Thursday, January 17, 2008

Last Night's Tipple

It appears from their website that Compass Box has gotten rid of their Eleuthera bottling from their range. You may recall that Eleuthera was their original peaty offering, consisting mainly of a vatting of Caol Ila and Clynelish. It makes sense that they've discontinued this for a couple of reasons. First, it is possible that their sources of Caol Ila or Clynelish dried up. For reasons that I discuss below, I think it unlikely that it was Caol Ila that disappeared, but it certainly is possible that Clynelish did. Clynelish is owned by Diageo, and Diageo recently "promoted" it into its Classic Malts series where previously it had not been extensively marketed as a single malt. It's possible that Diageo no longer had surplus whisky from Clynelish to sell, and Compass Box was unable to find a replacement that would have kept the style of the finished vatting consistent. Second, there's the matter of marketing. Who in the heck knows what to expect from a bottle of whisky named Eleuthera? If I had just seen it on the shelf and had not read about it beforehand, I certainly would not have. The replacement for Eleuthera in Compass Box's portfolio is called Peat Monster. The idea is the same: vat an Islay whisky with a non-Islay whisky to get the characteristics of both Islay and the Highlands. Where Eleuthera used Clynelish, Peat Monster uses Ardmore. Ardmore is an old-style peated whisky where Clynelish is unpeated, so Peat Monster should have a higher phenol content than Eleuthera did; but still the idea is the same. The name, though, is much more marketable, especially in the United States. In recent times, extreme levels of hops have been a big selling point for American microbrewed beer; and the same is true for peat content and Scotch. Peaty whiskies are very popular here, and both distilleries and vatters have taken advantage of this in a big way. Any idiot can tell that a bottle labeled Peat Monster will be peaty, so it's a much easier sell for Compass Box than Eleuthera was. Oh, one more bit of trivia: Compass Box says that the Islay for Peat Monster comes from "the village of Port Askaig, as well as some south shore whisky (as of late 2007)." Port Askaig is on the east coast of Islay very close to Caol Ila. It's also relatively close to Bunnahabhain, but Bunnahabhain rarely produces peaty whisky. I'd be willing to bet that the Port Askaig whisky is Caol Ila. There are three distilleries on the south shore of Islay: Lagavulin, Laphroaig, and Ardbeg. Lagavulin is in extremely short supply, and there isn't much aged Ardbeg available due to its underproduction and neglect for most of the 1990s. I'd bet that the "south shore whisky" is Laphroaig. In any event, it's interesting that Compass Box doesn't explicitly reveal its sources here since they are usually not shy about doing so. I can only guess that their reticence is due to agreements that they made with the distilleries they bought the whisky from.

I haven't had Compass Box Eleuthera in quite some time, and I can't come up with a good explanation for that. The addition of Clynelish makes it less overpoweringly peaty than peated Islay malts are by themselves, and I think that that's a good thing. Peat, at least to my palate, tends to dominate everything else. It's enjoyable enough, I suppose, but I like to taste the malt and the wood influence on the whisky, too. Having Clynelish in the blend allows me to do that. Alas, the bottle is almost gone, and I won't be able to replace it. Of course, even if Compass Box still produced it, I wouldn't be able to replace it since they don't distribute in Texas apparently.

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