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Compass Box Whisky’s John Glaser talks Scotch

Written by Matt Domino Posted on January 11, 2013

It may be a well known fact that, when it comes to liquor, bourbon works for any occasion. However, very often a well-made Scotch can be a man’s best friend. In order to get the latest from the world of Scotch, The Manual managed to chat with John Glaser, the founder of specialist Scotch whisky maker, Compass Box Whisky. Taking a break from his busy schedule in England, John gave us all the inside information we needed for when it’s time to pick up the next bottle.

THE MANUAL: Why did you decide to get into Scotch?

I set out on a plan to make a living in the wine business and I was then offered a job at what I thought was the perfect company, although their offer was a job on their spirits side rather than the wine side.  The offer was a job in marketing for Johnnie Walker. I thought I’d take the job and eventually work my way onto the wine side. But once they sent me to Scotland, and once I set foot into distilleries there and began to learn about Scotch whisky, I fell in love.  For many of the reasons I loved wine, I fell in love with Scotch. That was 18 years ago.

TM: What do you think the key to a good Scotch is?

The simple key to a good Scotch whisky is the ability of it to call you back to the glass. If you are compelled to take another sip, if the whisky is providing you a degree of pleasure which compels you back to the glass, you have discovered a good Scotch.

TM: What are some of the evolving techniques in Scotch making that you reference on your website?

Oak maturation is where we focus most in terms of evolving techniques. When I came into the Scotch whisky business, the oak casks used for aging Scotch were considered little more than storage vessels. Coming from the wine business I found this strange. And when you consider that more than half the flavor of a well matured whisky comes from the wood, it simply stands to reason that you need to pay attention to the quality, and type of cask you use. We borrow a lot of learning and a lot of techniques from the wine business when it comes to oak aging.

TM: For someone who isn’t fluent in Scotch-tasting, what is the first thing they should be looking for when tasting?

The first thing anyone should look for in a Scotch whisky at a tasting is whether or not they find the aroma and flavor of each whisky appealing or not.  There are not right or wrong answers when it comes to deciding what you like.  And with Scotch whisky, owing to the fact there are over 100 distilleries operating today, each making a whisky that is different, there is a broader spectrum of flavor than any other type of spirit in the world.  There literally is something for just about everyone.

TM: What kind of flavors or approaches separate Compass Box from a traditional brand like Laphroiag or Macallan?

We use types of oak casks that no one else in Scotland uses. The flavors that set us apart the most from the traditional brands are those that come from our casks: flavors that will remind you of vanilla, toffee, coconut, baking spices, even grilled marshmallow! You’ll actually find aromas and flavors in some of our whiskies that will remind you of those things, owing to the type and quality of oak casks we use.

TM: What should a consumer look for when they are deciding to buy a Compass Box Scotch or a Scotch in general?

Forget about whether or not a Scotch is a blend or a single malt or whatever. Don’t buy into the single malt myth of superiority. As in wine, seek out the producers with the best reputation, regardless of what category of Scotch whisky they are producing. Combine this strategy with identifying the styles or the key flavors you like. (Keep notes of the specific bottlings you’ve tried and liked and why—note what the key flavors reminded you of.)  Then, take this information to a great spirits/whisky retailer and have a blast!

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