There are so many whiskies out there that it can be hard to keep up with them all unless you’re continuously exposed to them. I count myself as being very fortunate to be able to try some great drams and, more luckily, having the chance to try some multiple times to get a secondary or tertiary education of them.
One of these companies is makers of blended whisky Compass Box, a familiar staple at many London outings. I’ve met the team at events like the Whisky Lounge London show this April, an event for International Women’s Day in March and, most recently, during a trip to the company’s London headquarters to learn about its history and try out its ‘Blending School’ with a group of girlfriends (which I wrote about for The W Club in June, here).
But, I realised recently I’d not written very much about the company’s whiskies on Miss Whisky. And, going through my bulging notepads, I’ve many a note on the company’s range, from Asyla right through to Spice Tree.
So, without further adieu, here is a Miss Whisky round-up of five of the Compass Box offerings.
Asyla: Grain & Malt Whisky: 40%:
This 50/50 split of grain and malt was, according to company ambassador Chris Maybin, meant to be based on finesse and subtlety. It was named after a piece of music that danced the line between mad house and sanctuary, creating a duality. “It’s a Sunday afternoon whisky,” he once told me.
I can see why. It’s an easy-drinking blend made from first-fill American oak barrels. It was laden with vanilla and fleshy fruit flavours (I got apricot, mainly). There were notes of fresh grass and light brown sugar too. It’s definitely palatable and, while not my favourite of the offerings, a good introduction to the balance of grain and malt in whisky.
This whisky is interesting because its creation was unlike anything the Scotch industry was doing, thereby illustrating the fun that Compass Box likes to have with its whisky making. The blend of Highland whiskies (which includes Clynelish & Dalwhinnie) was married in oak barrels that had been fitted with new French oak heads, thereby imparting both American and French oak flavours into it.
I go back and forth with this whisky, sometimes picking it as a favourite and sometimes falling for others more. Chris calls it “our Mr Darcy whisky – it comes up and asks you if you’d like to have the third dance, it doesn’t shout.” I agree – it is gentle with waves of strawberry creams, vanilla, butterscotch, cloves and some kind of nut which I couldn’t pin down last time (maybe almond or macadamia).
Spice Tree is like a rebellious little brother who got in trouble with the law but managed to sneak past security guards and come out fighting. The original release of Spice Tree in 2006 was banned by the Scotch Whisky Association because, at that time, Compass Box was inserting French oak staves into barrels to give a highly spicy addition to the flavour. The SWA took offense to this attempt at creativity and it took three years for the company to recreate it using the similar method employed for Oak Cross.
This is one heck of a shouty whisky. If Oak Cross is Mr Darcy, the Spice Tree is the feisty Elizabeth Bennet. It’s made up of 80% new French oak aged whiskies and is like Christmas morning in your mouth – nutmeg, cloves, bitter oranges. It finishes dryly in the mouth and you can really taste the wood on this one. It’s got pizazz, it’s got punch and it’s definitely a fighter.
The Peat Monster: Island & Highland Blend: 46%:
Looming in the depths of a Scottish peat bog is this swirling creature of smoke. It’s made from two styles of peated malts: Island and Highland (namely: Laphroaig, Ledaig and Ardmore). The latter is meant to give it a richer, sweeter smoke rather than the more medicinal flavours found floating on Islay.
This is one I love if I’m in the mood for smoke. I have friends (especially my girlfriends) who really take to this, much more than a standard, fully Islay malt, which I always find interesting. It’s got lovely notes of leather, sweet seafood (prawns or scallops), and a combination of a soft cheese (like brie) and a hard smoky German-style one. It’s wonderfully rounded and heavy in the mouth, and definitely one to try if you’re keen to see how different styles of peated whisky can be combined.
Hedonism: Grain Whisky: 43%:
There aren’t many people that play around with 100% grain whisky making. It’s just not the done thing. But these whiskies have a growing fanbase and Compass Box really helped push the boat out with its release of Hedonism. This is made with a combination of tw0 to three different old grain whiskies, which tend to have an age of 20 years.
This whisky is a great introduction for anyone curious about grain whisky. I reall enjoy the sweetness of it from time to time. I often find notes of sugared berry fruits and violet creams and coconut cream on the nose. It’s a heavily rich whisky in the mouth, filling it on all sides with creamy delights and a spice I liken to pink peppercorns. It’s exciting and well worth exploring.