The 10th FNB Whisky Live Festival is almost upon us! The world’s largest whisky festival – spread over 3 cities this year – attracts whisky lovers in their droves, all clamouring to try old favourites, new expressions and meet the people behind the whiskies we know and love. The festival always attracts renowned international whisky guests ranging from master distillers, to brand ambassadors, to whisky writers and this year is no exception.
Visitors to the 2012 festival will be able to meet John Glaser, founder and whiskymaker at Compass Box. Compass Box Peat Monster was one of the very first whiskies I tasted and is largely responsible for me falling in love with the world of whisky so it seemed fitting to kick off my preview series with a Q&A session with John Glaser himself. Read and enjoy!
WTF: Hi John, Can you provide the readers with a brief overview of Compass Box – its origins and your vision going forward?
JG: We are a small, independent Scotch whisky blending company that I started in 2000. We make a range of Scotch whiskies in a variety of styles for people who seek out better stuff. Our business exists to share the joys of great Scotch whisky with more people in the world. To achieve this, we live by the motto, writ large, high on a wall in our London office: “Above all, share and enjoy”.
WTF: I’ve always wanted to know, how did you come up with the name “Compass Box” for your company?
JG: The name Compass Box derives from the constellation Pyxis, which translates roughly from Latin as a mariner’s compass. I’ve always loved the old compass boxes you often find in antique stores near the sea. For our Scotch whisky company, I wanted a name that was distinctive.
WTF: Will this be your first visit to South Africa?
JG: Although I’ve travelled all over the world, this will be my first visit to South Africa! I’m really looking forward to it, as it is one of the places in the world my wife Amy has visited and has said she would love to move to!
WTF: What is your relationship with Liquidity (local importer and distributor of the Compass Box range) and how long have you been partnering with them?
JG: We’ve been working with Liquidity for years. I’ve known Emil den Dulk since I started Compass Box, back in the days when he was living in London (just a kid, really!). I met him while he was working at one of the old Match bars, which was then one of the top spirits and cocktail bars in London.
WTF: What is your take on Whisky Live SA and the SA whisky community?
JG: I have to admit that I am not that familiar with the Whisky Live SA community. I will change that with this trip.
WTF: What will you & Compass Box be doing at Whisky Live?
JG: We have a dedicated Compass Box stand at the show in all three cities, offering our Compass Box Signature Range, plus the Great King Street “Artist’s Blend”, which we launched at last year’s show with great success.
We will be unveiling our latest limited release: Flaming Heart, 2012 Edition. Attendees will get the chance to taste this, our 4th edition and I’ll talk about how it was created.
We will also be featuring for some, a bespoke blend called “Magic” which has been provided exclusively to the Grillhouse Restaurant in Sandton. Apparently it is available nowhere else in South Africa. It’s being served from Demi-johns on the bar rather than from traditional bottles. Very cool.
I’m told there will also be a competition from our stand for festival attendees to have a chance to win a bottle of Flaming Heart.
I am only in SA for the JHB leg of the show, but do have a day in Cape Town and Durban either side of it where we will be doing some special tastings, including our Compass Box Art of Blending evenings. I will also be spending some time out and about, meeting some of our current customers in SA and hopefully make some more along the way!
WTF: Congratulations on the latest edition of Flaming Heart. The feedback from a recent Twitter tasting by hardcore whisky fans it looks like you have another winner on your hands! Will we be able to get it here in SA?
Some of the whiskies have been aged for the last 2 to 3 years in new French oak, which imparts a lovely sweetness and the spiciness and toasty oak. We’re using French oak made for winemakers, the highest quality spec of cooperage oak you can find. This is highly unusual in Scotch whiskymaking, but it results in beautiful whiskies. We’re the only ones in Scotland we know of using this type and quality of cooperage oak.
The main difference between the 2012 and previous editions is that in the 2012 we added just a tiny bit of sherry cask-aged malt to the recipe. We wanted to add just an extra touch of complexity and to set this batch apart from the others. In the end, it was less than 1% of the final blend recipe, but it really makes a difference! Originally, I thought we might want to use 5 or 8% in the recipe. But we found that was too much and it changed the character too much. In the end, just 0.7% was all we needed. This is part of the magic of blending.
WTF: Great King Street – Artist’s Blend is a really well made blend. Easily approachable and yet offers a great deal of complexity. How long do we have to wait for the next GKS release and what will it be?
JG: We plan to release the second permanent member of the Great King Street range in early 2013. This will be a very smoky blend.
WTF: Thinking about your favourite non-Compass Box drams, what stands out? What is it in a whisky that wins you over?
JG: I’ve long been a fan of great casks of Clynelish. Well-matured, in a good cask, it has this ethereal, quite distinctive, elegant character. Once you get to know it, you can easily pick it out in a blind tasting. It’s delicious. Which is why I use it so often in our whiskies.
WTF: Following on from that, what is your favourite Compass Box whisky, and why?
JG: As for my range of whiskies: choosing a favourite is almost impossible. It would be trying to choose your favourite child! The whiskies all have their time, their place, their moment—if you will—to share and enjoy!
WTF: Thanks for your time John, we look forward to welcoming you to our great country!
If you’re attending the Joburg leg of the festival, be sure to swing past the Compass Box stand and say hi to John and taste the Compass Box whiskies on offer. Trust me, if you aren’t already a fan you will leave the stand as one! I was one of the lucky few who got to taste the previous edition of Flaming Heart at last year’s Whisky Live and rated it in the top 3 whiskies I tasted at the show, so don’t miss out on this one.
FNB Whisky Live Festival Venues, Dates and Times
Cape Town: 3 – 5 October 2012 (18h00 – 22h00) at the Cape Town International Convention Centre
Durban: 1 – 2 November 2012 (18h00 – 22h00) at the Durban International Convention Centre
Johannesburg: 7 – 9 November 2012 (18h00 – 22h00) at the Sandton Convention Centre
You can also visit the www.whiskylivefestival.co.za website for more details.
I look forward to seeing you all there.