May 292016

Not very much is actually known about three of the four parts of the whisky that makes up The Circus. I thought that this was just a lack of information, but it seems that John Glaser decided to back off a bit from his frontal war with the SWA, as the accompanying sample, of the Enlightenment, also lacked age statements on the components, and it is actually stated in the accompanying brochure that he doesn’t wish to run afoul of the regulations. I can understand that, and can only restate my full support of the transparency campaign.

When the package arrived in the mail today, I knew this was going to be a treat. I have yet to forget the utter delight I had tasting The General, and these casks making up The Circus pretty much have the same story that The General had: Old blends left in their marrying casks for a long time, only here they were all in sherry butts whereas with The General they were from two parcels, one in sherry and one in ex bourbon casks. My sweet tooth awake, I turned to reading the brochure, and here’s what I discovered:

Photo Credit: Compass Box

Photo Credit: Compass Box

Essentially, what we have here is an old blended sherry bomb. Two of the parcels were pre blended Scotch (so malt and grain) and one parcel, making up 26% of the blend was blended grain. The three blends were in refill sherry butts, and some 15% came from a first fill sherry butt from Benrinnes, and if you want to get an idea of what an older Benrinnes can do in a good sherry butt, take a look here.

All in all, we’re probably looking at about 50% malt and 50% grain, and considering the long time they married, this really came out to be an absolute delight….

Photo Credit: Compass Box

Photo Credit: Compass Box

Compass Box The Circus, Blended Scotch Whisky, 2940 Bottles (49% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Bronze, quite viscous with a very long lasting necklace letting off very thin droplets slowly.

Nose: Deep sherry with orange peel, sultanas, prunes and some dry apricot leather and wood spices – nutmeg and a gentle pepper mix, with a hint of cooked clove. Also, hits of demerara sugar, some old leather and a hint of furniture wax. Something earthy, with cotton candy. But there’s also something fresh, somewhat creamy.

Palate: Sweet and spicy, with treacle, dried fruit – dried apricots and prunes,with sharp cinnamon and some citrus on the palate. You can tell there’s grain in there, but it’s so well integrated that the softness it imparts is in the background, yet is very present. A light citrusy bitterness.

Linger: Cinnamon sweetness and burn, like after chewing cinnamon gum. The spice gives way to some bitterness and dryness in the linger, which over time, dissipates and leaves sweetness behind, remaining for quite some time.


I expected nothing less than beautiful, and got just that. This is a true sherry bomb with a certain softness to it. While £190 is not cheap, this is the highest quality you could expect to get from a well aged blend, and is not out of line for the quality of liquid in the bottle.

Official sample received from The Compass Box. Thanks Jonathan!

Oct 252015

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):

This is Not a Luxury Whisky Formula Photo Credit: Compass Box

This is Not a Luxury Whisky Formula
Photo Credit: Compass Box

The name given the whisky follows Rene Magritte’s famous painting La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe):

La Trahison des images (Ceci n'est pas une pipe) Photo Credit:

La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe)
Photo Credit:

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?

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

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.