Oct 282015

Compass Box’s fifth incarnation of the Flaming Heart is out, in conjunction with the 15th anniversary of the company. One of the really nice things about Compass Box is that quality is king. Expressions will be discontinued if the right whisky can’t be sourced, as is clearly evidenced by the company’s list of limited releases over the years, often citing sourcing challenges as the reasons for discontinuation of expressions (see here). Flaming Heart, however, is a blend of really old and some really young Highland and Islay malts, the idea of which is to marry younger malt finished in Compass Box’s signature French oak hybrid with a body of Islay (Caol Ila) and Highland (Clynelish) malts, to create a complex whisky. The formula of the fifth release is fully disclosed:

Compass Box Whisky

Compass Box Whisky


Caol Ila makes up 65.6% of the blend (27.1% from 30 year old refill hogsheads and 38.5% from 14 year old refill hogsheads), 24.1% Clynelish aged 20 years, and 10.3% of the highly active new French oak hybrid barrels which aged a blend of five year young Highland whisky from Clynelish, Dailuaine and Teanninch for another two years.

This whisky is far more traditional, and far peatier than ‘This is Not a Luxury Whisky’, released with it to commemorate the 15th anniversary.

Photo Credit: masterofmalt.com

Photo Credit: masterofmalt.com

Compass Box Flaming Heart, 15th Anniversary Edition, 12,060 bottles (48.9% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Amber, legs form rather quickly with thick droplets and a lot of residue on the glass.

Nose: The Caol Ila is definitely in control of this blend. Indeed, Islay is here with salty peat as the dominant aroma on the nose but the wood spice is right there with a hint of waxiness. There’s a sweetness (honey?), with some fruity notes. The peat is really interesting, salty but not overly maritime. A drop of water brings out honey and touches of vanilla with more wax.

Palate: Sour peatiness, the mouth feel is like a mint candy with sharpness and sweetness on the tongue. Pepper appears after a few seconds. A few drops of water strengthen the spice and bring out the waxiness on the palate.

Linger: Very smoky on the roof of the mouth, and peat with spice down the gullet. You’ll get hints of sweetness on the tongue. The smoke is very dominant in the finish, but there’s a bitterness under it. The finish is mouth drying, with the whole finish made spicier with a few drops of water.


If you like peat and if you like the Clynelish waxy notes, you’ll love this expression! Needless to say that it shouts quality, it wouldn’t be out there with the Compass Box label had it not been, but this is really a beautiful whisky. Well done, John!

Jun 162014
Spice Tree

Spice Tree

While reviewing the Oak Cross vatted malt expression by Compass Box, I talked about the toasted cask ends from Sessile Oak used by the Compass Box. Originally, John Glaser used internal staves to line the inner surface of the barrels. The SWA declared this technique to be illegal, and Spice Tree was pulled from the market, only to return after the pioneering use of cask ends to impart the effect of the special oak.

80% of the whisky is finished in the special Sessile oak barrel end casks that are heavily toasted and mature in them for a longer time than the whisky going into Oak Cross is aged. This brings out a much spicier influence who’s effect on the whisky is very apparent.

As in the Oak Cross, The malts used in this vatted malts come, to the best of my deduction, from Clynelish, Dailuaine and Teaninich distilleries, for only location of distilleries is disclosed, without names. These three malts blend together seamlessly to create a complex and interesting whisky, with a special and unique character coming from the Compass Box’s obsession with oak .

The quality of craftsmanship here is very clear in the final result of a very enjoyable whisky.

Compass Box Spice Tree (46% ABV, NCF, NC)

Color: Amber with thin and slow legs remaining on the glass for a long time.

Nose: Clove, cinnamon, cardamom, malt, honey and vanilla, carnations, sweet noodle pudding (Sweet lokshen kugel) and creme caramel. After sitting for a while in the glass heavy vanilla ice cream with caramel topping comes through.

Palate: Vanilla sweetness ans lots of spice, but not overly sweet. Very rounded in the mouth and full bodied.

Linger: Lots of crushed pepper, chili pepper, sweet spices, cinnamon. The linger is long and is like after eating a Sechuan dish in a Chinese restaurant.

As I said before, it would be nice to have someone importing this whisky into Israel.

My thanks to Chris at The Compass Box Whisky Co. for the official sample.

Jun 072014


Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be reviewing some vatted malts I’m tasting as part of the writing of a bigger post on vatted malts in general. Some of these, like the Compass Box expressions, are official samples sent to me by the bottlers, and some tasted from my collection as well as those of friends’.

The Oak Cross is called that because it uses a pioneering technique fitting toasted barrel ends made from Sessile or Cornish Oak (Quercus Petraea) on ex Bourbon filled barrels for about 40% of the whisky in this vatted malt. The Sessile oak (as opposed to regular French oak, Quercus robur) is finer grained and imparts very spicy aromas and flavors, giving the whisky fascinating layers of gentle spice over the notes typical to Bourbon barrel matured whisky (for more of the sessile oak effect, you can try the Spice Tree malt, reviewed on  OQD).

The malts used in this vatted malts come, to the best of my deduction, from Clynelish, Dailuaine and Teaninich distilleries. The reason I had to guess is that the only information given is village names of the malts’ origin. This whisky is everything a vatted malt should be, and perhaps  it’s time for an importer to make them available here in Israel.

Photo Credit: aries-wineny.com

Photo Credit: aries-wineny.com

Compass Box Oak Cross (43% ABV, NCF, NC)

Color: Straw, legs of medium speed.

Nose: Lemon, vanilla, cloves and allspice, powdered sugar and custard combining into a French cream schnitt placed over a platter of dried fruit. While these are the basic notes on the nose, this whisky develops beautifully in the glass. This is a whisky to fill you Glencairn higher than you usually would, and spend an hour with, letting it open up in the glass. Being 43% ABV, I didn’t add water, but am not sure that a drop added in a few times won’t have a magical effect on it.

Palate: Fresh lemon and spices, very chewy full body. The sweet spices come up the sides of the tongue. This is a tart whisky leaving your palate feeling fresh and clean.

Linger: The linger is medium bringing up allspice and clove mixed with the tartness left by a lemon meringue. You’ll feel the tartness on the insides of the cheeks long after the alcohol linger is gone.

This dram delivers to the palate exactly what the nose promises. I like that in most of my whiskys, although every once in a while enjoyable (and also less than enjoyable…) surprises come up. If there’s one thing I’d change, its prolonging the linger a bit longer, but this really is what vatted malts are all about, taking a few good whiskys and blending them to highlight the best of each.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Chris at The Compass Box Whisky Co. for the official sample.