Compass Box Hedonism

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.

Compass Box Hedonism
43% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $95 - $105
Acquired: (30ml sample bottle purchased at Master of Malt)

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  • I concur 100%. Hedonism is creamy and rich and sweet and complex with plenty of tasty flavors and lots of evolution in the glass and across the palate over time. Yet it is also subtle and gentle – almost delicate. Excellent review of a fascinating and enigmatic dram.

  • I imagine that someone has said this on your site before, but I think that insinuating that Johnny Walker Black Label as bottom shelf is a bit damaging to your website’s point of view. Bottom-shelf Scotches can be had at $12 a bottle or less, not $30+. If it’s bottom shelf to you, that’s fine, but make it clear; even a Scotch whisky specialty shop wouldn’t have Black Label on the bottom shelf.

    • Hi DJ,

      I admit to using the term “bottom shelf” loosely, and I have a personal (and taste-based) lack of respect for Johnnie Walker, both Red and Black (I haven’t tried the Green, Gold, or Blue). My personal opinion is that Johnnie Walker Black is not worth $30, and that far better whiskies (both blended and single-malt) can be had for that money. My website’s point of view is that no one has to spend $100 to get good whisky. I also don’t think anyone should settle for Johnnie Walker Black or Chivas 12, either, unless they happen to have a taste for it and enjoy it. If someone who only drinks JW Black comes to my site and goes away without a desire to expand their horizons and at least try some alternatives, then I think I’ve failed.

  • I’ll start by saying thank you! My father just resently got me into scotch and after ready what you had to say I had to buy a bottle for the holidays… I will now buy a bottle for every special occasion. To add, I’ve had blue label because my uncle is a fan. It is good but this is much more enjoyable for me

  • I just had this on CB’s sample box and I found it to be amazing. It’s a beautiful, creamy blend of rich desserts like crème brûlée, custard, vanilla pudding (the really good stuff), etc. It’s too expensive for me to keep on the shelf, which is too bad. This does not drink like a typical blend at all. This is a dessert scotch

  • SN – I am just beginning my first journey with a bottle. Per the web-site, I s/b able to identify the batch on the back label – but apparently I am into the bottle far enough that I am unable to do so. I sent an email to Compass Box requesting specifics…

    Regardless, I say that my current bottle is – bourbon. First fill indeed – and you can tell. I remain how old it is but I am getting aroud 15 – 16 years which s/certainly be adequate to do some damage – and it is. I am much more pleased with this than with the 12 Balvenie single first refill cask that I recently acquired – that was painfully week – even though not unpleasant. In Hedomism, you know that you have tied into something…!