Compass Box Vertical Tasting

Saturday, December 05, 2015


For this latest vertical tasting I wanted to break away from focusing on a specific distillery such as Talisker or Glenfarclas and explore the diverse range of whiskies offered by Compass Box. An impossible task for just one vertical I agree, but hopefully this offers a glimpse of past, current and forgotten offerings from the imagination of John Glaser.

Gathering such a broad spectrum of releases it was foreseeable that some of these were not going to be to my own preferences. This indeed turned out to be the case yet I appreciated the artistry and skill in concocting such blends. Above all, the belief of informing the consumer as to what exactly goes into each of these creations is welcome. This open door policy is currently a topical one within whisky and hopefully the tides of change will continue to gain momentum.

That is a debate for another day; for now its all about the whiskies and 10 diverse offerings from a unique specialist Scotch whisky maker. If you were looking for a review of the Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary then I actually reviewed that over here.

Asyla
Strength 40% vol, price £34
A blended Scotch Whisky

Colour: elderflower cordial

Nose: very light, fresh and floral on the nose. Like cotton sheets drying on a warm summer's day, whilst sitting outside in the garden. Pollen abundant, faint honey, almonds, crushed nuts, coconut milk, daisies, lemon fresh and rich tea biscuits.

Taste: very pleasant and a little sweet. Just like the nose this is an inoffensive starter dram showcasing the Compass Box blending talents. I love how it just lightly lingers with a little pepper, char and whipped vanilla cream.

Overall: a very refreshing whisky and perfectly balanced with the grain element restrained overall. A marvellous opening.

Canto Cask 48
Strength 54.4% vol, price £70
Part of a series 16 single cask whiskies, each finished in a different new oak for 18 months, toasted to a different level. This one is heavily toasted French oak

Colour: ginger bread

Nose: freshly toasted bread, all spice, vanilla, pencil shavings, caramel, shortbread, cracked black pepper and tarragon.

Taste: wow, I wasn't expecting this on the palate. It's the texture that hits you first as its thick, oozing and oily. I like this. The characteristics are unsurprisingly wood driven with matchsticks, Cadbury's caramel, honey, vanilla essence, Belgium waffles and beneath all of this some apricot jam.

Overall: a Compass Box offering with a real forceful nature. Almost bourbon-like in its dynamic wood influence and yet layered.

Great King Street Experimental Batch TR-06
Strength 43% vol, price £33
A smoky blend with 3805 bottles released

Colour: new pine

Nose: smoky but subtle with cinnamon, oranges and a salty note more akin to seaweed. A dirty vanilla, wet wood and damp foliage are noticeable.

Taste: a costal blend certainly with more of those seashore flavours coming through and the salty spray mixing with the lemon and smoke to good effect. 

Overall: a blend of 67% Islay, Highland and Speyside plus 33% Lowland grain whisky. A very enjoyable blend and it would have had my vote!

Great King Street Artist's Blend
Strength 43%, price £34


Colour: cream crackers

Nose: fresh pine, white pepper, icing sugar, butterscotch with a little lemon infusion. Crushed almonds, malted fruit loaf, nutmeg and Walkers shortbread.

Taste: that shortbread carries through onto the palate with a rich shortcrust pastry resulting in a buttery texture. Honey, heather, creamed corn and almonds.

Overall: in some ways a more refined Asyla, which I prefer over this. A good solid blend, but lets try the West Coast version next?

Great King Street Glasgow Blend
Strength 43% vol, price £28

Colour: champagne

Nose: warm candle wax with bubble gum evident so a fragrant mixture of sweetness and smoke. More honey, lemon and pears linger beneath.


Taste: peat and smoke dominate, actually I'd say this is more a monster than the fella lingering further down this vertical tasting. Ginger, apples, lime and red chard leaves try to find a spot amidst the barrage.


Overall: I did enjoy this and it is very well priced. You want peat and smoke combined wonderfully? This is it. Plus change out of £30 - so no complaints anywhere.

The Lost Blend
Strength 46% vol, price £77
A blend of Clynelish, Caol Ila and Allt-a-Bhainne

Colour: Riesling

Nose: a lovely wafting smoke reaches up out of the glass. Then moss, overly ripe pears, a little sea salt and sherbet.


Taste: a little threadbare in all honesty. It's dying to be more than Islay but the Caol Ila is dominating the blend overall. A buttery short pastry, more salt and peat.


Overall: in reality this is overpriced for what it represents. You can pick up better blends at a fraction of the price such as the Johnnie Walker Black label or experiences just as good such as the Aldi Glen Marnoch bottling. You could even try dabbling at an auction and coming back with a blend from the 1970's with some loose change in the pocket afterwards.

Oak Cross
Strength 43% vol, price £38
A blended malt including Teaninich and Clynelish

Colour: very light like a traditional lemonade

Nose: coconut flakes, white pepper, a little bitterness on the nose from the oak, vanilla and certainly roasted coffee beans.

Taste: vanilla, almost lightly smoked vanilla. The char and robustness of the secondary maturation takes this Oak Cross in a different direction. A black tea note stewed almost, cracked pepper, oat cakes and cloves.

Overall: this might be a little too oaky for some. Like a good barbecue you've got to be careful what you throw onto the flames. A good example of 2nd maturation for those eager to broaden their knowledge and experience.

Orangerie
Strength 40% vol, price £38
A Scotch whisky infusion with cloves, bark and oranges so it can no longer be called a whisky

Colour: natural orange juice

Nose: Jaffa cakes! Orange yes but not a natural essence and more artificial. Some vanilla and corn flakes but the orange does swamp everything.

Taste: unsurprisingly more orange and orange pip. A dominant flavour but some seasoning and spices peek through such as pepper, salty, cloves and cardamom.

Overall: not for me by a long shot but glad to have tried this interesting variation.

Peat Monster
Strength 46% vol, price £40

Colour: caramel blonde

Nose: yeah ok peat but not the monster epic beast I was anticipating. More spices come through, marshmallows, a medicinal quality and white chalk.

Taste: a peat bog, littered with rotting vegetation. Some kiln embers drift past and well-fired bacon sizzling somewhere out of sight.

Overall: not so much as a monster but a troll which is still frightening I suppose but devoid of that fearsome top billing, or a peat fairy?

The Spice Tree
Strength 46% vol, price £40
Inc Clynelish and secondary maturation in barrels with heavily toasted French oak heads

Colour: butterscotch

Nose: crushed almonds almost frangipane tart time. The spices are  nutmeg and pepper, assisted by malted milk biscuits; always a childhood favourite with the cow embossed. A little banana drilled in honey, actually banana fritter with that crisp coating and orange zest.

Taste: the wood steps in now with vanilla, ginger and cinnamon. A little cream soda. I've been enjoying this without writing down my tasting notes that says it all really. Milk chocolate, cloves and a little butter.

Overall: a well judged and finished blend. I've tasted recently some of the biggest Speyside single malts that lack the character of the Spice Tree.

So there you have it another vertical laid to rest. What next? Well I have a great selection from Balblair good to go and almost there is a BenRiach vertical. I'll envisage that I will one day return for another sizeable helping of Compass Box as and when the opportunity presents itself.

This tasting was tinged with disappointment overall, perhaps my expectations were heightened by some of the fever that surrounds Compass Box as a whole? My appetite has not been satisfied and more than ever, further consideration is necessary to explore the varied whiskyography that Compass Box offers.

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