July 12, 2012
Hedonism by John Glaser’s Compass Box is an oddity in the scotch world. It is scotch, because it is whisky made and aged in Scotland, but it is actually a blended grain scotch whisky. John selects casks once or twice a year (depending on availability) that contain aged single-grain whiskies of high quality and maturity. These he blends to create Hedonism, without so much as a drop of malt. Now, before the grain pundits go thrashing about yelling ‘See?! Grain whisky is good!!”, remember that these are high-quality, long-aged single-grain whiskies. This is not the same stuff that goes into Johnnie Walker Black Label or Chivas 12. In fact, if Diageo and Chivas and all the rest used this kind of grain whisky to make their blends, us whisky geeks would be much more accepting of the bottom-shelf blends. Of course, they’d also be significantly more expensive. As always, you get what you pay for.
Hedonism is made in once- or twice-yearly batches, so any given bottling is likely to be somewhat different than a previous batch. Since these types of aged grain whiskies are less than common (especially with the recent shortages of everything with the word ‘scotch’ attached to it), John takes what he can get. Alas, because Master of Malt doesn’t put batch numbers on its samples, I don’t know which batch I tasted. Nevertheless, you can count on Hedonism to be a shining example of what really good grain whisky is all about. Remember, also, that the style of grain whisky is lighter than most single malts, and has a fuller, creamier body. If you’re looking for robust, fruity, smoky, or otherwise boldly-flavored drams, look elsewhere. Here there be subtlety [SIC].
Nose: Sweet dairy cream, malted milk balls, fresh yeasty bakery bread. Vanilla in spades. Lots of nose tickle – practically crawls up your sinuses. Deep in there is a paint thinner quality, but it is masked by the immediate creamy sweetness of the grain.
Palate: Immensely creamy body. Cinnamon, nutmeg, powdered sugar. Depths of vanilla custard and almond butter.
Finish: Crisp and clean, if somewhat brief. Shortbread, marzipan and roasted almonds. No bitterness to speak of. Very elegant.
With Water: A splash of water brings an almost gin-like flush of herbs and green grass notes to the nose, without thinning the body too much. It loses some of its sweetness on the tongue, though, and appears to have less depth. I suggest trying a few drops of water in your last sip, but not the whole glass.
Overall: I don’t know if I’d call it hedonistic, but this is a prime example of what can be done with skillful blending and excellent grain whiskies. The nose is light and sweet, the flavor is packed with bakery sweets and spices, and the finish is crisp, elegant, and flawless. It reminds me of the company’s newer product, Great King Street “Artist’s Blend”, but amped up and streamlined. It’s a pricey bottle, but buying a John Glaser blend is somewhat like buying a fine painting – sure, you could get a cheaper print to hang on your wall, but you’d get more enjoyment out of something made by a master.