With the release of The Story of The Spaniard - a ridiculously long name for a whisky - Compass Box have delighted their core range followers with the first new addition to that range in years. Many, like me, will have mourned the passing of Asyla - please bring it back at some stage - a light, fruity and almost wine-like whisky with which I have converted wine-only drinkers to the amber nectar. It was the first whisky that I ever blogged about, an utterly pretentious review with which I thought I would truly make my mark... if only!
I first discovered Compass Box soon after they were established in 2000 by the brilliant palate which comes with the person of John Glaser. A veteran of the whisky business and ex-Diageo - which is doubtless why so many Diageo whiskies feature in his amazing boutique blends - John has created a range of blended whiskies that must have distillery blenders weeping that such depth and breadth of flavours cannot be achieved from one distillery alone.
The only issue for me with Compass Box is the price tag but you are buying blended whiskies made from exceptional casks of spirit, especially in their limited releases. To get the point across that their spirits are more than the regular blended whiskies that make up 80% of Scotch whisky production (for some whisky lovers the very idea of a blend brings on shakes and jitters, but such drinkers should try to loosen up and try a boutique blend) Compass Box have spearheaded a campaign for transparency in the industry. It is currently prohibited to declare what is in a blend - which is crazy in a world where transparency is needed more than ever. If a blend has a £100+ price tag we need to understand why, and this can only be achieved by understanding the recipe of spirits that have been married together, and the proportion of each.
I guess John Glaser was always going to produce blended whiskies when he set up on his own as he was a marketing director for Johnnie Walker during his time at Diageo. I, for one, am delighted that he has championed the boutique blend which adds a complex extra dimension to the whisky industry.
With the exception of the late lamented Asyla, and possibly the Great King Street Artists Blend, I would not describe any of the Compass Box whiskies as easy drams. There is so much more to them that they all require careful consideration. They are whiskies to chew and contemplate and all fall into my Complex category: I think of whiskies as Easy, Complex and then Challenging.
The core range of whiskies from Compass Box now consists of the Great King Street Artists Blend (for Edinburgh), elegant, heavy on the grain and fruity malts and delicious with summer foods such as salmon and strawberries, and the GKS Glasgow Blend which is altogether more complex and smoky and a great whisky with winter beef casseroles. Then there is Oak Cross, a broodingly complex blend with big spice and which is constantly giving - check out my YouTube channel for a more about that; The Spice Tree, a complex fruity whisky which took me longer to come to love and which has a richness of spice accentuated through the crafting of the blend; it’s a souk, an exotic market of a whisky; The Peat Monster which is enormous on the nose and palette - to be fair, it is some years since I have tasted it as I’m not so keen on hugely peaty whiskies now.
Finally there is Hedonism, a fruity vanilla and caramel dram but with so much more in the way of tropical fruit and coconut in it. For those who love malt whiskies (i.e made from malted barley) and have yet to try any grain whiskies (usually made from corn, wheat or rye) the first sips of Hedonism are always a revelation. We tasted it in the very early days of my Chichester Whisky Women club and it was a great favourite.
My two greatest loves in the special editions from Compass Box have been the Flaming Heart edition 4 which you can enjoy a video of on my You Tube channel; and Enlightenment, the whisky with which Compass Box launched their campaign for transparency relating to blends in the whisky industry. I famously used Enlightenment in a tasting with Cesar de Silva at London’s The Capital Hotel for the Guild of Food Writers. It was a whisky that I arranged to add to his selection for the tasting, one that he didn’t know and that he and all those attending thoroughly enjoyed.
I think The Story of the Spaniard is a good addition to the Compass Box core range, especially for someone like me who enjoys a dram with a meal. I can’t wait for Sevilles to be back in season so that I can try it with dishes made with the odd fruits left over from the marmalade making - my tastebuds are running to fruity pork casseroles and scallops with orange sauce. It’s not going to be an everyday dram because of the price but I would certainly buy it for feasts and special occasions.