Posts Tagged With: Blended Whisky

An Evening With… Compass Box

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:

Signature Range

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

Limited Editions

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.

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Tasting Notes: Compass Box – Double Single

Compass Box Range – Double Single

Sat within Compass Box’s Limited Edition Range is the Double Single blended scotch whisky. For this release, the blenders have sought to demonstrate that a blended whisky need not feature fractional components of dozens of whiskies to create an enjoyable blended whisky experience. Based on this premise, the whisky gets its name from the fact that it is a blend of just two whiskies: one single malt whisky from Glen Elgin, and one single grain whisky from Girvan distillery. The malt whisky forms the lion’s share of this dram, comprising 72% of the total liquid, and both elements have been matured in re-charred, ex-bourbon barrels. Whilst the age of maturation for these components is not available, the fuller details are available here. The ‘simple’ blend has then been married together and bottled at 46% ABV.

Nose: This has a very sweet nose. Rich vanilla at first and then the barley malts and grist are there at the back. Very clean. No nonsense here.

Taste: There is a great combo of malt complexity and grain simplicity at play. The palate just allows those initial vanilla and malt flavours to develop. The flavour profiles of vanilla and malt are really exaggerated too, like taking a mouthful of chewy milk bottle sweets and digestive biscuits – hopefully with less damage to the teeth!

Finish: It leaves a nice, syrupy coating of the throat – which makes sense with all the sweetness at play.

Verdict: This is a really enjoyable, light whisky. The ex-bourbon barrels are certainly doing their part to infuse the vanillin into the whisky components, and that particularly accentuates the Girvan grain whisky. It is then all down to the blender’s skill and mastery to ensure that this vanilla-bomb does not compromise any of the single malt’s complexities, and they have achieved that goal. What a job that must be! Given how enjoyable this is, it did get us talking about maybe trying our own blending at home with our own single malts and single grain whiskies – but would that then be sacrilege to mess with the original whiskies themselves? Well, I guess you’ve got to start somewhere… but maybe we should first investigate finding a blending class before splashing around some Lagavulin 16 in the name of experimentation!

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Tasting Notes: Compass Box – Spice Tree Extravaganza

Compass Box Range – Spice Tree Extravaganza

Released for a limited time only, this special edition bottling celebrates 10 years since Compass Box’s flagship blended malt Spice Tree was originally discontinued due to its controversial barrels and maturation. This new whisky features the same original blend of malts from the standard Spice Tree release (60% Clynelish, 20% Dailuaine, 20% Teaninich) but they have been matured for a little longer in a combination of medium toasted casks, refill hybrid casks, and heavily toasted hybrid casks. The blend is then supplemented by a series of sherry-cask matured malt whisky stocks from the Glen Ord, Ben Rinnes and Allt-a-Bhainne distilleries, designed to give their signature dram that little something else to create the “extravaganza” for our eagerly-awaiting glasses. As ever, the details of the constituent whiskies that comprise the blend and their proportions are available on their website (here) and the whole concoction is bottled at 46% ABV.

 

Nose: After the initial blast of booze, we’re back to a familiar toffee sweetness and a dark, strong coffee type of bitterness, warmth and spice.

Taste: The palate is first met by a series of coffee, cinnamon and clove spices but they are quickly smoothed out with a soft, creamy texture and orangey/fruit element. This is a Christmas cake in whisky form.

Finish: Lingering, dominant spices only really show their head on the finish after the whisky has left the mouth to quickly coat and then dry the throat. Stem ginger and clove warmth hang around for quite some time.

Verdict: So what’s the extravaganza here? Well it seems to be the flavour journey that you are taken on. There are lots of elements fighting for your attention. The final flavour profiles are like a homemade Christmas pudding, with a hefty hit of spice and a generous helping of booze. Each of the flavours from your ingredients seem to reveal themselves in sequence and then vie for your attention after they’ve all had their turn. The spices are not as prevalent as they are in the standard Spice Tree, but the sherry influence adds something to the overall taste that makes a second glass seem more alluring than a pure spice attack would. We’re not sure that this bottling necessarily warrants being twice the price of the standard Spice Tree release but the extra elements and maturations must surely cost the team to craft this potion and the biggest CB fans will inevitably cash in on this celebratory bottling – whether for enjoyment, investment or both.

J&M

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