Since starting whiskyunplugged, we have been writing about enjoying whisky in all its many guises and trying to demystify the fusty world that the whisky market of old had created for itself. Whilst we have been doing so, the whisky market has also widely been diversifying its products with welcome twists, interpretations and experimentation. We have also seen a (somewhat disputed) shift in the mindset of distilleries and consumers alike from holding a whisky’s age up on a pedestal and, instead, placing a stronger emphasis on flavour profiling (or at least that’s what we are being told). That’s not to say that your classic age statement releases are not focusing on flavour! However, with the whisky makers becoming more and more creative with their single expressions and limited releases, there has also been a natural push towards premium blends, whereby blenders and bottlers are seeking to push the flavour envelope further by acquiring and melding local styles and profiles into a new (and often heavily-branded) offering. At the forefront of that movement has been Compass Box.
Beyond the desire to making great tasting whiskies and showcasing the many stylings of scotch whiskies, Compass Box have also been pushing their own agendas. Their most publicised and celebrated initiative has been the campaign to provide total transparency on their whiskies’ constituent parts – a movement that has disgruntled the scotch whisky authorities to no end. There have been a plethora of legal battles and regulatory movements between them in recent times but in the interests of providing their consumers with a fair knowledge of what they are drinking, Compass Box provide a comprehensive ingredients list on their website for each bottling they release. Seriously, go check it out here.
What’s more, each bottle’s maturation process is also detailed including the component’s overall percentages in the final make-up of the bottled whisky, the barrels that they’ve been matured in and the flavour profiles that each constituent part provides to the overall tasting experience. The bottles themselves even come with a three word descriptor of the consumer’s whisky tasting experience ahead, e.g. Peaty. Smoky. Complex. – if the name “Peat Monster” didn’t give it away in the first place!
Each entry in the Compass Box website also features a recommended cocktail which would best accentuate the whisky’s flavours and style, along with a suggested food pairing for the naked dram itself – suggesting their eagerness for the dram to be enjoyed in many ways and not scoffing at the idea of adding a dreaded mixer!
One obvious omission from the data set that Compass Box share is the age of each component. Not seeming to shy away from their transparency agenda, Compass Box openly share that the age of their source whiskies is not the key factor here, but rather it’s all about flavour that the original malt or grain Whisky imparts along with the influence of the barrels, and so their blender can seek to maintain quality flavour profiles over arbitrary numbering. With that emphasis in mind, it comes as no surprise therefore that every one of their blends are bottled without chill filtration and in their natural colour.
Compass Box have also courted controversy by their use barrels, and more, sepcifically, hybrid barrels that feature a range of “toastings”, including, their “mocha toast”, “infra red toast”, and “vanilla toast” which all seek to impart different flavourings from the oaks into the final whisky.
It’s fair to say that we have loved following their progress over the years and so when two of us from WU found out that a generic “whisky tasting” night that we had signed up to (without any knowledge of the contents or presenters) turned out to be a Compass Box showcase evening, we were pretty damn excited.
Over the past week we have shared our tasting notes on these blended scotch whiskies from the evening which featured their 5 “Signature Range” releases, and two of their current limited editions, tasted in the following running order:
Asyla – Blended Scotch (i.e. Grain and Malt)
Oak Cross – Blended Malt
The Spice Tree – Blended Malt
The Peat Monster – Blended Malt
Hedonism – Blended Grain
Spice Tree Extravaganza – Blended Malt
Double Single – Blended Scotch
Clicking on the names above should take you to the notes for each dram and we hope that these will suitably describe and demonstrate just what a different experience each whisky delivers. Compass Box also have a third range, called their “Great King Street” range, which seek to revive age old whisky recipes – we’ll have to wait another time to sample any of those delights though.
The night was held at a local independent off-licence whereby our compère deftly guided us through the history of the indie bottlers and the story behind each whisky on display. We want to thank Chester Beer and Wine for the evening, and at the end of the night, we were asked the obligatory question: what was your favourite. On the night, our preferences were actually the lighter, grain-based/influenced drams: Asyla, Double Single and Hedonism, but that’s not to detract from the quality of the malt whiskies available. To be fair though, this is mainly due to the fact that we shot through the 7 drams relatively quickly and with all those strong flavours in there, it was a lot to take in but overall, and in all honesty, there wasn’t a bad dram there. Just some that were better than others, as the old adage goes.