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It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: in this day and age, with phenol levels reaching 140 ppm (here’s looking at you, Octomore), the Compass Box Peat Monster is hardly a “monster” at all. A vatted malt—Caol Ila, Ardmore, and more recently, Laphroaig expressions—the Peat Monster is a much gentler beast than a Lagavulin 16. The choice to lean on Caol Ila, which I’ve always felt to be cleaner and lighter than most Lagavulin expressions I’ve sampled, may have something to do this, but I suspect the use of first fill ex-bourbon casks played no small part.
The smoky nose has a candied sweetness to it, not unlike the Bruichladdich Peat, though less brown sugar-barbecue and more campfire sweets. There are deep, woodsy notes of dried tinder and ash, as well as orange peel, maple syrup, and sea breeze. It’s all very reminiscent of camping by the ocean.
Whisky tears dot sides of the glass beautifully. The light, oily palate follows through with pine smoke and balsam wood, brine, honey, and ginger. Bourbon vanilla makes a welcome appearance here, too. Sweet peat smoke expands over the finish, leaving soft traces of cocoa and toasted pecans behind.
So why the “monstrous” misnomer? Compass Box clearly have their own style of marketing. Their packaging is artistic and tasteful, and their expressions’ names—Asyla, Oak Cross, Eleuthera, Spice Tree (etc.)—recall something nostalgic and something majestic. But (fortunately) Compass Box whiskies are not chill filtered, nor is colour added to them, so perhaps they see the competitive arena as a little more of a challenge to get into than with some of their other releases. Peat-heads can be tough to impress at times, staying faithful to their favourites. A peat “monster,” however, is a tough thing to refuse, and perhaps this is all there is to the name: a simple marketing scheme.
In any case, the Peat Monster is a delight. It won’t replace certain other favourites in my cabinet, but it has grown on me steadily since first opening, so perhaps give it a few tries before weighing in on it yourself. I think you’ll enjoy it.