Compass Box is a blending house, so their obvious goal is to blend “accessible” whiskies. If you’re more of a fan of cask strength single malts or bolder American styles, these probably won’t be that enticing. Having said that, if Johnnie Walker is your benchmark for good blended whisky, then these are going to blow your mind. Personally, I’m cheering for them. I hope they’ll be able to wrestle the idea of blended Scotch away from the terror that lurks on those shelves today. It’s nice to see a few affordable blends that don’t suck.
Compass Box has a long history of smartly packaging their products, and this box set is no exception. The wooden box opens up to five vials of different Compass Box releases; Hedonism, Asyla, Oak Cross, Spice Tree, and Peat Monster. I really dig sample packs like this; all the fun of compulsively emptying vials like an alchemist of some sort, coupled with a chance to get a more fleshed out picture of the company’s vision before making a judgement about their talents.
So without further ado, let’s see how the whiskies stack up.
Nose: Light and sugary. Over-seasoned “greywood”. Dry almond, like a thumbprint cookie. Warm butterscotch. It has a bright bite to it, very much like a Canadian whisky. Freshly constructed barn rafters. A little water helps the perfume rise.
Palate: Mild with wisps of Sugar Crisp cereal. Buttery, cherry danish with sliced almonds. Dirty penny with slightly peppery notes that drag out the finish. Water dilutes the bitter metallic part a little bit and lets the caramel/vanilla notes’ show.
In a blind tasting, I would swear this was Canadian. I really don’t like very much Canadian style whisky, and this certainly isn’t my cup of tea, but if it were competing against all of the Canadian stuff I’ve tried, I’d say this is a great example.
Still, Canadian whisky is CHEAP! There’s no reason to buy this when there are so many more affordable whiskies coming out of Canada. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great Canadian-style whisky if that’s what you’re looking for, but with a cost approaching $90, it’s definitely over-priced. At half the price, try looking for Forty Creek, instead.
A blended Scotch, which means it’s comprised of both grain and malt whiskies. As would be expected, the profile is somewhere between the Hedonism and the Oak Cross.
Nose: Almost like a light Clynelish. Malty pear with a drop of farm and flowers. Still very light and approachable. If you can smell past the sweetness there are some delicious green pepper notes hiding in the drink.
Palate: Sweet and easy drinking. Malty pear flavors usually predict peppery notes and are hot, but here the pepper is extremely watery. Rich, Canadian-whisky type butterscotch as it trails off.
Like the Hedonism, this whisky comes with a luxury price tag. Clynelish and Old Pulteney both provide the same profile at the same price point but with a depth of flavor not found in this. Now, unseasoned whisky drinkers may find the mildness desirable, so choose between these with that in mind. This is an extremely accessible whisky and would be a good middle step for converting non-whisky people to the drink.
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Oak Cross (43%)
Nose: Bolder and spicier. Dried trail mix carrots. The profile is definitely getting meatier. Grassy notes start to appear, alongside hints of ginger powder and green apple peels. It’s still a little watery to me.
Palate: A little Cognac, a little honey, a little potting soil. Slightly drying. Peppery with a nice medium finish that leaves a rich tingle on the tongue.
In conversation, very few people would speak ill of Compass Box, and that this is a blended malt whisky is great, for its category, but the whole point of any blend is to make it more affordable. The trade off is cost to taste while attempting to balance the two. While these seem to be good for blending expositions, so far, they’re anything but affordable.
Spice Tree (46%)
Nose: Tiny rubbery note, with a nice, rich, butter-drenched fruitiness layered over it. Raisins and dried pineapple. Nutmeg and ginger powder. Dried orange peel. Caramelized malted barley baked into a brittle.
Palate: The pepper in this one amplifies as time passes and is the most aggressive yet. Numbing clove and Sichuan pepper on the tongue. Almost phenolic. Sweet and sherried with nutmeg and dried fig. Lime and polished leather.
Moving in a linear line, the Spice Tree has the most spice and sherry. The sweetness tones down a bit, though that’s not a bad thing. This one best frames some of the similarities between French Sessile oak (what we usually think of as wine casks) and Spanish Pendunculate oak (what we typically think of as sherry casks). Now we’re talking! This one is delicious and at around $60 right in the sweet spot of the flavor/price balancing act.
Peat Monster (46%)
I didn’t have high hopes for this one, seeing as the status quo for Compass Box is to blend “accessibly,” whatever that means. Most of the blends in this box have been less than inspiring for the price, kind of defeating the purpose of a blend, to me.
Nose: Surf and Turf! Bacon wrapped scallops served over seared chicken skin. Iodine-rich seawater. Slightly stony. Fresh sea breeze and crushed barnacles. Dried sage and sambal chili paste. Not super complex, but delicious smelling all the same. Smells a bit like there’s some Laphroaig mixed in there…
Palate: It’s surprisingly gentle on the palate. The peat creeps in and blossoms into bright iodine with a lime tang. Umami and mushrooms with salt that revs up in the finish into spicy fire. Easy going bandage phenols and a tiny bit of copper. The finish is delightful as the fumes expand through your mid-section and rise back up to your head, inescapably reminding you that you definitely drank a good dose of peat.
It’s not exactly what it says it is; not quite a monster… maybe a very desirable beast of peaty burden to carry you through your cravings. This provides a terrific example of how a whisky can be “accessible” and still please the whisky anoraks. For just under $50, the price is right, too!
The proof on these is on the low side, so if you’re looking for a face-melter, these won’t do. I think these are best suited to coax gentle drinkers in to the fold with easy to explore Scotches they can nose and drink comfortably.