A Different Direction – Compass Box

Compass Box Tasting – Friday 23rd May 2014      

A Bank Holiday Friday is not the best day to travel North from London along the M1, but this is what our friend Celine Tetu did. After an afternoon in slow traffic she shared with us seven exciting whiskies from The Compass Box Whisky Company.

The Line UpCompass Box was founded in 2000 by John Glaser. John was originally from the far west of Scotland called Minnesota, sorry that’s not Scotland apparently it’s a place called America? Anyway his early career was in the wine trade before he crossed the Atlantic and became a Master Blender with Johnnie Walker. Compass Box was set up with no pre-conceived ideas about Single Malt being better than blended Scotch whisky, or that grain whisky is inferior, John wanted to make whisky which is approachable for everyone, followed his own direction and blending the finest Grain and Single Malt Scotch whiskies.

The Compass Box range consists of malt and grain whisky blends, blended malts, and blended grain whiskies; all are very natural and have no artificial colouring.

The Whiskies:

Question and AnswerGreat King Street – Artists blend – 43%    Buy

Named after the address of the companies registered office in Edinburgh. This is similar to a tradition old fashioned blended whisky in that it is high malt content – 54%, but I think the similarity ends there. This is a light fresh very enjoyable blend, made from light lowland grain whisky and more robust Highland malts. To be exact the main Malt whisky, 28%, is from Clynelish a Northern Highland Distillery situated at Brora. John really loves Clynelish whisky it does seem to come up in a lot of his recipes. The other malts come from Teaninich (17%), another Northern Highland and Dailuaine (9%)  from Speyside. The Grain whisky (46%), is from Girvan Distillery on the Ayrshire coast.  The blend gets big robust fruity flavours from the Clynelish, Grassy and perfume from Teaninich, meaty body from Dailuaine and gentle finesse citrus fruit from the Girvan. This whisky is a great aperitif, good at parties and for Al Fresco dinning.


Great King Street – Experimental Batch (Sherry) – 43%

For our next two whiskies we had some work to do. Compass Box were unsure what sort of blend to release for the second Great King Street, either a sherry style or a smoky style. So they have produced a couple of experimental limited edition batches. The first of these, sexily called Batch 00-V4, has Grain whisky from Cameron Bridge distillery in Fife, with malts from Benrinnes, Speyside, Dailuane, Clynelish and Ledaig, the peaty version from Tobermory distillery on Mull. 70% malt content using about 40% sherry casks, so lightly sherried. This blend is sweet, fruity (dried fruit ) with blueberry and plums, nutty and spicy. The release was 3439 bottles.


Great King Street – Experimental Batch (Smoke) – 43%

Equally well named, this is Batch TR-06, rolls of the tongue well. Surprisingly this is a bit smoky, the Grain Whisky (35%) is from Girvan and Malts (65%) from the iconic Islay Distillery Laphroaig, as well as Benrinnes, Clynelish, Teaninich and Ledaig.  A complex, aromatic dram, with seaweed, iodine (well it has got Laphroaig) sea salt, and some dried fruit sweetness. This release was 3805  bottles.

Compass Box customers have been asked to vote on which they prefer, we voted for smoke, the results over the whole country was 51%, 49%  or within the statistical margin for error, or a tie. The new Great King Street out soon is going to have elements of both and will be called “The Glasgow Blend”.



Oak Cross – 43%  Buy

This was the first of the Blended malts for the night. As the name suggests a lot of the flavour comes from the oak casks. The whisky – all malt – is from Clynelish (60%), Dailuane (20%) and Teaninich (20%). 60% of the whisky is matured in first fill American Oak which had previously been used for maturing Bourbon whiskey, these give vanilla flavours, 40% of the casks are new French Oak casks. The new European is a darker, richer wood, giving deeper colour and flavour, cloves and spice.


Spice Tree – 46%   BuyGlasses

This whisky has the same components as the Oak Cross, Clynelish (60%), Dailuane (20%) and Teaninich (20%), however the whisky spends the last part of its Maturation in custom made casks. The staves of the cask are American Oak, but the barrel ends – the top and bottom of the cask – are from heavily toasted European Oak. This gives more spicy, chocolate flavours, and a more complex Dram.


Hedonism – 43%  Buy

Hedonism is a vatting, sorry blend, of Grain whisky, yes grain whisky. The distilleries are Cameron Bridge (60%) – which is situated in the Kingdom of Fife, Eastern Lowlands, and Girvan (40%) over on the West coast of the Lowlands.  Hedonism is the whisky which I tried when Alison and I first met John Glaser back in 2000. It was John’s first blend, the whiskies have been matured in First Fill ex-bourbon American Oak casks – excellent wood for such delicate spirit particularly as this whisky is 20 years old plus. I have often said that I find grain whisky boring, Hedonism shows just how wrong this is. It is complex and subtle with caramel and chocolate flavours, I’m told these come from Cameron Bridge, and from Girvan Vanilla, Coconut, Crème Brulee and coffee, a very light, fresh body, but with a lovely lightly spicy aftertaste rather than a big finish. This is one of my favourite whiskies, great as an Aperitif or at Parties, Lunch time or with breakfast (OK maybe not Breakfast).


Peat Monster – 46%  Buy

eHhhh What a surprise we have a whisky called Peat Monster to finish on.  But wait when we nose and taste this we discover that, surprisingly, it is not the normal big bruising massive hit of peat smoke we expect. The whiskies come from Laphroaig (37%) on Islay, Ledaig (29%) on Mull, and the peaty Speyside Ardmore (34%). Nearly all the casks are First Fill American Oak, but 1% comes from New French oak to get that spicy flavour. The peatyness is much more subtle and allows more of the woody, vanilla flavours to come through. This is not a Peat Monster at tall but a Peat Pussycat, it will make you sit by the fire and purr.

Compass Box is always a different tasting being blends rather than single malts, but it is always a great success – thanks to Celine, John and all the team at Compass Box.