COMPASS BOX SPICE TREE review by Malt Activist
Compass Box Orangerie
Distillery/Brand: Compass Box | ABV: 40% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 15 | Taste: 15 | Finish: 12 | Balance: 14 | Rating: 56
OK John Glaser. I know you do some amazing things at Compass Box but seriously WTF is this crap?
First he’s taken malt whisky from Glen Moray and blended it with equal parts grain whisky from Cameronbridge and vatted them in a first-fill American Oak hogshead.
He’s then infused the spirit with hand-zested Navalino orange peel, Indonesian Cassia Bark and Sri Lankan cloves. The result is the most imbalanced, weirdly tasting whisky I’ve ever had. And actually it doesn’t qualify as whisky any more thanks to the stuff he’s dropped in it. I believe it’s actually liqueur now.
I’m sure he had his reasons for doing what he did and I’m sure there are people who really really like this monstrosity. But if I know Glaser’s taste then I’m pretty sure he didn’t like this as well. Don’t believe me? Ask him yourself.
My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 40% ABV
Nose: Orange. Orange. A bit of orange. Some orange. A touch of orange. Lots of orange. With a side of orange. And, oh yeah, orange. Did I mention orange? No? A dash of orange. 15/25
Palate: That same orange that I got on the nose. Some orange. A touch of orange. A wisp of orange. Lots of orange. Chew on it and you get orange. Becomes more orangey mid-palate. 15/25
Finish: That orange again. With a touch of orange. 12/25
Overall Comments: Orange.
PS For a look at how to make orange zest work with your whisky check out the Amrut Narangi
Compass Box Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary
Distillery/Brand: Compass Box | ABV: 48.9% | Colour: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 91
As I write this review a few days ago Compass Box launched a much needed transparency campaign. This was basically to get whisky enthusiasts from around the world to sign a petition urging the SWA to allow for greater transparency in this increasingly muddy industry.
While I dutifully did my part we all know what petitions like these really accomplish. A fleeting awareness of the issue followed by vague promises from the powers that be and, well, pretty much nothing after that. Like when everyone signed a petition to get Joseph Kony arrested. Now few even remember who he is.
Though there has been some good to come out of this. Major player Bruichladdich has promised to stand behind Compass Box and promised complete transparency about the Laddie. I can only hope that more brands follow suit and play their part. But that remains to be seen.
What does this have to do with my review? Well, the whole fracas was created thanks to SWA asking Compass Box to take down the recipe for two of their blends, This Is Not A Luxury Whisky & The Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary Edition.
Frankly, I think this whole drama did more good for Compass Box, and these two blends in particular, than the unnamed drinks giant that registered their complaint to the SWA in the first place. I for one couldn’t wait to get my hands on these whiskies and taste for my self what I was not allowed to find out!
And so here we are.
I’m a huge fan of The Flaming Heart and loved the 10th Anniversary Edition and this one is also nothing short of beautiful.
Here are the whiskies that have gone into the mix : 27.1% Caol Ila (re-fill American hogshead), 24.1% Clynelish (rejuvenated American hogshead), 10.3% of an un-named Highland Malt (New French Oak Hybrid Barrel) and 38.5% Caol Ila (from another re-fill American hogshead).
My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 48.9% ABV
Nose: Lime. Smoke. Touch of peat. Touch of oak. Spicy. Fennel. Green tobacco. Nice and crisp. White melon rind. Quite savory. Some cumin. Like a spice rack. Green grape. Some salt. Fishnets. Green apple. It’s controlled. I can very easily tell where one whisky component starts and the other one ends. And that’s just confirming the art of the master blender. Solid. 23/25
Palate: Sharp. Whisp of smoke. Peat. Salt. Ground coffee beans. Oak. So much coconut. White pepper. Quite drying as it goes mid-palate. Citrus. That lime again. That apple. A little sooty. Quite herbal. Green berries. Once again quite beautifully composed. All the profiles are individually recognisable yet work brilliantly together. 23/25
Finish: Medium to long. Oak. Drying. Sea washed pebbles. And the tiniest hint of something bitter. 22/25
Overall Comments: What can I say? John Glaser has a habit of hitting it out of the park more than any other whisky maker I know. And this is no exception. To take four good quality whiskies and make them simply work. I just wish the finish could have been a touch better for this to be flawless. But I’m happy with what I’ve got.
Compass Box – This Is Not A Luxury Whisky
Distillery/Brand: Compass Box | ABV: 53.1% | Colour: Full Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89
A while ago I went on a rant and began cussing out the SWA, and the whisky authorities of the world in general, over the whole Compass Box transparency uproar.
Basically Compass Box, after having truthfully divulged what went in this and the Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary, got told off by the SWA for revealing too much and were forced to take down the recipe. In retaliation myself, and other bloggers, went ahead and posted the exact recipe of both the blends on our sites in the biggest show of mutiny Scotland has ever seen.
Take that William Wallace.
It was, therefore, nice to finally sit down with the whisky that had my malted panties in a twist to see whether it was really worth my ire.
And it was.
Made up using two single malts and two grain whiskies this is proof of John Glasers’ ability as a superb blender. He’s used 79% Glen Ord from a first-fill sherry butt, 10.1% Strathclyde grain whisky from re-fill American hogshead, 6.9% Girvan grain whisky also from re-fill American hogshead and finally 4% Caol Ila re-fill American hogshead.
The result is a huge flavorful whisky with a lot of punch. It’s not up there with The General, mind you, but a fine blend nonetheless.
