Saturday, 8 February 2014

Compassbox Horizontal

I’ve long been a fan of Compassbox whiskies.  My admiration for whisky blenders grows daily and an organisation that only blends, and does it so interestingly, is high up my list of cool places to work.

To explain the nature of blended whiskies; your average age-statemented whisky is a mix of whiskies from many, many casks.  The 10 year old Laphroaig is a vatting (in a big stainless steel vat) of hundreds of casks of 10 year old (or older) Laphroaigs, where the master distiller is aiming for a specific smell and flavour.  His specific goal is to make this batch smell and taste exactly like the last. The reason for blending whiskies (even those of a consistent age destined to be a single malt) are consistency, volume and reliability.

Compassbox use blending to make interesting whiskies. They’re not scared to cross the beams; Oak Cross is matured in normal bourbon casks with new French oak cask lids to create a different profile.  They’re not scared to step outside the lines; The General is a blend of blends, each of which spent over 35 years in oak marrying, before being combined.  What’s obvious is the skill of the blender here.  Every time I’ve tried to mix whiskies, the output has been less than the sum of its parts.  This is not an activity for amateurs.  Good blended whiskies are smooth, very balanced, usually polite and the best ones are very well made.

Here’s some.

Compassbox Delilah, 40% A+

Thanks to Stu for this sample.


Nose – A lovely light, waxy, floral nose.  A drying touch of waxed orange, waxed air freshener perfume, and a little crayon.  A musky backing.  Rather good.

Body – Smooth cereal, fresh and a little spicy, some fresh hardwood.  A chewy, sweet note across the delivery.

Finish – Medium, some honeyed malt shows through, good balance.  A very sweet, fresh and balanced blend.  Washes down to bitterness, somewhat, but this is more structured than bitter.

What's not good about it: Finish is a little short.

What’s good about it:  Great balance and well presented throughout, lovely wax on the nose.  Great sweetness and body – a real winner.

Compassbox Hedonism, 43% A⊕


This heel has been with me a while, the bottling is 2010.  This is a blended grain whisky (a vatting of single grains).  It’s finished now!

Nose – Fresh, sweet, perfumed.  Some red cherries (sweet and juicy), a little raisin and some ozone.  Interesting and quite elegant, all things considered.

Body – Rich, smooth, white sugar, some acetone and chewy raisin.  Very rounded with some chilli spice, a little pear and blonde wood.  Delicious.

What's not good about it: The overall feel is a little sour or young on balance?  Doesn’t present like lots of “rare old”, but lots of good wood and grain going on.

What’s good about it:    Very smooth, balanced and luxurious.  Big fan of this.

Compassbox The Spice Tree, 46% A+


This used to be matured with oak staves in it, but that was outlawed by the SWA.  Whatever.  Nowadays the same effect is created using the end plates of the cask.

Thanks to Scott Munro for this sample!

Nose – Ripe wax, juicy orange, orange wax, some cedar wood, some bright wood.  A little cracked black pepper, lovely.  Some deeper, more tropical notes with further investigation - very smooth, very lovely cereals.

Body – Spicy grain and malt flavours, fruity and waxed.  Very smooth.

Finish – Medium, long, backing of peppercorns again, smooth and lightly spiced.  Delicious and highly drinkable.

What's not good about it:  Unchallenging?

What’s good about it:  Lovely waxed fruit, counterpointed by the black pepper spice throughout the delivery.  Very smooth and balanced – a beautiful drinking whisky.

Compassbox The General, 53.4 A⊕+


Thanks to Compassbox for this sample.

Two blends were made, then put to one side for about 40 years.  These were blended, this is the result.  I’m officially impressed.

Nose – Cake.  Rich old wood, waxed Victorian floorboards, ripe apple skin, some banana, some fig.  Loads of caramel. Dignified old sweetness.  A darkly sweet nose, with lots of complexity and confidence, elegance and authority.  To be brutally honest, this is  getting into Buffalo Trace Antique Collection territory with the nose – must be the big interaction with wood and the grain sweetness.

Body – Spicy, smooth and rich malt, deep wood beauty, some black pepper.  Great, wooded presentation with some chocolate, rich and balanced sweetness and that spicy wood structure.  Lovely.

Finish – Some fizzing citrus Sichuan.  Long, lovely wood integration, no bitternesss – a fine old gentleman.  Lingering fizzing lemon.

What's not good about it:  Nothing apart from the price.

What’s good about it:  Complex, authoritative nose, great wood presentation.  Some chocolate, rich and balanced sweetness and spicy wood structure. Yes.

Compassbox Hedonism Maximus, 46% A⊕+

87691NV01Hedonism Maximus is composed of a 42 yo Invergordon (70%), with the remainder being a 29 yo Carsebridge, both of which were matured in first-fill ex-bourbon American oak.

A premium, blended grain whisky.  What a wonderful world.

Nose – Ripe, rich, waxed grain.  Caramelised bananas and pineapple.  Golden, candied malt.  Bright sweet notes with old French polished furniture and dentist’s mouthwash.  It’s an old, bright, beautiful, golden nose with juicy blackcurrants and a touch of cracked pepper.  Massive.

Body – Sweet sandalwood, more banana, a contiuation of the nose with more honeyed grain and bright banana chews.  Ripe, bright and juicy.

Finish – Medium, balanced given the bright grain, but a little overly opulent.  Ultimately it’s hard to be elegant when you’re this filthy.

What's not good about it:  Finish short, given the promised lacquered wood on the nose.

What’s good about it:  Bright, opulent nose.  Ripe and fabulous with expensive old wood.  Smooth, juicy body and absolutely delicious. 

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