Compass Box

Review: Compass Box "The Story of the Spaniard" Blended Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Compass Box Story of the Spaniard 1.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
80% in Spanish Wine Casks
Recipe
100% Malt Whisky (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

This whisky is focused on aging in Spanish sherry casks - in the case of my batch, 14% highland malt blend in a custom French oak cask with a heavy toast, 22% teaninich from a first-fill wine cask, 10% glendullan from a first fill sherry butt, 20% teaninich from a first-fill sherry butt, 29% Deanston from a refill sherry butt, and 5% glen elgin from recharred bourbon barrels. And, 11-18 years old, but that will vary by batch.

I’m always excited to crack into these compass box whiskies.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: TS 2018-B

  • Bottling Date: 2018

It’s loaded with fruit – fresh peaches, plums, and apricots – but also their dried counterparts. The creaminess in the middle is just brilliant. Also, toffee, spicy oak, fresh apple, dried apple, baked apple (all the variants, it would seem…), marmalade, pear, bright malt,  baking spice, vanilla, and toffee. The sherry notes just grow with time. The palate is round, with lots of wine notes, hard toffee candies, baking spice, almond skins, and vanilla. The finish is just full of all sorts of sherry and wine notes, but also with a nice underpinning of tannins. The mouthfeel is wonderful, thickly textured but also dry and spicy.


I expected there to be a bit more “funky” sherry in this, but I suppose there might be less interest in having that in an accessible, core brand. But, no matter – this is excellent!


Highly Recommended (50% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).
Value: Average, but the upper end of it at $75. Particularly for Scotch…


Review: Great King Street Glasgow Blend Blended Scotch Whisky (Compass Box) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
43%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Malt and Grain Whiskies (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

I, like most whisky connoisseurs, love Compass Box - a company focused on premium blended Scotch whisky - both blended malt whiskies (i.e. a mix of single malts) and blended whiskies (a mix of single grain and malt whiskies). They always release terrific information as to the makeup of their blends, and the quality is high across the board. Their products, to boot, are all bottled without colouring or chill-filtration (providing better mouthfeel).

Great King Street is Compass Box’s brand for their blended scotch, and this Glasgow blend only recently came into their core line alongside the terrific Artist's Blend. The whisky’s inspiration comes from the big-bodied style of many of the 19th century blending houses, blended particularly with smoke and sherry notes. The blend is bottled at 43%, without colour or chill-filtration.

A typical vatting to compose this blend: 34% grain whisky from a Cameron Bridge in a first fill American oak barrel, 35% Benrinnes from a sherry butt, 17% Laphroaig from a rejuvenated hogshead, 8% Clynelish from a first fill American oak barrel, 2 % miltonduff from a first fill American oak barrel, and 4% of a blend of clynelish, teaninich, and dailuaine in a custom toasted oak hybrid barrel (i.e. American oak base and French oak barrel heads).


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L18 02 15 3 09:43 B9

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

Nose: Chocolate, peat, rubber, vanilla, cacao, lemon peel, and a bit spicy too – quite complex, and very nicely integrated.

Taste: A bit ashy-smoky, with candied lemon and orange peel, and a good dosage of almonds and raisins underpinning the background. There’s also a bit of spice along with buttery vanilla on the end….it’s like fruitcake by a fireplace.

Finish: Full and well rounded, with vanilla, smoke, malt, oat cakes, and earth. It dies out fairly quickly though, but the tannins are still lightly felt. The peat lingers for a bit.

Fairly complex, and very well integrated – it could only gain from a little depth and a bit more complexity. You can tell, though, because of the integration – this is some good blending going on. At a recent tasting this was a favorite even put up against some other great whiskies which I’ve rated over 90.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High. A good catch.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

A classic! Rich, sherried aromas – baking spice, smoke, nuts, apples, raisins – the palate leads in with sharp smoke, offset lightly by smoke and a terrific richness in terms of mouthfeel. The above review stands for this bottle – but this time around I’m more impressed with the focus of the peat smoke – it comes in a rich flash, then fades to everything else – the sweet grain, the fruity, nutty sherry, and more dried fruit. It is integrated masterfully.