My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at a decent 53.1%
Nose: Sweet. Sherry. Oak. Sultanas. Touch of floral. Milk chocolate. Blood oranges. Toffee. Coconut. Hint of almonds. Evolves nicely as it sits. Brown sugar. Ripe bananas. Cocoa beans. Hint of tiramisu. And whisp of smoke. Nice big aromas. I like it. 22/25
Palate: Full bodied. Coffee. Oak. Leather. Smoke. Sherry. Cinnamon. Black peppercorns. Figs. Quite resinous. Tobacco leaf. Dash of peat. Dark chocolate. Coconut. Full body on this one. Coats the mouth nicely. Feels big. 22/25
Finish: Super long. Coffee. Oak. Bitter chocolate. Touch of salt. Quite beautiful. 23/25
Overall Comments: Good, solid, hard working whisky with big flavors. Has its’ minor flaws but makes for an enjoyable ride. Solid finish. I’d happily drink this again.
Compass Box The General
Distillery/Brand: Compass Box | ABV: 53.4% | Color: Full Gold
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 94
Everyone loves a good story. None more so than me when it comes to whisky. And Compass Box seem to have a ton in store. Given the lopsided state of the whisky industry where stories (read marketing gimmicks) trump whisky quality it is natural to be a bit weary of enticing tales.
But when the spirit inside the bottle just happens to be a cut above so many of the others then a good story makes it that much more special.
Which is precisely the case with this gorgeous and extremely unique blend.
Compass Box, in my opinion, are possibly the finest independent bottlers of blended whisky today. From the Spice Tree to The Flaming Heart and now to this beautifully crafted gem there is seldom an instance when they are sub-par at their craft.
One day a strange thing happened at the Compass Box offices. A cask turned up claiming to be around 33 years of age which included spirit that had already been blended when young and left to mature. Now this is a strange thing to have in ones’ possession.
However, what is stranger still is that another cask was brought into their possession which also happened to have blended spirit in it and this one had been maturing for over 40 years. But no one really knows for sure.
The delightful mystery is that no one really knows what kind of whiskies were in both casks or even what sort of casks they were. So Compass Box did what they do best. They experimented.
They felt the only way this could work was if both the spirits were blended to make one whisky. And so after many tries at the correct ratios they finally arrived at The General. This blend is named after the 1926 Buster Keaton movie where he takes an old steam locomotive (The General) on a wild ride to find the love of his life.
One of 1678 bottles and bottled at 53.4% this is one of the finest blends you can try.
Nose: Equally strong sherry as well as bourbon. Very dry. Lots of oak. A lovely weathered oak at that. Warm chocolate oranges. Clove. Nutmeg. Cinnamon. Wood varnish. Sweet brown sugar. Sandalwood. Maple syrup. Dry autumn leaves and the faintest of peat. A lovely and strong nose.
Palate: Cinnamon. Dark honey. Maple syrup. Chocolate. Apple stew. Hints of cumin. And that beautifully textured wood. So mature and held together with amazing poise.
Finish: Long. Oloroso sherry. Cinnamon. And the mature oak is back.
This is a lovely whisky which seems to have worked as a result of creative blending. And every time I try a different Compass Box release I fall in love with their style a little more.
Compass Box The Spice Tree
Distillery/Brand: Compass Box
Color: Young Sauternes
Compass Box has served me well. I love their packaging. I feel they are a solid independent that produce very innovative and flavorful blends. And I had been looking forward to tasting this particular offering for a while now.
However, what I love more than the malt itself is the wonderful story behind it. When they first introduced this expression in 2005 they did it on the basis of an interesting experiment.
Using 100% malts from the Northern Highlands – mainly Clynelish – all around 10 years old they re-racked the spirit in their own customized casks.
Customized, you ask? Well, this is what they did.
Using 195 year old French Oak (heavily toasted and air dried for two years) they crafted inner staves which they fitted inside used barrels, therefore, extending the life of an otherwise useless barrel.
The result? The first edition of The Spice Tree which ended up winning rave reviews and awards. Unfortunately, the Scotch Whisky Association decided this was illegal and rather than get into a tiff Compass Box decided to suspend production in 2006.
But they had another trick up their sleeve. Instead of using staves second time around they decided to, instead, manufacture heavily toasted cask heads from the same French Oak used in the first edition. Suck on that SWA!
Nose: Hint of peat on a lovely orange marmalade spread. Quite sweet with an almost fortified white wine quality to it. Soft brown raisins. But of course, as the name suggests, the multitude of spices are what sets this one apart. Ginger, clove, cinnamon and nutmeg all feature quite strongly on the nose. The French Oak in play here.
Palate: Creamy mouthfeel with a lovely citrusy sweetness to it. Must be all that Clynelish. The spicy cloves and ginger bits are at home amid the limestone sweetness of the warm brown chocolates and butterscotch raisins.
Finish: Lovely and long with an oily wooden spice.
This is quite a spectacular malt by any standards and well worth sinking your teeth into.
Compass Box Flaming Heart 10th Anniversary
Distillery/Brand: Compass Box
Colour: Young Sauternes
Compass Box are known for their unusual flavor profiles and their magnificent packaging. Sometimes they fall short but mostly they hit it out of the park. And this one has home-run written all over it.
A marriage of three different single malts, aged in American and French oak this has possibly one of the most complex noses found on a blended whisky.
The smoky peat, black salt and diesel hits you first. The sweetness comes through next on the back of marzipans dipped in creamy chocolate syrup in a stew of apples with a drizzle of pineapple citrus. Finally a touch of cigar box and tamarind for that extra layer of complexity.
The silky smooth delivery is chocolate sweet with candied orange brittle held together by that wonderfully balanced peaty smoke.
The oily finish is as complex as the nose with woody cinnamon on sandalwood and something a smidge bitter.
I would love to know what went into making this gem!