Great King Street “Artist’s Blend”

John Glaser, the whiskymaking wizard behind Compass Box and creator of some of the finest blends and blended malts in the modern age of scotch, has set himself a mission: To bring good blended scotch whisky back to the masses. To that end, Compass Box has launched a new brand – Great King Street, after the street on which Compass Box is headquartered – and its first release is called “Artist’s Blend.”

The blend contains just over 50% Lowland grain whisky aged in first-fill American oak barrels. The rest (just under half) is malt: around 7% from Speyside and the rest from two northern Highland distilleries. It’s aged in a combination of 10% first-fill sherry butts, 27.7% oak barrels fitted with new charred French oak ends (heads), and the rest in first-fill American (ex-bourbon) barrels. I love to see this kind of information made available by the whiskymaker – it shows that the whisky has nothing to hide, and acknowledges that people might be curious about the content of their whisky. Oh, and it’s $40.

John referred to Artist’s Blend as “blended scotch for whisky geeks” at this year’s WhiskyFest, although it also has much wider appeal. By starting with excellent well-aged Lowland grain whisky, artfully blending it with a higher-than-normal proportion of malt, and then bottling it at 43% ABV with no chill filtration or caramel coloring, John has proven (to this blogger at least) that blends don’t have to play second-fiddle to single malts. As the website states, “Due to the preponderance of poorly made, inexpensive Blended Scotch Whiskies on the market, many people assume any bottle of Scotch bearing the term ‘blended’ is somehow inferior.”

I will admit to having that same bias myself. At the start of my whisky journey, I quickly discovered that single malts were flavorful, potent, and exciting. The blends I tried, in comparison, were watery, dull, and cheap-tasting. Kudos to John for turning me around: this juice is awesome, and it makes me very optimistic about the future of blends. I hope he sells a ton of the stuff. My notes below:

Appearance: Super pale – the color of hay.

Nose: The grain is evident, but there’s a fresh, citrusy apricot note that wows. Dry hay, elderflower (really!), and there might be a hint of dry mossy peat, but only a hint. Some vanilla bean, or vanilla ice cream. Custard. Soft, subtle malt, partially overshadowed by the sharper grain notes, but it works. Buttercream frosting. Mmm.

Palate: Wow! Very creamy body. Creamsicle up front, with waves of vanilla pudding or tapioca, soft grain without undue alcohol burn, apricot preserves, marzipan… just wow. Confections unending, and all tied together with that nice, bright, citrusy grain. Just great.

Finish: Medium length, a little more bitterness than I usually like, but it echoes with vanilla frosting and marzipan. On the very tail end, green apple skins.

Overall: This is fantastic stuff for $40 a bottle. The grain lifts the blend up, rather than thinning it out or watering it down. There is a clear delineation between the prominent notes; nothing is muddied or vague. The subtle perfumy nose and creamy, flavorful palate make this an eye-opener.

A few drops of water brings some green grass to the nose, and makes the grain sharper. On the palate, it adds some smoke, revealing some meaty peat and charcoal. More wood tannins on the finish. I wouldn’t bother with the water, just let it open up in the glass for 10 minutes instead. You could, of course, use this for cocktails – but I like it straight up. It’s that good.

Great King Street “Artist’s Blend”
43% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $38-$44
Acquired: (bottle) K&L Wines and Spirits, Redwood City, CA. $40 http://www.klwines.com/detail.asp?sku=1076085
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19 Comments

19 Responses to Great King Street “Artist’s Blend”

  1. Charlie McBride says:

    I was a strict Single Malt man until shop owner said King Street was best Scotch he ever tasted. I agree with both him and your article.

    • Hi Charlie,
      Thanks for the comment! I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s the best Scotch ever, but it is definitely the best blended Scotch under $50, and that’s saying something, considering how many blends there are in the market, and how popular they all are.

  2. Charlie McBride says:

    you are spot on…..so far in my 67 years Great King Street is the best “I have tasted” UNDER $50

    I realize everything is relative and subject to personal preference.

    But I definitely listen to more-learned tasters. Word of mouth is still the best advertising.

  3. cato says:

    Great tasting notes. I opened a bottle of Great King today. Really nice stuff. I paid $36 and find this to be a most enjoyable blend. I usually like to have a Fig Newton or two when I am drinking my old, sherried single malts but for this one Lemon O’s were in order…nice combo. I will be buying another bottle of this expression in the near future. Great find, thanks!