A terrific blended Scotch whisky.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High, if you can find it.


Review: The Peat Monster Blended Malt Scotch Whisky (Compass Box) by Jason Hambrey

Peat Monster 1.jpg
ABV
46%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malt Whisky (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

A marriage of Islay single malts and heavily peated highland malts, matured in first fill and refill American oak casks. A vatted malt. 40% laphroaig refill hogshead, 20% ledaig refill hogshead, 13% caol ila refill hogshead, 26% Ardmore refill hogshead, 1% blend of clynelish, dailuaine, and teanich in a French oak hybrid barrel - a ”burgundy” toast. As typical with Compass Box, natural colour and non-chill filtered. More here.

On a side note, I wasn't that impressed with this one until I had sampled a variety of different peated whiskies and understood the variety and integration here present. It's impressive.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2012

Nose: Both medicinal, slightly funky Islay peat as well as the woody peat of the highlands - it is well balanced. It makes for a nice effect - rich, bonfire like woodsmoke with some seaweed thrown in....I do quite like what has been done with the peat on this one. It's more smoky than earthy, though there is still some boggy earthiness. Yet, it's still impressively light, with a lemon-like citrusy character which lifts the whole nose up. Some of the peat is a bit sooty too - I am spending so much time just slowly unpeeling the peat on the nose. Impressive.

Taste: It's largely smoke, with a nice level of underlying sweetness, a slight creaminess,  caramel note, and a slight spicy tinge. I think, perhaps, that it does lack some body that I hope for. It does have a fruity character to it underneath, along with some maltiness. It starts with smoke, and then ends with smoke as well, with a good level of underlying sweetness and some vanilla. There's an interesting note of milk chocolate as well in the midst of all the smoke, and at times the cacao comes forth a bit more and brings in some bite more akin to dark chocolate. In my previous tasting of this with a friend some time ago, I found that this whisky had lots of smoke without the body I desired - but I am not finding it so on this round- It has some decent support for the peat.  It could use a bit more - but this is well done.

Finish: It's not bad on this one! Certainly long, and reasonably deep. Some pepper comes out with the smoke, alongside vanilla and honey, some apple notes and some malt. The oiliness of the whisky is shown here, and there are some notes of mustard as well. It has reasonable body and sweetness, both of which are good in finishes.

It could use a touch more body, I think, around the peat - but I am thoroughly enjoying this. The way that the peat has been blended together, and the way that the complexity is showcased in the peat - it is brilliant. Compass Box certainly produces some exceptional whiskies - and this is one of them.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High. A great, broad, and complex peated whisky for a good price.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L 20 06 18 23:44 88

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The bottle says “peaty, smoky, complex” on it – in three words, yes! My favourite thing about this bottle is the immense peat – and the regionality – that you get. Medicinal, woody, tarry, sooty – when I realized that was the point of this whisky, I fell in love with it! Some other interesting notes, too – powdered milk! The smoke is still offset with stone fruits, vanilla, light oak, and spice. The palate is easy – full of rich, layered smoke and finishing with wet, rich earth. There’s an oiliness that’s really awesome about this too – the finish is smoke, vegetal characteristic, burning leaves, and light spice. Oh, and wet earth. Awesome!

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High. A great, broad, and complex peated whisky for a good price.


