Compass Box, that independent champion of blended scotch whiskey, must have the best press operation in the UK. Over the past couple of years, I can't count the number of glowing puff pieces I've seen about the greatness and integrity of Compass Box and their innovative whiskies. CB chief John Glaser has practically been anointed the patron saint of blended scotch whiskey.
Jon, Mark & Robbo's Easy Drinking Whisky Company does almost, though not quite as well. They are often mentioned, along with CB, as being on the forefront of a new wave of blends.
There is a lot to like about these companies. They both have elevated blended scotch, long ignored by connoisseurs, and reminded everyone that there is more to life than single malts. CB eschews chill filtering and artificial coloring and uses attractive, very wine-like labeling. JMR creates distinct flavor profiles and approaches its craft with an amused jocularity.
It was with that background that I picked up two signature offerings. CB's Peat Monster and JMR's The Smokey, Peaty One.
While each was enjoyable, I have to say that I was disappointed with both in that they just weren't that peaty. I mean, when you call something Peat Monster, you set up a certain expectation, an expectation that one sniff will knock you over with smoke. Peat Monster was a nice scotch, but the peat was understated.
Now, when you go to the CB website, they have a more accurate description, describing PM as "balanced and approachable." But does the average person who buys something called Peat Monster want balance and approachability? No! They want a big snarling, drooling abominable smoke-man of a scotch, a combination of equal parts Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Talisker and Laphroaig...in short, a monster. What they do not want is a rather pleasant mix of Caol Ila and Ardmore, which is what Peat Monster actually is.
JMR was similarly unsmoky. Fine, but not one I'd describe as The Smokey Peaty One, more like The Slightly Smokey One.
Now, if you want a scotch that lives up to its name, find yourself some Smokehead, an unnamed Islay single malt produced by Ian MacLeod. This stuff will bowl you over with smoke! It has the pungent stench of a young Islay and a smoky bite that doesn't let go.
Plus, with Smokehead, you get to play the guessing game. Is it a young Lagavulin? A stowed away batch of Bruichladdich's PC5? One of Ardbeg's line of young whiskies?* Whatever the composition, this is good, smoky stuff.
I have discovered the peat monster, and its name is Smokehead. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a bottle of the stuff in California, but if you find it, drink it and know that you have tasted a true peat monster.
*By the way, I'd love to see a distillery come out with a three year old (the minimum age for scotch) called Barely Legal Whisky. Contact me at email@example.com to remit my royalties for the idea.