Compass Box celebrated its 15th anniversary this past Friday, and what better way to congratulate John Glaser and the team than to review their newest offering?
Compass Box is that innovative blending whisky company that decidedly didn’t go down the route to become an independent bottler, which given John Glaser’s fruitful relationship with Diageo would have been the easy route for him to make his own way in the whisky world. Instead, John created whisky from day one. From the very first expression offered by the company, the Eleuthera – a vatted malt comprised of 15 year old Clynelish aged in re-charred hogsheads and 12 year old Caol Ila – the Compass Box company has been expanding the scope blending. In his push to innovate, Glaser used Sassile oak staves for a secondary maturation (in the famous Spice Tree), and ran afoul of the SWA which ruled this practice – commonplace in the wine industry – to be illegal. So production of the “illegal” whisky was stopped, and the ever creative Glaser found a new way to achieve this effect by building casks where the ends are made of the special oak! Clever indeed….
The company continued with other releases, some of which were reviewed here (The General, for example, still reigns paramount on my list of blends, and Oak Cross which makes me smile), always doing something innovative with the casks they have to work with. Furthermore, the level of information disclosed by the company about its blends is very high, and barring good reasons they might have for not naming the source of the whisky, you can expect full disclosure, down to the specific formula.
Case in point, today’s This is Not a Luxury Whisky. With it, came a brochure detailing the exact formula, in such fashion (the accompanying brochure had the ages, although those were not listed on the website, where I captured this picture from, so you can find them below):
The name given the whisky follows Rene Magritte’s famous painting La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe):
In this image, Magritte attempted to question the viewer’s perception of reality, suggesting they try to stuff the “pipe” with tobacco. In the same way, Glaser asks his drinkers to consider what part of whisky imparts luxury upon the drink. If you stop to think about it for a minute, that’s a question worth pondering, and will surely be the subject of some debate, given the current state of the whisky market.
Personally, I think the philosophical question would be better served had the bottle carried a price tag of £50, as opposed to the £149 it actually costs, but the question is, nevertheless, a good one. The whisky is 83% single malts from Glen Ord (18 year old first fill sherry butt) and Caol Ila (30 year old refill hogshead) and 17% grain from 40 year old Strathclyde and Girvan (also 40 years old). So how is the whisky?
Compass Box ‘This is Not a Luxury Whisky’, Limited Edition of 4992 Bottles (53.1% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Amber, thin legs with a long lasting necklace around the glass.
Nose: Smoke and a somewhat musty note is followed by a spicy sweetness with notes of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg which is joined by the sweet sherry notes. With some time, the sherry becomes more pronounced as does the spice. The mustiness disappears leaving behind a slight note of plastic, and a note of dark chocolate appears.
Palate: Bitter almonds, honey, sweet sherry, smoke, oak, pepper and nutmeg, with just a hint of that mustiness. The sherry sweetness plays nicely with smoke (albeit only 4% of the blend!), to create a rather complex dram.
Linger: This is the expression’s strongest suit. The linger is long, smoky and rich with a warming effect all the way into your guts. There’s bitterness and some sweetness following suit. The palate is dry with a sweet smokiness that remains all over the mouth.
You need patience with this one, but there’s no doubt that John Glaser knows what he’s doing with these whiskies. It’s complex, it develops and it’s interesting. That musty note, not unlike what you get from the better Irish whiskies, is one that I personally struggle a bit with, but there’s no doubt as to the care and craft put into this expression.
So is this, indeed, a luxury whisky? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments.
Official Sample by Compass Box Whisky Co.