Compass Box – This is Not a Luxury Whisky

So… I love Compass Box. I do. I think they make some of the most innovative and most interesting products in the whisky market, and they make several of my favorite blended scotches and blended malts. Unfortunately, I just didn’t get this one.

I mean, I get the joke. I’m not going to talk about Magritte because I don’t know the first thing about art and I’d just embarrass myself if I tried, but I get that John is making a commentary on the silliness of the collectible whisky segment of the market and the producers that keep pandering to them with more and more ridiculously-packaged collectible releases.

I just don’t get the whisky. This is a blend of some seriously old scotch, (and I love me some old scotch), with a price tag to match ($250 or so. Eek!), so I was disappointed to find that the whisky just didn’t click for me. I found it marginally good, with some decidedly ‘old’ flavors, but nothing to make my eyes roll back in my head. For $250, I expect some involuntary paroxysms of ecstasy.

Aside from the taste, the specs are spot-on. Compass Box was kind enough to tell us EXACTLY what’s in this whisky. Read my rant on Flaming Heart – Fifth Edition for more about how the SWA reacted to this kind of transparency:

  • 79% 19 year-old Glen Ord from a first-fill sherry butt
  • 10.1% 40 year-old Strathclyde (grain whisky) from a refill American Oak Hogshead (ex-bourbon)
  • 6.9% 40 year-old Girvan (grain whisky) from a refill American Oak Hogshead (ex-bourbon)
  • 4.0% 30 year-old Caol Ila from a refill American Oaks Hogshead (ex-bourbon

The grain and malt make it a Blended Scotch Whisky. It’s bottled at 53.1% ABV (cask strength), without chill-filtration or added coloring. It was bottled in August 2015 with only 4,992 bottles filled.

Nose: Supple – like new leather – and not at all hot. Ripe bananas, dried apricots. Subtle smoke, cocoa nibs. Deep in the glass there’s something buttery that reminds me of chocolate croissants.

Palate: Creamy and silky. Entry is a little hot. Marzipan, smoked almonds, muted campfire smoke. Sherry comes across as desiccated figs, nearly devoid of sweetness but resinous and umami. A hint of barnyard (old hay).

Finish: Long. Quite bitter, like Campari without the sugar, or very strong black coffee. Charcoal. Fades with salty wisps of smoke.

With Water: A few drops of water bring out a nice caramel roundness and balances out the heavy banana. Now the predominant aroma is of salted caramels. The same is true of the palate, which burns less and has a touch more sweetness that provides better balance. It’s amazing that only 4% by volume of Caol Ila could have yielded so much peaty smoke in the blend.

Overall: I’m torn (cue the Natalie Imbruglia). I expected some luxurious sherry notes, but found them mostly dried up. I expected a faint echo of peat from the Caol Ila, and found it bathed in smoke, especially on the tongue. Added water brought some much-needed balance, but still I suspect that slightly-peated blends, even of this calibre and advanced age, are not my cup of tea.

Still, I must give John Glaser and Compass Box props for the exquisitely detailed component information, for the tongue-in-cheek self-referential humor, and the flat-out cojones to sell a $250 bottle of scotch – blended no less – with a label that looks like it was absentmindedly scrawled by a employee on the bottling line.

I even went back and tasted this again the following day to see if I’d missed something. I found the same nose, and the same palate although maybe a little better balanced with some nutty sweetness up front (hazelnuts). I was also able to taste some of the sherry this time, like jammy pie filling. Still, my overall reaction is still a resounding ‘Meh’. For the price that makes it an easy “Not Recommended”, but I’ll mark it “Try Before Buy” because it’s possible I got a bad sample or (more likely) had some repressed taste memory that this triggered, or something. Sorry, John! I still love you! Please love me back!

Compass Box – This is Not a Luxury Whisky
53.1% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $250
Acquired: (100ml sample bottle courtesy of Compass Box)

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4 thoughts on “Compass Box – This is Not a Luxury Whisky

  1. Man… what a bummer. I can’t believe this falls so short of the price tag. Compass Box has always been so reasonable for the caliber of blend you get, especially considering how unique some of their flavor profiles can be. Hmm… I’ll keep an eye out for a pour, though– maybe it’ll turn out differently for me.

    1. A quick perusal of the web shows that I’m pretty much alone in that opinion. I don’t usually read other reviews, but I was confused by my reaction as well. I don’t think I had a bad sample, I think I just had one of those weird taste-memory clashes that ruined it for me. Such is whisky tasting!

  2. i wouldn’t argue your taste but will have to say you missed something.i found it very well balanced and very well worth the price compared to the likes of BLUE and company.oh and just something that works for me, eating a few ice cubes before tastings always help capture the subtleties of the drink.i would also close my eyes on the label because i think it embodies the name of this pseudo-blend.

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