What is punk? Or more importantly, does punk exist in today’s disposable, narcissistic, corporate world? I’m sure for Californians singing in an English accent and spiking their hair, punk is as alive today as it was back in the 1970’s. In reality, that musical chapter died an ugly death many years ago. Musically, the last great UK punk album was Mush by Leatherface in 1991, and after that, the rot truly set in.
I’m starting off like this because today, we’re taking in this Compass Box Delilah’s XXV blended Scotch whisky, which is their second-anniversary bottling for the Chicago bar of the same name—an establishment that showcases punk amongst other musical genres. Various bands and artists have risen to prominence from Chicago, including Muddy Waters, Screeching Weasel, Smashing Pumpkins, Kanye West, R. Kelly… okay; swiftly moving on. Personally, Chicago meant Touch and Go Records when I was growing up, as a label that showcased a particular brand and swagger of music. It might not have been punk in the classical sense, but the attitude certainly was.
And that brings us into the modern era, as in my mindset, anyone calling themselves punk isn’t. Punk is an attitude and action, regardless of gender, sexuality, colour or nationality. Punk isn’t following the herd, or accepting what you’re being told. It’s about standing up for yourself and others and doing what you believe is right, even in the face of ridiculous odds. Punk is essentially what you make it, and the courage of your convictions.
Since its foundation at the turn of the millennium, Compass Box proudly sought to be the punk outfit of the whisky world, the young upstarts. Causing mayhem with their releases, kicking down dusty distillery doors, pushing boundaries, unleashing new flavour profiles and making whisky (for many) exciting again—that was the image they portrayed, and one that many bought into hook, line and sinker.
In 2015, Compass Box fell foul again of the Scotch Whisky Association by being open and transparent with its releases “It’s Not A Luxury Whisky” and “Flaming Heart.” The protectionism of the Scotch whisky industry had finally caught up with this bespoke blending house. Undeterred, they made good marketing copy with a petition before finding a workable solution that remains in place to this day. Perhaps, arguably, this is punk to some, and in the stuffy world of Scotch, it must have prompted guffaws and other mannerisms from whichever Gentlemen’s Club the SWA were currently hanging out in.
The promise of that punk attitude was dashed somewhat when Bacardi bought a stake in the company the same year. John Glaser has talked up the move ever since, suggesting that it hasn’t changed a thing. While, possibly, that might have been true for imminent projects in the pipeline, the new ethics of Compass Box have become more visible. We won’t retread old ground, but forcing Sweden’s Box Destilleri to change its name is one of the ugliest corporate moves we’ve seen in recent times. Remember, Compass Box doesn’t even distill its own whisky; everything remains sourced. Box had to change to High Coast to “avoid any confusion,” yet almost everyone I’ve talked to about this wasn’t confused, and the Swedish producer had to change or face a long legal process that it couldn’t afford when faced with the Compass Box lawyers.
In essence, Compass Box are the Coldplay of the whisky industry. They started out small and independent, and what initial promise existed was soon lost amidst the lavish presentation and a belief in their own hype. Today’s Compass Box is aggressively chasing new markets and releasing disappointments such as The Spaniard, which we’ve reviewed twice and been left disappointed twice. Para-para-paradise, para-para-paradise, para-para-paradise, or is it?
Here at MALT, we are totally transparent, and as you’ve guessed correctly by now, I’m not the biggest fan of Compass Box, or Compost Box as I originally referred to them, or post-2015, their new moniker: Corporate Box. However, it always comes down to the whisky and the price being asked for the experience. For these reasons, I’ll continue to explore the old and new releases in the hope that we’ll find that Yellow moment in liquid form.
Bottled at 46% strength, this Delilah’s XXV blended Scotch has sold out at retail. It was a limited edition of 8520 bottles, but you may stumble across the odd example somewhere. Compass Box itself still has some bottles left at £100 each if you’re eager to make a purchase. That’s a commission-free link for your convenience.
As you’d hope to see, there is no artificial colouring or chill filtration applied to this release. The recipe details are available online if you wish to venture over to the official site, but we’ll reproduce them below to save you from RSI. The initial foundation of the blend was a modest amount of the original 2013 Delilah bottling that was reshaped using whiskies from another 5 distilleries:
29% comes from the original Delilah’s 20th Anniversary parcel in a refill hogshead.
20% first-fill sherry butts from Teaninich.
15% first-fill sherry butts from a distillery with red doors near Aberlour.
15% first-fill sherry butts from Linkwood.
10.5% first-fill American barrels from Miltonduff.
10.5% first-fill American barrels from Cameronbridge.
Compass Box Delilah’s XXV Blended Scotch Whisky – review
Colour: a light sugary caramel.
On the nose: plenty of meadow fruits with apples and pears prominent. There’s flashes of lemon peel, pine sap, black pepper and honey. I’m also reminded of floral heather, freshly scrapped nutmeg and chocolate. Patience reveals a richer seam of chocolate and a creamy butterscotch. Water should be used sparingly, as the main emphasis becomes fruit sugars.
In the mouth: an engaging arrival, there’s a summery vibe with a slightly chewy nature. Take your pick from caramel or toffee, as that’s the main foundation. Then a nutty aspect, almost flapjack-like, with some syrup sweetness. A touch of smoke cuts through the presentation, thereby allowing a formidable brigade of spices to jump in. More of that nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and what I’d summarise as pumpkin spices. Towards the end, black olives before a good, lengthy peppered-caramel finish provides the conclusion. Water isn’t recommended, as Compass Box have taken this down to the lowest point before it loses much of its appeal.
One of these whiskies where I’m kicking around a 5 or 6 for the score. However, at £100 a bottle, it has to be marked down. It doesn’t scream Chicago, music or rebellion to me. Arguably, drinking this in a bar isn’t the right environment either, which is ironic. You need time, space and peace to appreciate the finer details here.
Overall, a solid release, but one that doesn’t grab me by the baws or prove to be memorable. This time next week, I’ll have forgotten about it, and at £100 a bottle, that’s disappointing.
Lead image kindly provided by the Whisky Exchange.