Compass Box

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.


Review: Compass Box No Name Blended Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

CB+No+Name+1.jpg
ABV
48.9%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malt Whisky (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

A limited release of 15,000 bottles - the peatiest blend ever released by Compass Box, centred around an Islay whisky from a Pier Road distillery (hmm…Ardbeg?). It is a bit pricy, but this had quite the buzz about it - Ardbeg from Compass Box!


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L 27 11 17 1 12:19 88

  • Bottling Date: 2017

What a nice, rich, nose! Lots of rich tarry notes, ash, smoke – but it’s very clean and well-put together.  Bacon, seashore, turf fires, smoke, clean dry oak, iodine, beeswax – quite nice stuff! It’s quite earthy – more earthy than I would associate with Ardbeg. The palate is full of rich smoke, but it’s tempered by a quite nice minerality, candle wax, and spice towards the finish, which is sweet, spicy, and smoky with some rich cacao notes too. Terrific stuff.

How does it compare to peat monster? Much deeper and more mature, with a much richer, clean cut taste profile. It really does outshine it in elegance, focus, and depth – but not in breadth.

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

Value: Average. This is a very nice whisky, enough to propel it into a decent value category if you like peat, despite the high price (~160$).


Review: Great King Street Artist's Blend MomofUku Blended Scotch Whisky (Compass Box) by Jason Hambrey

Great King Street Momofoku.jpg
ABV
49%
Aging
~7-12 yrs; American and French oak
Recipe
Grain & Malt Whiskies (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

This great king street has been selected by Momofuku, an LA based restaurant (with a chain in Toronto) based on a single marrying sherry casks which was used to marry the whisky after an initial blending. It was married for some time – about 2.5 years. This secondary maturation used to be commonplace, according to Compass Box. It is also bottled at 49%, higher than the standard…this is probably going to be good!


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Sherried Marrying Cask, Selected by Momofuku. Married 18 Feb 2016, Bottled 16 July 2018. Cask 3.

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Quite what you might expect – the white grape and clean grain character of Great King Street, but overlayed with dried fruit – orange, mango, raisin – and more baking spice and a touch of rancio. I actually really like it – the brightness of the original blend, in terms of its grain and its fruit – has been retained, yet more has been added on top. A bit of white wine, too.

The palate starts with bright grain, orange, and light earthiness – but then the raisins and clove kick in, finishing with a flourish of sherry and light tannin. The palate has great feel too – both feel, but also the movement of textures – from thick and fat to dry and tannic. The finish has green pear, a touch of earthy barley, and a bit more clove. Excellent! The 49% carries itself well, too.

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

Value: High. This is a great whisky, a bit more expensive than the ordinary Artist’s blend, but has added richness and umph which keeps the value high.


Review: Compass Box Flaming Heart Blended Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
48.9%
Aging
See Below
Recipe
100% Malt Whisky (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

“Every great achievement is the victory of a Flaming Heart.” – Emerson

Compass Box is my favorite whisky company, and I love the stuff they produce – this was one of my most anticipated bottles which I opened to celebrate my engagement earlier this year. A number of Flaming Hearts have been released – all limited editions starting in 2006.

The 15th anniversary bottling, alongside This is Not a Luxury Whisky, is what prompted Compass Box to start petitioning to the Scotch Whisky Association for better transparency. This was requested because the Scotch Whisky Association made Compass Box remove the ages on their components as the only age you are allowed to describe the whisky is the youngest age (in this case 7 years). However, that Flaming Heart release (reviewed below) is mostly not 7 years old:

  • 27.1% 30 year old Caol Ila from a refill American oak hogshead

  • 24.1% 20 year old Clynelish from a rejuvenated oak hogshead

  • 10.3% 7 year old blend of Clynelish, Teaninich, and Dailuane finished for at least 2 years in new French Oak Hybrid Barrels

  • 38.5% 14 year old Caol Ila from a refill American oak hogshead


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 15th Anniversary, 5th Release

  • Bottling Code: L14 09 15 3 21:19 BB

  • Bottling Date: July 2015

Bottled at cask strength, 12,060 bottles, non-chill filtered and natural color.

This is gorgeous. Lots of brilliant fruit – apples, grape, stewed peach, canned apricot, orange zest – surrounded by terrific marine minerals, honey, wood charcoal, vanilla, old mossy oak, and smoke. And let’s not forget the clove, cinnamon, and celery seed. The mix is so enticing – a cohesive blend of smoky, spicy, and creamy. Ralfy describes this as “soft and intense” – he hit the bullseye there. Opens up nicely too – it softens and broadens.

The palate starts with sharp smoke, before letting way to juicy, creamy, grain and fruit before shifting to darker oak and spice, with growing smoke. It dries as the smoke and spice rule the finish, but not overpowering the fruit, rich malt, or wood. The finish has a wonderful drying effect, spicy feel, and developing flavours – sometimes dried fruit, sometimes smoke, sometimes oak. The way that the mouthfeel holds with a creamy texture the different seemingly disparate textures and flavors is amazing. Exceedingly complex and interesting.

