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Best Bets: Compass Box Scotch Whiskies

Words like “craft” and “artisan” are thrown around much too freely these days. Everything we buy now has to have some grand, romantic story attached to it. From furniture to farmers’ markets, from apparel to accessories, stories sell. If you don’t know the name of the guy who made it and you can’t drop by his charming little Gepetto-style workshop on a whim, well, it’s just not worth having, is it? Of course, nowhere is this more true than at your local liquor store.

Let’s face it, wax seals and hand-written barrel numbers are the exact same thing as putting your vodka into a glass skull. It’s selling the bottle, not the spirit. (Although to be fair, there’s a lot of really good whiskies in some of those bottles, whereas all premium vodka is a joke.) In an era when every ultra-premium vodka has a celebrity pitchman, and every distiller in Kentucky is offering single barrel this and small batch that and putting the cute little hand-written batch numbers on the bottle, It can sometimes be hard to tell what’s inside, and whether it warrants its price tag. These days, everyone’s an artisan.

Spice Tree. The best way to warm up this winter.

John Glaser is an artisan. Take that statement for what it’s worth. Compass Box Whisky has a story. We’re not going to bother telling you the story. You can look it up on their site. It’s a lot of technical stuff about wood and blending and aging, which really is interesting if you’re into that sort of thing. What we are going to bother to do is to tell you that this stuff is really, really good.

Of the two lines that Compass Box produces, Signature and Limited Release, we’ve so far had a chance to try three different examples of their whisky. Each one was markedly different, but all were equally excellent. Bottles in the less expensive Signature line are generally available in the $35-$40 range, and compare favorably with bottles costing twice as much. To our palate, a Peat Monster is every bit as good as a Laphroaig, and We’d reach for an Oak Cross over a Glen-Whateveryoulike any day of the week. Seriously.

With Winter now firmly digging in, we’re in all-brown-liquor-all-the-time mode here at the Chophouse. We’re declaring Compass Box to be our house Scotch going forward, and by the time the Winter’s out we expect we’ll have three or four different bottles on hand. We suggest that when you head to the liquor store this weekend you go ahead and buy two or more bottles. They make a great holiday gift, but make sure to keep one for yourself.

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The Perfect Wine for Thanksgiving: Tawny Port

You’ve all probably figured out by now that the Chop really likes our liquor. We’ll always embrace the chance to try something new or compare two whiskies side by side. What you may not have realized though is that we also like wine quite a bit.

The difference between lies in the fact that while we harbor some nerdy, snobbish tendencies about liquor, we’re not at all picky about wine. We fall squarely into the 15% of consumers who are ‘Savvy Shoppers’ on Constellation Brands’ six types of wine drinkers list. If it costs $10 and doesn’t smell like vinegar, odds are we’ve gone home with it at some point. (But enough about our sex life…)

A visual approximation of the Chop's Thanksgiving dinner.

So when a wine magazine editor writing for the Huffington Post recently called Thanksgiving “the clusterfuck of wine holidays” we were inclined to agree.

The Chop has a very large extended family. For thanksgiving we traditionally pay a visit to our singularly Republican aunt and uncle who are enthusiastic wine cellar-ers and have been for many years. In typical selfish, undemocratic GOP fashion though, they keep most of the cellar locked up, and buy a bunch of crappy Vendange or Turning Leaf for the family, thinking we don’t know the difference. No matter. Picking and pairing wines for thanksgiving dinner really can be more trouble than it’s worth.

So when you’re standing around the wine shop this week, wondering what bottle to bring as a gift or which will make the best digestif, we’d like to plant this thought in your head: Thanksgiving is the best day of the year for drinking Port.

All of the best drinkers throughout history have embraced Portos. From kings and noblemen to oenophilic tastemakers to the fathers of Maryland to hobos and winos, and of course, the Chop, anyone who knows wine knows it’s better when it’s fortified. With the perfect mix of lightness and body, fruit and oak, and caramel and spice, a good tawny Port is the perfect choice for a tipple after a feast of yams and turkey. It even pairs sublimely with pumpkin pie and whipped cream.

The bottle in our rack right now is the Sandeman 10 year old. We picked this out from among the large and varied selection of Portos at the Wine Source for about $25. To our mind Sandeman is roughly the Johnnie Walker of Portugal, from their wide range of Portos and a consistent quality near the bottom of their line, right down to their exporting machine and the shadowy figure in the logo. That’s not a knock. We’ve got nothing but love for Johnnie Black, and we’d recommend keeping both the Walker and the Sandeman on hand for the holidays, and all the year round.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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