KWM Advent 2018 Day 22 – Compass Box The Story of the Spaniard

by Andrew

Today’s whisky, the Compass Box The Story of The Spaniard is especially exciting because this is a preview of a whisky that hasn’t even hit our market yet. It is expected to arrive late in the 1st quarter of 2019. The Story of The Spaniard is the first new core release in the Compass Box Range in over 5 years. The whisky is also a change in style for John Glaser. In the early years of Compass Box, the first decade, few if any Compass Box Releases featured whiskies with sherry cask influences. Ex-Bourbon and French oak were John’s muses. I remember asking him why this was a little over a decade ago, and my recollection is that he told me he preferred the elegance and subtlety of American oak. Some of his go-to whiskies for Blending, like Clynelish and Coal Ila, often shine brightest in Ex-Bourbon.

About 7 years ago sherry influences started creeping into Compass Box Whiskies, at first subtly and over time more prominent ones. The turning point came around the time notable releases like the Last Vatted Malt and The General came out. I remember asking John around this time why he had seemingly changed his mind. I don’t remember his precise answer, but I was left with the feeling that his style as a blender was evolving. And besides, the sherried components which found their way into The General and Last Vatted Malt were just too good to ignore.

This is the second Compass Box in the Kensington Wine Market 2018 Whisky Advent Calendar. On Day 3 we featured The Peat Monster, and if you read that blog post, you might rightly have come away with the impression that we are Compass Box fanboys and girls here at KWM. John and his team at Compass Box are almost single headedly making Blended Scotch whisky relevant and sexy again. Blends are a category I had personally written off as irrelevant early in my career. My introduction to Compass Box and their approach to whisky making was a revelation. Consider for a moment that at least in theory, blending different whiskies together is an opportunity to create something more interesting and complex than any of the individual parts on their own. John left Diageo and Johnny Walker to found Compass Box in part because he wanted to explore the artistry of Blending Scotch whisky and get people excited about the techniques used to produce them.

Since 2000 Compass Box has been pushing the boundaries for Blended Scotch Whisky and leading the charge for innovation. Like the most exciting single malt producers Compass Box has a core range but also releases interesting one-off expressions to showcase unique parcels of whisky and the range of styles. Some of these releases have drawn the scrutiny of the uptight bullies at the Scotch Whisky Association or SWA, an industry-funded lobby group. The SWA tends to defend mainly the interests of the established larger players and has cast a wary eye on innovation and experimentation. In 2005 when Compass Box first released The Spice Tree which involved inserting French oak staves (inner staves) into American oak casks for a secondary maturation, the SWA felt this was in contravention of the rules governing Scotch Whisky, and they threatened to sue. Annoyed but undaunted Compass Box shifted gears slightly putting French oak heads on American oak casks, achieving a similar effect. Nothing the SWA could do about that… But the inner-stave technique is an interesting one and has been adopted by whisk(e)y producers in other parts of the World, like Makers Mark in the US.


French Oak Staves added to a cask for Maker's 46


Compass Box has also been one of the leaders in a push for greater transparency in Scotch whisky. The rules governing Scotch only allow you to declare the age of oldest component in the bottling, whether it is a single malt or a Blend. So if your Glenfarclas bottling is 95% 20-year-old, but the balance just 10, your whisky has to be called a 10-year-old, and you can’t make any reference to the fact that there is also 20-year-old whisky in the bottling. Compass Box doesn’t want the ability to declare that their whisky is older than it is, far from it, rather they want the ability to be fully transparent with their customers about all components in the Blend. We support this, as do a number of Scotland’s smaller and independent distillers. They are not seeking to force the larger players to be more transparent, but rather just to have the freedom to do so themselves… we strongly endorse this cause!

The Story of the Spaniard is first new core range release from Compass Box in more than five years. The whisky is a blend of malt whisky matured in ex-Sherry casks, virgin French oak and Spanish red wine barriques. The whisky was inspired by a chance meeting between John Glaser and a local in Spain, his first proper introduction to sherry. The whisky is also inspired by a bespoke bottling done previously for a Greenich Village bar in New York.

Image courtesy of @frombarreltobottle

Compass Box The Story of the Spaniard – 43% – 48% Ex-Sherry / 25% ex-Spanish red wine –

Andrew’s Tasting Note:

Nose: honeyed, nutty and leathery; soft chocolate tones, honeyed granola with dried apple chunks and bright citrus and gentle oak tannins.

Palate: meaty and leathery with firm spices at first and gentle oak; it becomes more honeyed and fruity as the palate develops with a fresh elegant cool mint flourish; more bright citrus and dried apple chunks; a touch of chewy malt with dried berry fruits.

Finish: bright, fruity and coating with tingling delicate spices and more dried fruits: citrus, apple and berries.

Comment: as ever, Compass Box has created another balanced, elegant expression; the sherry and wine cask notes are prominent but far from over the top; a great addition to the range! – $78 (700ml) ETA February or March / $11 (50mL/mini while supplies last!)

Playing catch-up on our 2018 Kensington Wine Market Whisky Advent Calendar?

You can find the rest of the blog posts here!

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