If a certain whisky has sold well for years, attracting many devoted fans along the way, what would motivate its creator to suddenly change the recipe? According to John Glaser of Compass Box, which recently unveiled a new version of The Peat Monster, it’s about catching up to the times. “The whole world appreciation for peated whisky has evolved,” he says. “And it was time for us to evolve with it.”
Glaser is adamant that Peat Monster’s new recipe is just that—an evolution, rather than a sweeping change. “With our core products that we sell throughout the year, there is a base recipe for each of them—we have long-term supply plans that take into account these recipes and the ages and cask types and everything, so that we can maintain a degree of continuity over time,” he explains. “We flex those [however] because sometimes the character of one of those malts that we have on hand is slightly different. Maybe it’s a little bigger, maybe the malt was coming across as peatier or less peaty than it has in the past, and we just have to tweak things.”
Born In New York City
The first iteration of Peat Monster was born in 2003, when Michael Goldstein, owner of Park Avenue Liquor in New York City, asked Glaser to create a custom whisky just for the store. At the time, Compass Box was a fledgling company, just getting started with its creative array of blends. “We were like, oh my god, really? Yeah!” Glaser recalls. “Back then we didn’t do any peaty whisky other than Eleuthera, which was kind of meaty and peaty. He wanted something heavily peated.” Glaser began creating blends and shipping them from London to New York, but Goldstein always replied asking for more peat.
“Finally, I put one together and on the sample bottle I wrote, ‘This one’s a monster,”’ Glaser says. “And I sent it off to him and he loved it.” The name stuck, and Compass Box Monster was sold as a cask-strength Park Avenue exclusive. It did so well that Glaser asked Goldstein if he could recreate the blend to sell on a larger scale, which Goldstein okayed. “But the trademark lawyer said, ‘You’ll never get away with something called Monster because of Monster energy drink,’” Glaser says. “So we tacked on the ‘Peat’ to the ‘Monster’ and it became our best-selling whisky.”
While The Peat Monster’s blend was necessarily tweaked over the years, it retained a profile that Glaser describes as “virile and youthful.” But the whisky world has evolved since 2003, and he wanted to ascertain where Peat Monster stood. So a couple of years ago, Compass Box whisky maker Jill Boyd hosted a blind tasting with London’s Soho Whisky Club, pitting Peat Monster against five other heavily peated scotch malt whiskies. The results were illuminating.
“We saw where Peat Monster fit into things, and it was a tenuous split,” Glaser says. “Some people loved it; some people didn’t rate it as highly because they like things that have a different style. We ended up deciding to take what we have and dial up the elegance. There’s two parts to that. One was the recipe composition, narrowing down [the component whiskies]. And then we dialed up the age slightly on each of them. We spent months in the blending room. We just kept tweaking the recipe until we preferred ours to everybody else’s.”
Evolving Whisky Tastes
The current change to The Peat Monster is significant, shifting from four component single malts and a drop of blended malt to just two single malts—Caol Ila and Laphroaig—along with 1% Compass Box’s custom blended malt finished in toasted French oak casks. The blended malt has been engineered for additional depth and elegance, according to Glaser, although he thinks most people won’t even notice the shift. The price ($65) is staying the same, although the packaging has been updated with a new label that features the same custom painting by Marc Burckhardt that was used for The Peat Monster 10th Anniversary.
Glaser notes that nowadays whisky drinkers have more options than ever, and their palates have evolved to desire heavier and heavier peat—but that wasn’t the case back in 2003. “Peated styles of whisky weren’t nearly as popular [at that time],” he says. “[The Peat Monster] wasn’t even as peaty back then as it is now. For us back then, it was a pretty peaty whisky amongst what you could buy—that’s why we chose that name. But that was before products like Ardbeg Supernova. That was well before Octomore was probably even considered, and it was before this kind of heavily peated arms race, if you will, really got going in Scotland.”
These days, Peat Monster now has a lot more competition even among peated blended malts—just look at all the heavily peated blended malts (including many that are Islay-specific) that have emerged since its debut: Big Peat, Sheep Dip Islay, Wemyss Peat Chimney, and many others. The Peat Monster’s new recipe may very well attract a larger swath of fans, but that’s secondary to Glaser. His first concern is simply to make an excellent whisky—even if that means changing a successful formula: “We reserve the right to make our products better.”