Compass Box Whisky founder John Glaser, who’s also the company’s experimental whisky blender, came to Atlanta earlier this month for the Circle Bar Advocacy Program. Much more than a cocktail competition, Glaser said he created the Circle “to gather like-minded people from the industry to share and celebrate with one another.”
In fact, during the daylong event at Decatur’s Kimball House, he discouraged the use of the word “competition.”
“We’re not an ordinary whisky company,” Glaser said, “so this is no ordinary program.”
Glaser often is called a rebel in the whisky world. A couple of years ago, Compass Box was called out for breaking EU regulations on sharing information about the ages of the whiskies used in its blends. He prefers “heretic” over “rebel.” “Think Galileo,” he said. “Our obligation is to challenge things when we see a cause that needs to be addressed.”
Even the way contenders for the Circle were chosen was unconventional. Regional finalists were selected based on questions they were asked to submit in the initial stages of the program. They were asked to pose a question to Glaser that demonstrated insight into what Compass Box is about.
Candidates included Kaleb Craft (the Drayton, Savannah), Timothy Faulkner (Octopus Bar), Sean Gleason (Biltong Bar), Eric Simpkins (Bon Ton, the Lawrence), Jerry Slater (the Expat, Athens) and Jeff Stockton (Golden Eagle). After showing a short video of last year’s global competition, Glaser answered their submitted queries. He tackled everything, from whether he has an internal soundtrack while blending, to pivotal mistakes he has learned from along the way, and handling palate fatigue when tasting whiskies.
Each contestant had 5 minutes to craft a cocktail using one of Compass Box’s Great King Street expressions. Varied preparations and presentations proved Scotch is an inspiring base spirit.
Eric Simpkins named his winning drink This Is Not a Circus Cocktail. He nervously served it on a mid-century modern tray. “This one was different in that it was more like an invitational from one of my favorite creative companies,” Simpkins said. “I loved this second step of the Circle, with another open-ended request of a 5-minute serve. It allowed me to focus on what I had experienced, loved, and been inspired by with Compass Box, without trying to guess what other people would do.”
Simpkins next goes to the U.S. finals, to be held in St. Louis July 30. There, six finalists from Florida, Georgia, New York, Northern California, Southern California and Texas will face three thought-provoking tasks and have a lot of time to get to know one another. The last person standing will head to London to compete in world finals in September.
The Circle winner gets to work closely with Glaser and his team to create a limited-edition Compass Box blend. “I love the creative process of a new product, and the hope that gives you,” Glaser said.
“I have never been to London, but I would be beyond amazed and happy to get to spend some time working with John at his office with his whisky, and to see firsthand how their creative and professional processes work together to create not just whisky, but a thriving creative company,” Simpkins said.
On representing Atlanta in the competition, Simpkins said, “I feel humbled and lucky and a responsibility to demonstrate everything I have learned as a professional in our city.”
The other Georgia participants no doubt will be cheering Simpkins on as pinned members of the Circle. “It’s important to us that our program creates a feeling of family rather than competitiveness,” Glaser said.
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