Whisky Review – Compass Box Asyla

Apologies for the lack of recent posts.  I have no excuse.  I’m lazy.  Here’s hoping this post begins a run of regular posts.  It’s no fun starting every post with an apology for lack of activity.

Let’s move on.  My next review is of a blended whisky from the good folks at Compass Box.  At least I’m guessing that they are good folks.  For whatever reason, I imagine that anyone involved in the whisky industry is a good person.  Because they, in some small way, bring me joy.  Anyhow, it seems that Compass Box is setting the interwebs on fire.  A few months back, having recently read that the Whisky Advocate had named Compass Box’s Great King Street as their Blended Whisky of the Year, I figured that it was a worthwhile early Scotch purchase (especially with its sub-$40 price tag).  So off I drove to a big, supermarket-type liquor store to pick up the GKS, and wouldn’t you know they don’t carry it.  I did, however, spot the Compass Box Asyla and, too lazy to drive down the road to the next liquor store, did a quick iPhone search for Asyla reviews.  After seeing a few positive writeups, I grabbed it and was on my way.

Perhaps not the most scientific reasoning, but hey, things happen for a reason.  Right?  Right?

Let’s go to the tasting notes.

Nose – A nice light nose, and one whose flavors I found difficult to nail down.  Honeyed apple sweetness, an herbal (grass? mint?) note, and a surprisingly robust alcohol heat that singes the nose hairs a bit (not that I have nose hairs – I wax).

Taste – On the palate, I was again surprised that the heat hits first and is really a primary component of the taste.  Also, less sweet then expected.  Some juniper and a hint of vanilla.  Very light-bodied and subtle.  After 15 or 20 minutes exposed to the open air, it seems to loosen up a bit, becoming smoother with some of the sweet flavors being highlighted (including a taste of banana?).

Finish – The finish remains rather dry, and gives a pleasant gentle warmness.

In my opinion, not a whisky that benefits from a splash of water.

ScoreB-.  It seems that this was just too light and delicate for me.  I enjoy a nice light, honeyed dram as much as the next guy, but this was just too small.  One other note – I had this bottle open for more than a full month before I wrote down my tasting notes.  That is often the case, as I only bring out my notebook from time to time, and am usually just enjoying a leisurely drink.  It seems that over the course of time, my appreciation for the Asyla faded.  Early on, I quite enjoyed it, but by the time I wrote down my notes, it was too small/light for my tastes.  Now, it could be that my tastes are changing rapidly (which they are, without question), but perhaps it could also be that the whisky changes after it has been open a while?  I’ve seen other references on the whiskynets to this happening.  But this is the only bottle that seemed to experience such a drastic change.  What say you, whisky commenters?

Other, better reviews:

Official Notes from Compass Box

Whisky Israel

Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society

It’s Just The Booze Dancing

$45.

Hoodwinked! Update

A quick note to update my dear readership on my travails in the case of the Jameson bottle switcharoo.  Well, on her next visit to the liquor store in question, Little Bitty Bits gently mentioned what happened to the guy working there, carefully avoiding blaming the store or asking for any recompense.  To his credit, the guy immediately told her to bring the bottle back in, and said that he’d tell the salesperson and see what he could do.

Fast forward to this week, our next visit to that store, and as soon as we walked through the door, the gentleman working there hustled into the back room.  He came out and explained that he spoke to the salesperson and was able to offer a trade: a bottle of Highland Park 12 with a torn label.

While not quite an equal exchange in terms of price (in my hood, HP 12 goes for $3 less than Jameson 12), I was eager to accept that bottle.  HP 12, as I noted earlier, was the whisky that really made me think that maybe, just maybe, there is something to this Scotch thing.  And in the months since I’ve finished that bottle, I know for a fact that my palate has changed significantly.  So I’m eager to try this one again.  Keep your eye out for that review.

Speaking of upcoming reviews, it looks like the upcoming few will be Scotches – Compass Box Asyla, Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, and Old Pulteney 12.  Keep your eyes peeled for those.

Finally, my latest purchase was the much-heralded Talisker 10.  It is currently in the box, awaiting the kicking of one of its predecessors.  I can’t wait to try it.

My Whiskey Journey

I’ve always been a big guy.  In high school, I was tall and chunkier than most of my classmates (looking back at pictures, though, I certainly don’t look overweight).  In college, I put on the freshman fifteen and didn’t look back.  The same continued through law school, and then I entered the real world.  Real sedentary.  My weight maintained a steady climb for years.  This type of increase is perfect for your stock portfolio, but horrible for your health.

This past December, I made the cliched decision to start a diet in the new year.  I spent all kinds of time researching, and ultimately decided that the choice for me was what is known as the Primal or Paleo diet.  Without getting into detail, the concept is to eat good whole foods.  Lots of meat, veggies and fruits.  At the same time, I cut out all grains and added sugars.  (Side note: if you are interested, I’ve lost 22 lbs in under two months.  A good site for further info is Mark’s Daily Apple.)

