Whiskey Review: Compass Box The Peat Monster

I’m a huge fan of bold, smoky, peaty scotch whiskeys — pretty much anything that comes out of Islay is something I’m going to like. I haven’t tried anything from the folks over at Compass Box yet, but the amazing artwork on the bottle and their promise of a smoky and delicious ride was enough to get me to grab this bottle of Peat Monster off the shelf and take it for a spin.



The history of scotch whisky is one of blending and sourcing. For the majority of time that the industry has been around, the primary way that people would experience these spirits is by buying a bottle from a blending house or spirits merchant that had been sourced from various different distilleries, blended, finished, and generally crafted to have a specific flavor profile. Only within the last century has the idea of a single malt spirit really taken off, a bottle where all of the spirit within was distilled in a single place at a single time.

One of the most famous brands of blended scotch is Johnny Walker, and John Glaser is an American found himself living in the United Kingdom around the turn of the century (this most recent one, aka the year 2000) working for the walking man. After experiencing the spirits industry for a while and seeing the rather boring and uninspired flavor profiles of modern blended spirits, he decided that what the world really needed was for Scottish spirits to return to its roots of blending different stuff together and just getting weird with it.

Compass Box was founded in 2000 and specifically doesn’t distill anything. It sources all of its spirits from other distilleries and blends them together to make interesting and unique flavors.


Something I really love, and which I will give compass Box all the props for, is that they release a handy chart that shows what percentage of the spirit came from what specific distillery, including what specific flavor characteristics that strain of spirits brings to the party. You can find the details on their website, and it makes the experience all the more interesting in my opinion.

This is a blend of single malt scotch whiskies (with one tiny asterisk of a 1% addition of a blended malt spirit, which is technically itself a blend of single malts, so it still counts). You can geek out on what that means and the technical details in our article on Scottish spirits here; but in general, these spirits are made from 100% malted barley. “Malted” in this case means that the seeds have been allowed to partially sprout, which naturally releases enzymes that convert the starchy seeds into sugar.

To stop the process of germination, the seeds are lightly roasted. Modern distilleries use steam or clean burning fuel, but the traditional way of roasting the seeds is to light a fire fueled by peat moss (a naturally occurring fuel in Scotland). That roasting-over-a-peat-fire is what imparts the thick, oily, smoky flavor that can be associated with some versions of scotch whisky, and in this blend that’s exactly the flavor that they are trying to accentuate.

From there, the grains are milled, cooked, and fermented to create a mildly alcoholic mixture. That soup is then distilled twice in copper pot stills to create the raw whiskey which is then placed into oak barrels for a period of no less than two years.

Once the spirits are properly matured, they are carefully selected by the distiller and blended together to create the right flavor profile. In this case, we know that the spirits used are:

Source and Flavor ProfilePercentage
Caol Ila Distillery Single Malt
Sweet Smoke
Laphroaig Distillery Single Malt
Smoke, Maritime Character
Caol Ila Distillery Single Malt
Clean Smoke
Caol Ila Distillery Single Malt
Delicate Smoke
Caol Ila Distillery Single Malt
Fruit, Smoke
Highland Malt Blended Malt
Clove Spice

Once blended, the spirits are bottled and shipped for sale.


Overall, the style of this bottle is boring and simple. There’s a cylindrical body that gently slopes outwards from the base to the rounded shoulder, a long neck, and capping it off is a wood stopper. it wouldn’t look out of place on any whiskey shelf — except for that label.

The label is really what is going to draw the eyes. Originally released with a much more boring design (if we’re being honest!), in 2019 the company decided to do a special release and hired artist Marc Burckhardt to create a custom artwork for that label. It was such a smashing success that they decided to make that illustration a permanent feature of the label, and I think that was a damn good idea.

I feel like this is a situation where the packaging shows the whole story. It’s a classic design of a bottle, but with a wild side on the label. This is a company that respects its roots… but also wants to have a little fun and push the envelope.