Review: Spice Tree Blended Malt Scotch Whisky (Compass Box) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malt Whisky (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

The first release of The Spice Tree in 2005 utilized French oak staves in American oak barrels to marry characteristics of both types of oak in a single maturation, which the Scotch Whisky Association took legal issue with and forced the discontinuation of the product. Three years after, Compass Box re-released the whisky, this time using toasted French oak barrel heads – however, the aging regimen is quite complicated with three different toasting levels used on the barrel heads for different components before they are all blended together. Primary maturation takes place in first-fill American oak, the secondary maturation takes place in the special custom barrels with the toasted French oak barrel heads. A typical vatting of the malts: 60% Clynelish, 20% Dailuaine, and 20% Teaninich. It is interesting to note that this is the exact same base, in the same barrels, as for Oak Cross, which tastes completely different. The secondary maturation certainly changes both of these whiskies.

Initially all the malts are aged in first fill American oak before being blended in different oak casks for a secondary maturation: 25% in a “vanilla toast” hybrid barrel, 22% in a high infrared toast hybrid barrel, 32% in a hybrid “mocha toast” barrel, and 21% in a first fill American oak barrel. The result is phenomenal.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L 20 03 12 3 10:57 88

  • Bottling Date: 2012

Complex, interesting, and oaky - with all sorts of things going on. Fascinatingly oily. Fruit – apple, pears, prunes, raisins; caramel, chillis, green cardamom (a bit more reminiscent of the presentation of cardamom in a dessert vs. a curry, if you understand the distinction - i.e. the floral and lighter side of cardamom comes out), dried ginger, malt- both cereal and lightly earthy barley. The oak tells a beautiful story – it is just big enough but doesn’t overpower and is very well integrated. On the palate, particularly, it is so well integrated with the dried fruit. Subtle, and immensely drinkable. Very pleasing finish as well with the raisins, malt, spice, and oak all present in good quantity and balance. Terrific!

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very high. An incredible whisky for the price.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L27 07 18 3 08:42 BB

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Tasting notes above apply, but I did want to revisit and write a few more observations about this dram. It’s a terrifically oaky whisky, but not over-oaked, nor oaked in the way that bourbons are – rather it is a heavy, yet elegant oakiness added to what is distinctly malt whisky. It brings in terrific oaky spice, creaminess, and vanilla to a maltiness which is still present with grain character, earth, and orchard fruit. I do love this stuff.

Interestingly, it’s a bit more in the thread of the new wave of American single malts coming out, in terms of the integration of oak. I’d say it sits between Scottish single malts and some of the more oak-focused American single malts (at least, the best of them). That’s what struck my attention this time around. This whisky is terrific – oaky, malty, complex, balanced, and delicious.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value:  Very High. For $80, it’s very hard to do better than this, particularly in Scotch but also in whisky in general!


Review: Spice Tree Extravaganza Blended Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

CB+Spice+Tree+Extravaganza+1.jpg
ABV
46%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malt Whisky (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

This whisky was a special release of 12,214 bottles to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Spice Tree, a whisky which was originally outlawed by the Scotch Whisky Association after its first release. This is a blend similar to the baseline Spice Tree, but it is much older. Based on the colour, it is certainly darker than the standard spice tree -there’s also more sherry in it. But, indeed, there’s some old whisky in here - compass box invites emails through their website if you want exact details.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L 38 01 16 3 10:08 88

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose is extremely rich and inviting – apples, raisins, gooseberries, rich oak, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, almonds, blueberries, and mandarins. It gets spicier with time, with more and more peach and apricot.  The palate is just decadent – it is so full of dried fruit and oaky richness, with a flourish of dried fruit, spice, and tannin on the end. Remarkable! The finish develops, with lost of tannin and spice, which break down to citrus, nuts, cinnamon, and bean sprouts with time. And, eventually, rich cacao-laden chocolate cake.

I was surprised at how richly the palate jumped through. This really is jam-packed full of flavour – I imagine it would be too intense at cask strength to be properly enjoyed…

I quite like this, as I do the standard spice tree – this is a bit of a different whisky. But, with all things compass box, this is most excellent and a very complex and enjoyable whisky. I might like the standard spice tree more, not to say it is better.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. This is a really nice whisky, but not quite enough to be worth the price for me.