Posts Tagged With: Highlands

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 – The Spice Tree

Compass Box Range – The Spice Tree

Now this is the whisky that first put Compass Box on the map! Not just for its flavour profile but because it was a) the first time that Compass Box had printed the blend’s recipe on their bottles and b) used an unusual maturation method, both of which got them in trouble with the Scotch Whisky Association. Whilst the recipe does not feature on the bottles anymore, the recipe is still available on their website (some classic legal pedantry at play here). This whisky features the same blend of malts as their Oak Cross blend: 60% Clynelish, 20% Dailuaine and 20% Teaninich. The final liquid in your glass has been matured via a mixture of vanilla toasted hybrid barrels / infra red toasted hybrid barrels / mocha toasted hybrid barrels / and good old American Standard Barrels (“ASB”). The exact process and contents are available here, and it weighs in at a punchy 46% ABV.

Nose: There’s a strong boozy nose here at first with caramel and oak in play upfront and then there’s a real contest for the follow up flavours – presumably all of the spices!

Taste: A smooth, sweet start and then, only after it’s sat on the tongue for a moment BOOM! All of those spices are now in play. Think coffee, star anise, stem ginger and both white and black pepper, all coming in and trampling all over that initial toffee sweetness.

Finish: A really peppery, lingering finish there. You can taste the whisky long after it’s gone.

Verdict: Yep, it’s living up to its name. It’s so on point. Exactly how long it took the team to match up each of these maturations and variants to the barrels remains a mystery but one thing for sure is that this is a distinctive whisky, and very enjoyable. The history of the whisky having to be discontinued due to its original experimental nature is indicative of Compass Box’s innovative approach and a sign of great things to come. On the debrief afterwards, we had to be honest and agreed that you probably couldn’t have more than a single (but still generous) serving in one night, as it seems to be more of a dram for savouring than swift supping, but a damn enjoyable and intriguing dram it is.


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Tasting Notes: Compass Box – Asyla

Compass Box Range – Asyla

When reading any material about the current trend/boom of premium blended whisky, you will not have to look too far before discovering the influence of Compass Box. The London-based scotch whisky bottlers (yep – they are London-based, but they have an office in Edinburgh though, so that’s legit, right?) have very much been at the forefront of the current movement, amongst other initiatives within the whisky market (which we will look at in another post). The independent bottlers have developed five unique scotch whiskies that sit with their core signature range, of which this sits at the lightest end of the spectrum. The “Asyla” blended scotch offering takes its name from the plural of “asylum” and contains a 50:50 blend of malt whisky to grain whisky. To be precise, this release contains 50% Cameronbridge grain whisky (American Standard Barrels “ASB”), 5% Glen Elgin malt (Hogshead), 23% Teaninich malt (ASB) and 22% Linkwood malt (ASB) – all bottled together at 40% ABV. As per Compass Box’s Scotch Whisky Transparency initiative, the full details of the contents, maturation process and flavour profiles are all available on their website – click here to find out more.


Nose: Very vanilla rich. Light and delicate flavours at play here. A pinch of fruitiness makes its way through and the boozy burn is quite grain heavy – adding some depth and subtleties to all of that upfront vanilla/custard.

Taste: The vanilla flavour continues strongly here – again, with the grain and bourbon barrels presumably doing the hard work here. Lots of flavours in the background for a light dram – showing some of the fruits (apples and white grapes) under that custard coating.

Finish: Very light and leaves the throat with a slight coating. Vanilla/custard sweetness lingers and a little booze tingle makes it a very more-ish finish.

Verdict: Well, they describe this as their “everyday / before dinner / Sunday afternoon whisky” and we couldn’t agree more. If anything, we’d call it a breakfast whisky. Really light and delicate. Incredibly more-ish. Sweet, creamy (without the heavy body) and so inoffensive you’d barely notice you’d had one but for the smile on your face afterwards. (Big fans, if you couldn’t tell!)


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