Day 12 of the 2019 KWM Whisky Advent Calendar – Compass Box Spice Tree

by Evan

What is this? Our THIRD Blended Malt from a different producer in this year’s calendar? It is almost as if we are trying to showcase how good this style of Scotch can be…

We make no secret of the fact that we at Kensington Wine Market are huge fans of Compass Box and their whisky. One of my personal favourite whisky experiences happened back in 2017, at Angel’s Envy Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. Keep reading, I swear this story doesn’t have anything else to do with Bourbon…

Anyhow. Andrew and I are standing around, waiting for the distillery tour that we were booked in for to start. Andrew was in his typical Andrew standing at rest position – back straight, head tilted down, eyes on the cell phone in his hands – when none other then John Glaser walked right by us. The fact that were were in a Whiskey distillery notwithstanding, it seemed to be a strange place to run into the Master Blender and man behind Compass Box, so I did a double take. I tapped Andrew on the shoulder to get his attention, pointed at the man and said “hey, isn’t that John Glaser”? Andrew confirmed it was, we went over to chat with him and made plans to meet up for dinner later. It ended up being one hell of a day, and gave me my first opportunity to chat with the man himself.

John Glaser is a wonderfully approachable man, just like the whisky his company creates.

The Compass Box Spice Tree is a Blended Malt Scotch, famous for once running afoul with the SWA – or Scotch Whisky Association. The SWA is a lobbying arm of the Scotch Whisky Industry as a whole, which enjoys telling companies what they can and cannot do in making whisky.

When the John Glaser introduced the original Compass Box Spice tree to the market 2005, he was using an innovative method to get the spice notes into the whisky he blended for it. This involved actually mounting toasted french oak staves into the centre of oak casks. The SWA, having too much time on its hands and possibly needing to justify the fees that it’s member Scotch Whisky companies paid to belong to it, decided this had never been done in the history of Scotch Whisky and was therefore bad.

Compass Box was told by the SWA that it could no longer sell bottles of Scotch Whisky made in this fashion, essentially due to the process not being old fashioned. John Glaser was forced to find another way to create the style of whisky he was looking for, and came up with using new cask ends made from the toasted French Oak to create the same effect.

As an aside, in the time since this all went down Maker’s Mark Distillery of Kentucky introduced a Bourbon that was made in a similar fashion: by mounting toasted French Oak staves within a barrel. Quite the innovative idea eh? I can’t believe some sort of American Whiskey association hasn’t tried to shut them down…

But enough of that. Lets get onto The Spice Tree itself. Below is a diagram of from Compass Box showing what is roughly the typical makeup for this Blended Malt Scotch:

If one were to craft a joke regarding John Glaser and Compass Box, it could go something like this:

Person 1 - Did you hear that Compass Box has a new blend coming out soon?

Person B – Yeah! Apparently the special ingredient in this one is Clynelish.

This joke is funny, because seems Clynelish is the primary or secondary malt in a majority of Compass Box releases. The only release that I can name off of the top of my head that I am sure does not contain any Clynelish in the blend is Hedonism. And that is cheating, because it is a Blended Grain Scotch that contains no single malt components.

Using Clynelish a lot isn’t a bad thing though. It is prized by many blenders for its waxy and fruity notes, not just Compass Box. Many whisky lovers keep an eye out for Single Casks of Clynelish from independent bottlers because of how good it tends to be. When you want an unpeated, flavour forward blending component, it can be hard to beat.

So there is likely some Clynelish in here, and Compass Box likes to agitate and stand up against the SWA. Both are good things in my book. But is that enough to make one go out and by a full bottle of Spice Tree? Let us crack into the wee one and find out!

Compass Box The Spice Tree Blended Malt Scotch – 46% ABV

Evan’s Tasting Note

Nose: Fruit and woody spice notes. Like you are dipping assorted fruits (pineapple and honeydew cubes, apple slices, grapes, and more) into a chocolate fountain. Mocha and Chocolate mousse, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and espresso beans.

Palate: Oily and creamy fruit, but the wood spices shows up quite a bit as well. Peaches & cream, fruit & nut bars, french press coffee, candied ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, fruit cup syrup and grapefruit slices.

Finish: The fruit and spice mingle and linger before a dry nuttiness takes over at the end. Think toasted almonds with a light dusting of cinnamon powder.

Comment: Quite rich and round – the spice is there but it is so well integrated with the sweet fruit notes that it is never an attack. A very well put-together dram in the core range of Compass Box.

Are you ready for tomorrow and what awaits us behind lucky door number thirteen? That officially puts over halfway on this years KWM Whisky Calendar. For now, I will raise my glass to Compass Box for helping to raise the bar on the quality of Blended Scotch available!

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*The Kensington Wine Market Whisky Advent Calendar is produced under license from Secret Spirits, Scotch Whisky Advent Calendarâ„¢
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