Why mention my new way of eating?  Because it demanded a new way of drinking as well.  My beloved beer had to go.  I had grown quite fond of relaxing with a nice IPA.  A Victory Hop Devil if at all possible.  But now my new diet overlords were telling me that drinking that beer was about the same as eating a couple of slices of bread – a serious no-no in Paleoland.

Ahhh, memories.

But I still needed a Friday night relaxation lubricant, and I had two options: wine and whiskey.  (Side note #2: the spelling of “whisk(e)y” has been explained repeatedly.  My plan will be to use “whisky” for fun brown drinks from Scotland and Canada, and “whiskey” for fun brown drinks from elsewhere.  I chose the added “e” in my blog title because I’m from a “whiskey” country.  And also because “whiskywriter” was already taken on WordPress.)  I had recently done some experimentation with wine while living in San Francisco, and it just didn’t captivate me.  But whiskey intrigued.

The reason whiskey is so intriguing is the fanatacism of its fans.  People talk about their favorite Scotches the way they talk about their children, but with slighlty greater enthusiasm.  Run a couple of Google searches – there are easily 50 outstanding whiskey blogs (some linked to in the sidebar of this blog), if not two or three times that amount.  These people are devoted.  Also, whiskey (and Scotch in particular) is just so manly.  As a man, I’m supposed to eat bloody steaks, savor a good Scotch, and smoke stinky cigars.  Well, with Paleo, my steak intake is through the roof.  It is time to up my Scotch savoring as well (I’ll never be a cigar smoker).

At the start of the year and the new diet, my interest in whiskey had already lead me to purchase (and sample) two bottles – Highland Park 12 and Buffalo Trace Bourbon.  My impressions at the time were that the Buffalo Trace was outstanding (especially considering its sub-$25 price tag) – smooth, spicy and just eminently drinkable.  My impression of the HP 12 (shield your eyes now, whisky lovers) was that it was just very difficult to get into.  I wasn’t immediately into that level of smoke (and I’m still far from a smoke lover).  Little Thunder, who generally sticks to inexpensive Shirazes, opined that the Highland Park “tastes like hot dogs.”  And I couldn’t totally disagree.

It grew on me.

Once I started focusing on these in earnest, I just needed to try more.  I needed variety.  I went on something of a buying spree (which really hasn’t stopped yet).  I made impulse buys of Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban and 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon.  After some research, I decided that I had to dip my toe into the Irish pool, so I got a bottle of Jameson 12.  With two Scotches and two bourbons but just one Irish, I decided that I couldn’t take the asymmetry, so I picked up a Red Breast 12.  My shelf looked pretty good at that point.

Soon after, at the liquor store with Little Thunder, I saw that they had Bushmill’s Black Bush on sale, so I picked up a bottle of that (but put it in the cabinet and out of view, for symmetry purposes).  I eventually finished the HP 12 and the Buffalo Trace, and replaced them with Old Pulteney 12 and Eagle Rare, respectively.

Before the HP 12 was kicked, though, I had an epiphany.  I just had a night where everything came together.  I was in the right mood, I was reading the right book, and the dram was just behaving perfectly.  The whisky’s flavors sang.  It had that beautiful mouthfeel and long finish (at least to my inexperienced taste) and I just sat there and realized that I needed more, more, more.

After some time with two each of Scotch, bourbon and Irish, I had to give Scotch its due.  Scotch is just too popular, and too varied from whisky to whisky, and there are just too many different Scotches to try.  Plus, the HP 12 had me drooling for a similar experience.  So I decided to up the ratio to four Scotches, two bourbons and two Irish whiskeys.  I studied a bit, and this time opted for a couple of drams that appeared to be a little more beginner-friendly: The Balvenie DoubleWood and a Compass Box Asyla (I wanted to include a blend in my four).

So I now stand with the following: Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, Old Pulteney 12, Balvenie DoubleWood, Compass Box Asyla, Red Breast 12, Black Bush (I’ve finished the Jameson 12), 1792 bourbon, and Eagle Rare.  In all, a decent start to a collection.

Each of those whiskeys will be reviewed on this page in the coming weeks and months.  I’ll also touch on other topics.  My use of water in whiskey.  My future whiskey-related purchases (i.e., glassware and books).  My whiskey wish list (already a good 8 or 9 bottles long for Scotch alone).  My desire to make my whiskey hobby more social.  The seeming dearth of whiskey clubs or good whiskey bars in the Philadelphia area.  And on and on.

Finally, a word on Jameson 12.  People debate what is the best Scotch to get a whisky rookie hooked.  I’d offer up Jameson 12.  Obviously, I know this isn’t Scotch, but boy is it accessible.  So smooth with (for me) a perfect sweetness and just a little complexity.  Expensive for Irish, yes, but less than the great majority of single malts.  I may look back a year from now and cringe when reading this, but I would drink that stuff morning, noon and night, eight days a week.  Not just that, but it truly girded my belief that I need to go ahead and see what is out there in the world of great whiskey.

Maybe I'm crazy?

That’s where I stand.  I’m obviously a rookie’s rookie.  Join me as my journey as my tastes evolve and I, you know, get less stupid.  Hopefully.

Cheers,

WW