It won’t come as a surprise thanks to the clear transparent bottle, but the spirit here is surprisingly light. (Even my wife remarked on the pale color of the glass.) It’s a light shade of gold — significantly lighter than most other aged spirits, but actually on-par for the typical Islay scotch.

Coming off that glass are the unmistakable aromas of two things: peat smoke and alcohol. Nothing more, and nothing less. Looking deeper, you might notice some of that sweet bread-like malty goodness but it’s just a minor supporting player while peat smoke takes center stage. Something to note here is that while the peat is present and powerful, it is in no way overwhelming. It’s at a level that is pleasant and noticeable, but not one where I feel like I just shoved my head down a chimney. It’s a good balance.

I was expecting this to be a tour de force of peat smoke, a wall-to-wall thick black belching monster like whatever the heck that thing was on Lost. Instead, what I got was practically an invitation to afternoon tea.

This flavor profile starts out with some delicious fruit — honeydew melons, specifically. That’s accompanied by some floral blossoms and honey as well as a bit of sourdough bread, which completes that idea that we are sitting at Claridge’s enjoying some scones. The peat smoke is present, but in the background — like if you had a peat burning stove sitting in the corner.

As the flavor develops, there’s a bit of a change… but surprisingly it’s not drastic. It tastes more like a gin that is just missing the juniper — orris root, baking spices, and nutmeg specifically start to make an appearance along with a hint of salinity or slate. And then at the end it all fades into the background as the oily and thick peat smoke finally rolls in like a fog off the water at the end of the day.

With repeated trips to that same well, the flavor does change — specifically, the peat smoke becomes more potent over time. Just a little bit more after each sip. Maybe that is the peat monster they were talking about, something that slowly creeps up on you until it completely takes over? If so, well played and I’m a fan.

On Ice

Quick aside here: tasting anything that is as smoky as an Islay scotch is challenging as a whiskey reviewer. That peat smoke lingers on the palate for quite some time, making it difficult to see the more subtle changes in the flavor profile as we progress with the tasting. That’s good, since that’s the intended effect the distiller wanted it to have on you, but oh boy is it a pain when you’re tasting professionally. Usually, it means I have to come back the next day and finish the review — and this bottle was no different.

In this case, what the ice does is compress the flavor profile into a bite sized chunk and simplifies things down to the basics. The highlights of the flavors are still there, including the melon, sourdough bread, honey, and baking spices — but instead of coming slowly and developing over time, they simply appear all at once. Like you just slammed a delicious flaky and buttery scone as quickly as possible.

I will note that the flavors are still great here. This is still somehow a nicely balanced and delicious sipper, with just enough complexity to keep things interesting. It doesn’t fall apart like some other blended spirits, which I think is a testament to their choice to use single malt spirits as the base instead of other less quality options.


Overall Rating

I do feel like there’s a bit of a bait-and-switch going on here. I was promised a peat monster, and at best I think I found a peat scraggly dog. I’m the kind of guy who likes a stiff glass of Lagavulin — something I described as “standing on the edge of a cold beach, a bit of salty granite rocks and some seaweed” with a roaring peat fire nearby. Bold and beautiful. This, on the other hand, is more delicate — but still delicious in its own right.

The vision I have of this whiskey is high tea in a castle with a peat fire roaring in the fireplace. There are some amazing floral, fruity, delicious flavors that are combining here in a standout way that I honestly didn’t expect. And while the peat smoke is present and lingers for a significant period of time, it doesn’t detract from or overpower the other things that are going on.

This is a bottle that surprised me in a good way, and one that I might well recommend to those wanting something that blends the smoky lack of subtlety that an Islay brings with the fruity deliciousness of a Highland spirit.

Compass Box The Peat Monster
Produced By: Compass Box
Production Location: Scotland
Classification: Blended Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $52.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 4/5
High tea in a castle with a peat fire roaring in the fireplace.


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