  4. Ben says:

    Sorry, I found Great King St. bland, undistinguished and quite harsh for a $40 scotch. Maybe just too subtle for me. Pales in comparison to JW Black, which is basically half the price. Interesting to contrast with the Peat Monster (by the same blender) which is anything but bland, though one-dimensional. Good with diet coke and a twist, as are most lesser, blended scotches.

    • @Ben, Thanks for the comment! To each his own, of course. I personally think JW Black has an edge of paint thinner that puts me off entirely, even if it does have more peat (thus less subtle). To my taste buds, JW Black uses a lower quality of grain whisky (younger? more cheaply made? not sure) which puts it squarely in the same category as Famous Grouse, Chivas, and other similarly-priced blends. The reason I singled out Great King St., is that despite its subtlety (which I actually enjoy, some of my favorite whiskies are unpeated and “mild”) it lacks that vodka-esque character inherent in cheaply-produced blends with younger grain. It remains the only blended scotch that I keep on hand at all times in my cabinet.

    • Rob says:

      I agree with you Ben. I expected much more from this; the most interesting note I could detect was popcorn. Johnny Walker Black is much more interesting to me as well, much more complex and I don’t find the grain component to be too spirity either. The Talisker in it really lifts it up.

      This blend needs something a bit more to help make it just a bit more complex, be that by adding in some Islay malt, or increasing the percent of sherry cask malts.

  5. DrRon says:

    Good stuff – excellent notes. I am sipping it in the highball format as I type and must say that it is a great blend. I find well-done grain whisk(e)y to be delicious, and this blend hits the mark in that regard. The grain component lends to it an aspect that reminds me of Redbreast Irish. I’m a fan of premium blends – still have a 1.75 litre of the discontinued J&B JET, and finished off a bottle of J&B Ultima. This one is right up there with the best of them.

  6. J.J. Boudreaux says:

    Looking forward to trying this tonight at my favorite new spot.

  7. Julian says:

    Just bought home a bottle from the LCBO ( yes in Toronto you have to buy through a provincial alcohol shop ). Anyhow the branch of the LCBO on Front Street must have an enlightened manager. Great choice of whiskey. I used to live in Edinburgh and know the actual street that the head office of Compass is based. Nowhere near a real distillery but what a great glass of scottishness. Well done for an american meddling with the traditions :-)
    Love it.

    J

  8. Jason says:

    Great King St is a wonderful blend.

  9. dc_chicago says:

    Really, really good. Really balanced and nary a harsh note, as others have said. It’s not the cheapest stuff out there, but I’m sorta hell-bent on finding a good blend (other than JWB). I have my everyday now (Teachers), but my special, regular weekend drink would be Artist’s Blend.

    I don’t know if I’m hallucinating, but I feel like I can tell when bottlers are using caramel coloring now (Scotch Noob is ruining me). It bugs me. Just be au natural, man. Artist’s Blend proves you don’t need that junk.

  10. Pingback: Little Luxuries: Great King St. Whisky | West County Explorers Club

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  12. karl P says:

    Just bought 2 bottles here in Guelph,ON and can’t wait to open 1 up. Last of the batch now and thanks to this review.

  13. Eric G says:

    I just had this for the first time. Just based on the nose, I was wondering what all the fuss was about. Then I tasted it and got this explosion of wonderful flavors. It’s like several totally different sweet flavors at once. The finish was a little weak and disappointing, but it tasted so good I didn’t care. If someone said they only wanted to have one bottle of scotch in their house – period – I would tell them to buy this one without hesitation. It’s not the best I’ve ever had, but it’s definitely the best value.

    Incidentally, this stuff retails at my local liquor store for $31, which puts it at the same price as Johnnie Walker Black Label. Makes the choice between the two very easy indeed.

  14. Steve G says:

    I am one of those horrible people that likes, maybe even prefers, blended Scotch. I know many are exquisite single malts, but frankly I find anything Islay undrinkable neat. Heresy, I know.

    I got a bottle of this, and liked it very much. Could use a touch more smoke, IMO. It had several surprises, apricot and a whiff of Cascade hops. But, to be entirely honest, I’m not sure I like it better than Ballantine’s Finest. That’s my daily whisky, and IMO much of what Great King Street has going for it is shared by that blend: the grain whisky in it tastes pretty good. They both succeed at everything they set out to achieve. Who among us can claim so much?

  15. Pingback: Little Luxuries: Great King St. Whisky | WCXC Wu Wei

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