I love being outside in the fresh air but my idea of camping these days is definitely glamping with a comfy bed, cotton sheets and a well equipped camp kitchen, all there and at the ready for us when we arrive. My biggest worry on our latest glamping trip was which whisky to take with me? It had to be something classy, complex and reflective and Oak Cross proved to be a perfect choice.
Boutique blenders Compass Box are in the news right now for their campaign for complete transparency in the whisky industry, an aim that I wholeheartedly applaud and support. They are no strangers to controversy, and indeed Oak Cross got them into hot water when they first decided to refresh barrels with new wood in an innovative way - but more of that shortly.
Oak Cross is an amalgam of three aged single malt Scotch whiskies, blended to deliver a complexity of flavour, aroma, smoothness and refinement. American oak has imparted to each package of spirit a deep vanilla with sweet fudge notes which support, but do not dominate. Are there hints of salt? Well, there's something there that makes me smack my lips. What strikes me time and again about this whisky is that a complex spice on the finish, much more than just the anticipated black pepper, is always something of a surprise, even when you know that it is coming! The spice is there on the nose as well and is the key to the broodingly seductive nature of the whisky. With just a drop or two of water the whisky initially appears smoother but then the spices are revealed with more depth and the lip smacking starts all over again - ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace. A long finish - but, no, this cannot be the end! Another sip is needed, just to get this complex whisky straight on my palette. And then another. Compass Box themselves describe this as their Mr Darcy whisky - however you feel about Jane Austen adaptations, this is a brooding, complex and delicious dram.
The innovation behind this depth of flavour is in the American oak barrels used for maturation after the parcels of malts have been blended together. They are refreshed with French oak heads - or tops and bottoms - and it is this continental wood that brings the complexity of warm spice to the whisky. I believe that Compass Box were the first to create these hybrid barrels and certainly the traditional whisky authorities didn't like them in the first instance. The barrels are now accepted with Compass Box and the authorities agreeing on their coopering. Thank goodness - this is a whisky that my collection would be diminished without.
Forty eight hours at the Knepp Wildland project in West Sussex, including a long walk and a dusk safari, proved that Oak Cross was indeed the perfect whisky for our glamping trip. I shall blog in more depth about Knepp, but for now I hope my video comments will whet your appetite for a wonderful rural West Sussex experience. Knepp are international leaders in rewilding - Compass Box can claim to be leading the whisky industry too. There will be sceptics for both, but I have tasted Knepp's meat and Compass Box Oak Cross (and their other whiskies) and the extraordinary flavour of both cannot be denied.
By the way, even glamping can produce bad hair days...