (first fill American oak barrel), 36.7% fruity, herbal Glentauchers (first fill American oak barrel), 10.8% perfumed, bright Balblair (first fill American oak barrel) and 4.3% muscular weighty Mortlach (rejuvenated American oak barrel).


Color: Light amber

Nose: Big and fruity with an accompanying spiciness. A mix of stone fruits, dried fruits and both herbal and wood spices. There is some vanilla, but it plays a supporting role to the fruits. With water I get a hint of lime juice and orange zest.

Taste: Sweet and fruity, just as the nose promised. Red fruits, pears, soft touches of dried peach and apricot, along with delicate citrus notes of the lime and orange zest, and a dusting of both baking and herbal spices. A hint of red liquorice shows up in the mid-palate along with a rising sweet vanilla. Interestingly, or oddly, depending on your point of view, I found a hint of “beer” late. Despite the fruit-focus,which might make one think that this is overly delicate, there is a density to the palate that serves to link the flavors as they come and go.

Finish: Retains all its signature notes – the dominant fruitiness with subtle spices, and a sweet vanilla. Not the longest of finishes, but it is a vivid, lively finish.

Overall: Enlightenment is quite simply, A Big Fruit Bomb! This is a sweet, dense, desert-y whisky full of nicely complex flavors that rise and fall throughout the experience. Very good and very enjoyable!



Rating 86




Region: Scotland

Distillery: Clynelish, Glentauchers, Balblair, Mortlach.

Whisky Maker: Compass Box

Type: Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

Age: Not Disclosed

ABV: 46% abv

Maturation: A combination of first fill American oak and rejuvenated American oak barrels.

Price: $60 (approximately), or secondary market pricing.

Availability: This may, perhaps, still be on the shelves somewhere, but it is likely sold out in more retail places.

Sample Source: Trinity Hall tasting


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