To celebrate its 15th anniversary, Scotland’s leading independent whiskymaker Compass Box is bringing out a new release this fall questioning the very nature of “luxury” spirits. Inspired by the work of surrealist painter René Magritte, the special limited edition ‘This Is Not a Luxury Whisky’ offering will be available in the U.S. next month at $225 per bottle. The cask strength spirit is indeed what most connoisseurs would consider a luxurious tipple, but Compass Box founder John Glaser (below) aims to provoke thought about just what makes certain whiskies worth paying extra for.
“The idea with this bottling is to challenge people’s perceptions about what represents a ‘luxury’ whisky,” Glaser says. “Over recent years, we’ve seen a growing trend in the Scotch industry towards super-premium releases that position Scotch whiskies as ‘luxury goods’ or status symbols to be displayed and traded – rather than as liquids to be consumed and enjoyed. As Whiskymakers, we wanted to release a product that would encourage people to question what it is that makes a luxury whisky a ‘luxury’.”
Bottled at natural cask strength 53.1% ABV, only 4,992 bottles of ‘This Is Not a Luxury Whisky’ will be available across Europe from 15th October 2015 at £150 SRP and in the US from 12th November at $225 SRP. Four different “parcels” of whisky were used in its creation: 19-year-old malt whisky from the Glen Ord distillery in the Scottish Highlands was blended with two separate parcels of 40-year-old grain distilled at Girvan and Strathclyde as well as a portion of precious 30 year-old malt whisky from the Caol Ila distillery. Compass Box calls the result “compelling, lingering and complex.”
“Late last year we came across a parcel of astoundingly good casks of malt whisky from Glen Ord: sherry butts, distilled almost twenty years ago,” Glaser explains. “We fell in love with them immediately, secured every cask available in the parcel, then set to work blending them with other whiskies to help us create something even more compelling. After months of development, the resulting blend was opulent, lingering, complex – and we’ve bottled it at natural cask strength so people can experience the full concentration of the whisky’s flavors. Everyone’s definition of luxury is different, but for us this is about as close as it gets.”
“As whiskymakers, when we say ‘luxury’ what we’re talking about is the liquid, the flavor, the experience of enjoying the whisky,” Glaser notes. “Similar to what Magritte did with his painting of a pipe that claimed it was not a pipe, we wanted to see what would happen if we put a rare, old, expensive liquid in an explicitly ‘non-luxury’ container. Would it diminish the whisky in any way? Would the liquid inside be seen as less desirable simply because of what was written on the front label? Or would the true measure of the whisky prove to be the amber liquid inside? That’s what we hope to get people thinking about with this release.”
In addition, Compass Box is releasing the much-anticipated fifth edition of its cult classic ‘Flaming Heart’ spirit for the 15th anniversary as well. The company calls it “bigger and richer than ever before”, an amped-up version of its trademark combination of “complex spice and evocative peat-smoke creating a brooding, complex style.” 30-year-old and 14-year-old parcels of Islay malt whisky distilled at Caol Ila were blended with 20-year-old Highland malt whisky from the Clynelish distillery and a further proportion of blended Highland malt aged in new French oak. Bottled at 48.9% ABV, a total of 12,060 bottles of Flaming Heart will be available in Europe from 15th October 2015 and in the US from 12th November 2015 at £100 / $150 SRP.
Jared Paul Stern has written for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, GQ, WWD, Vogue, New York magazine, Details, Hamptons magazine, Playboy, BlackBook, the New York Post, Bergdorf Goodman magazine and Luxist among others. He is also the founding editor of the Page Six magazine.