Let me take another go at this, because it is so intricate and so many elements are at play – the smoke sits on top, creamy oak sits underneath, and the fruit is embraced between the two. And then there are spices at so many levels – underneath, in the middle, above – and the earthy peat weaves in and out of all levels of the flavors. And this all leads to a full bodied finish which has various levels of flavours and textures as you drink it. Savour this one slowly – there is much to discover.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation). This is right up my alley – immensely intriguing, enjoyable, and engaging. One of the finest Scotch whiskies I have ever tasted.

Value: Average. It’s an absolutely fantastic whisky, but the price can be a bit steep (~250 CAD). If this is available cheaper, say around 150 CAD, as it was in Alberta, this becomes a high value whisky.


Review: This is Not a Luxury Whisky (Compass Box) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
53.1%
Aging
19-40 yrs
Recipe
Grain and Malt Whiskies (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

This whisky, released in 2015, is referring to the famous painting of a pipe, The Treachery of Images, causing the drinker to ponder the definition of a luxury whisky. The contents, certainly, are noteworthy: 79% 19 year old Glen Ord from ex-sherry butts, 10.1% Strathclyde 40 year old from refill bourbon barrels, 6.9% Girvan 40 year old single grain from refill American oak, 4% Caol Ila 30 years old. Bottled at the undiluted strength of 53.1% that such a blend produced, and without colour or chill-filtration. Here we go:


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Very rich – and very oaky. Peaches, daisies, light earthiness, vanilla, marzipan, leather, dried apricot, potpourri, marzipan, malt, mixed nuts, chamomile, cedar - it all slowly unfolds. The palate is loaded – lots of peaches, smoke, oak, pear, white raisins, mango puree - incredibly complex – a wave of vanilla, oak, spices, and light salt and smoke on the finish. The peach fills out the middle really nicely, with some leather and tobacco in the background, and the finish is complex but light. As it sits, the leather-y and old notes come out more and the balance seems to improve. Brilliant stuff, and the grain does some great work here too.

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

Value: Low. Not a cheap whisky, and, at this price, it would have to be near perfect to be worthwhile in my books.


Review: Hedonism Blended Grain Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
43%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Grain Whisky (i.e. non-barley; see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

This is a blended grain whisky – matured in 100% first fill bourbon casks from grain distilleries – Cameron Bridge, Cambus, Port Dundas, or Dumbarton. Each batch varries in vatting depending on availability and flavour. A typical vatting: 66% grain from Cameron Bridge aged in a first fill American oak barrel, 32% grain whisky from Port Dundas aged in a first fill American oak barrel, and 2% grain whisky from Port Dundas aged in a rejuvenated oak barrel. Blended grain whiskies are very rare - there are only a handful around - so it is a worthwhile experience particularly if you are not familiar with blended grain whiskies.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: MMX IV-A

  • Bottling Code: 06/02/2014 L3 17:CB

  • Bottling Date: 2014

A bit dark, but definitely a grain whisky...rich corn, toasted coconut, vanilla, caramel, fresh oak (though, of course, not in the magnitude of a bourbon), with supporting elegance and age as well. Quite complex and deep, and very lightly oily as well. Definitely tastes like first fill bourbon casks…which, indeed, it is. Wonderfully thick in the mouth, following the path of the nose with perhaps a touch less depth being realized, staying true to vanilla and coconut and light corn influences. At the end, a touch of maple too. A bit dusty too!

For Canadian readers - this is similar, in a broad sense, to many aged Canadian corn whiskies produced by Highwood, but lacks some of the floral element that often is present in those whiskies.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. A nice whisky, but it comes at a price.


Review: Oak Cross Blended Malt Scotch Whisky (Compass Box) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
43%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malted Barley (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

Here is another compass box whisky which is made according to the following scheme, roughly. The whisky is made from 60% Clynelish in a first fill American oak barrel, 20% Dailuaine in a first fill American oak barrel, and 20% Teaninich in a first fill American oak barrel. The whisky is then vatted together, with 40% going into a high vanilla toast hybrid barrel (barrel heads made from new toasted French oak, and bodies of the casks being made from American oak - hence "Oak Cross") and 60% into a first fill American oak barrel.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L 20 02 13 3 21:07 88

  • Bottling Date: 2013

A bit more restrained with quite the interesting character. Light and creamy, with vanilla, cantaloupe, unripe pear, cinnamon and clove playing their part in the story. Beautifully thick and syrupy on the mouth, with lots of complexity and the most delicate malt character to it which leads to quite a bit of beauty. Maple, cinnamon, caramel, and different degrees of malt – the cereal character of very grainy porridge and the light earthiness of grain.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average.