Compass Box Whisky Co are purveyors of blended Scotch whisky. Each product in their core range aims to give consumers a glimpse into one particular style within the spectrum of flavours offered by Scotch whisky – light, delicate, smoky and full flavoured. Compass Box buys different styles of whisky from different distilleries and blends them to create a desired flavour profile in each of their core products, which include Oak Cross, Asyla, Spice Tree, Great King Street Artists Blend, Peat Monster and Hedonism.
Compass Box Hedonism is a blended grain whisky that showcases creativity and a fresh approach to Scotch whisky, at least in living memory. A century ago blended grain whiskies were more common. These days the shelves of liquor stores are dominated by either malt whisky, which is made from malted barley, or blended whisky, which is made from blending malt whisky with grain whisky. For a very long time the vast majority of grain whisky has disappeared into the bottles of blended whiskies. This all started in 1831 when Aeneas Coffey invented a still that allowed for the continuous process of distillation and this led to the production of grain whisky, which, being lighter in style to malt whisky, tempered some of the fire of malt whisky and therefore malt/grain blends appealed to a wider market. Grain whisky is usually designed to be as neutral as possible so that it can balance the fiery kick of malt whisky and it is this grain whisky that gives grain whisky its reputation as boring, uninteresting and unspectacular. Some blends also contain grain whisky that smells very young and this contributes to the bad name of grain whisky. Times have changed, and while blended whiskies continue to dominate the market, single malts have become more popular. Rising with the tide is grain whisky, and heeding to this demand is Compass Box with the release of Hedonism – a whisky that is designed to be a grain whisky and not blended with malt whisky, which means this blended grain is comprised of lovely aged whiskies that, when blended, are rich, complex, full flavoured and, frankly, delicious.
The whiskies used in Hedonism have matured in 100% first-fill American oak barrels or rejuvenated American oak Hogsheads, and are typically sourced from the distilleries Cameron Bridge, Carsebridge, Cambus, Port Dundas or Dumbarton. Hedonism is the kind of whisky you want to selfishly drink alone – smooth, rich and complex with lots of depth to explore. The spicy fire from the wood and firmer grain (rye comes to mind) seems to be softened by the caramel, toffee and sweet vanillas from the softer grains as the anise seed snap of unfiltered full-flavoured vodka common to more neutral grain distillate melds with an array of sweetened tea leaves, wood tannins and bourbon themed notes of wood vanilla, dried fruit, raisin and chocolate that commonly occur when grain whisky, such as corn, wheat or rye, is matured in American oak. This is a hugely enjoyable whisky that is crafted with lots of creativity and clearly intended for the spirit lover. It is bottled at 43% ABV and non-chill filtered with natural colour, and at £54 or $110 it is an affordable glimpse into a rare blend of older grain whiskies.
Nose: Toasted coconut macaroon with creamy vanilla and the whiff of a classic cream layered birthday cake melds with caramel and light strands of toffee layered over mashmallows. Heavier wood notes bring chocolate as notes of red pepper seeds combine with the most interesting marriage of bourbon, the dry sugary gusts from English style pot still rum and the anise seed kick of a sublime unfiltered vodka. The bourbon notes are entirely understandable, because bourbon is essentially a grain whisky made from at least 51% corn and then matured in newly made American oak.
Taste: The entry is smooth, sweet, creamy and bourbon themed with raisin and dried fruit as the grain itself brings spice and soothing caramels and toffee interlaced with green tea sweetened with barley sugar, polenta, anise seed and some fine hints of high quality full-flavoured and unfiltered vodka (the way it should be, with only the best “cuts” from the distilling run rather than filtered through mountains of charcoal). Then the oak kicks in, and a flurry of spices ignite on the palate with chocolate, vanilla, honeyed oats and the twist of wood tannins.
Finish: The lingering taste of sweet ethanol lingers with bitter green tea ice cream, that grain filled full flavoured Eastern European vodka, earl grey, bitter chocolate and toasty American oak.