On the evening of Thursday the 16th July at Oddbins, Crow Road, several club members joined customers and whisky-keen punters for an introduction and explanation of Compass Box's range of whiskies. Greg Glass, active alchemist with the 'boutique' company (as Compass Box like to refer to themselves) was both eloquent and articulate in giving a most informative tasting experience along with details of Compass Box’s ideals and ambitions. We enjoyed seven excellent whiskies free of charge … I’ll just repeat that… free of charge!!! as the experience was principally designed for education rather than just mere enjoyment - although we all 20 of us appeared to enjoy it a lot.
So pausing only to grab our compasses and ensuring allowances for magnetic to true north, (to ensure accurate readings), Greg steered us due south with ASYLA the standard blend, and by 'standard' I mean significantly-higher-than-normal-blends’ 'standard'. ASYLA is a tutti-frutti fusion of Cameron Bridge grain along with Cragganmore and Glen Elgin malts resulting in a top class blended whisky, which kicks its caramelised and filtered cousins into second best/all-the-rest.
Second on the menu after negotiating a compass bearing of east by south-east, we arrived at OAK CROSS, a vat o' malts rendered all the more interesting by the addition of fine 'Sessille' oak barrel ends which added wood/spice complexity to an existing subtle malt gathering. Altogether quiet, complex and a quality-engagement.
Heading north-by-north-west, we approached our third offering with some trepidation as it existed by the name of PEAT MONSTER, but we really needn't have worried, our Peaty Monster was a powerful but gently complex beast of Caol Ila and Ardmore, which became quickly evident as a natural and energetic combination with the Ardmore subduing the stormy Caol Ila and the Caol Ila embracing the savory Ardmore.
Fourth, heading west, was HEDONISM the first ever-vatted grain whisky on the market. Who said Grain was inferior to malt/ … it’s not …it's just different, and this Cambus and Cameron Bridge double-dunt was superb, and an education to everyone present. A prolonged soft brulee dry confection with hints of wood-spice and smoke.
Now we were heading due north again towards unchartered territory in the form of FLAMING HEART, a truly brave and courageous blend of Islay and Speyside malts. This whisky is a damn good attempt to create what 'peated-Speyside' malt distillers are desperate to achieve – the best of Speyside sweetness and rounded fruitiness, balanced with the briny intense peat personality of Islay. With this vatted-malt the growing experience and sound judgment of Compass Box is evident.
With an about turn on our compass bearings we then ventured south into the Maderia-infused maltiness of MAGIC CASK, a bottling for Canadian customers (by their own request) which hit the mark with us all due to the ongoing quality of the individual malts of Linkwood and Clynelish that were present.
Finally our trembling compasses took us westerly towards stormy waters where turbulence was in evidence with the existence of our final sample of SPICE TREE. Why the turbulence? Well, ask the Scotch Whisky Association, who forbade Compass Box the further use of 'inner-staves' (i.e. secondary/inner barrel staves designed to impart wood flavours to maturing spirit). There was only one (inner-staved) release of spicy, wood-suffused, gentle, fruity SPICE TREE and bottles are now a sought-after collectors item. We were lucky to get to try it, and everyone enjoyed the whisky enormously. No one present had any problems with the integrity of inner-stave use - we were all just grateful to explore a whisky tasting event free of caramel (E150), and in a non-chill-filtered format with a combination of whiskies above the usual delivery of 10 to 12 years old. The overall quality of the whisky was self evident, even to the non-whisky drinkers who had just come along to 'try something else'.
We look forward to Compass Box's CANTO project. It will be very interesting indeed.
Thank you Compass Box for helping us get our bearings.