Compass Box are whiskymakers who craft whisky by blending whiskies from different distilleries and batches, thereby creating unique flavour profiles from what is essentially a concoction of “ingredient” whiskies. This is the art of whisky blending. Blending to create a whisky that matches the blue print in one’s mind is much harder than it sounds or looks (as I learned aboard the Glenfiddich Whisky Wanderer!). Trying to unpack a whisky blender’s creation is even harder. To help unravel their complex whiskies, though, Compass Box provide a break down of the “ingredients” that go into each of their whiskies. Trying to piece together the puzzle of a Compass Box whisky by smell and taste is, in my experience, a lot of fun.
The newly released trio of limited edition Compass Box whiskies that sit before me ready to be tasted are Compass Box The Circle, Compass Box Affinity, and Compass Box No Name No. 2.
Compass Box The Circle
“The Circle” is a blended malt Scotch whisky, and leading the charge in its creation were whiskymakers Jill Boyd and Rosey Mitchell. The bulk of it, 78.8%, is malt whisky from Tamdhu that was aged in first fill ex-bourbon barrels. The rest of the whisky is made up of malt whisky from Clynelish that was aged in refill sherry butts (14.8%), malt whisky from an Orkney distillery that was aged in recharred American oak hogsheads (4.9%), and a Highland malt blend that was vatted and aged further in custom French oak casks that were lightly toasted (1.5%).
It smells like a glass of honey, vanilla and oranges, but on my taste buds the whisky is tart with big and bold spice, dark chocolate, and zesty orange peel with hints of dry grass.
Compass Box Affinity
The “Affinity” is a spirit drink made up of a blend of Scotch whisky and Calvados, the latter of which is apple brandy from the Normandy region in France.
A large part of this spirit drink (37.5%) is Calvados from Domaine Christian Drouin which had been aged in French oak barriques. The rest of the spirit drink is comprised of Scotch whisky including Highland single malts which had aged in custom French oak casks, single malt from Craigellachie distillery and blended Scotch of unknown origin.
The Calvados is, on the nose, the spirit drink’s most striking ingredient – the spirit smells of apple core and apple cider, with only a surprisingly soft backbone of malt. The mix of Calvados and malt whisky creates a delicious flavour, which mostly tastes of orchard fruit such as apples and oranges. The Calvados gives the spirit drink a drying kick, with a bit of apple seed and orange peel in the finale, whilst the French oak adds some spicy flair throughout from first sip to finish.
Compass Box No Name No. 2
The “No Name No. 2” is the second limited edition of the “No Name” series, which, to my nose and taste buds, is all about showcasing one of Scotch whisky’s most polarising base ingredients: peat. Love it or loathe it, peat smoke is one of the defining characteristics of many Scotch whiskies, and it is the smoky heart of a number of malts from the Scottish isles.
Most of the “No Name No. 2” (75.5%) is single malt whisky from the isle of Islay’s Coal Ila distillery which has been aged in refill sherry butts. The rest of the whisky is made up of malt from Talisker (10.5%) and Clynelish (13.5%) which had both aged in re-charred American oak hogsheads. And as if that wasn’t enough, the whiskymakers decided to add to the mix a splash of a Highland malt blend which had aged in heavily toasted custom French oak casks (this makes up only 0.5% of the whisky).
Waves of lemon and peat smoke waft up from the glass with soft vanilla, hints of orange peel and cherries. The smell of Islay peat smoke fills the room, and the aromatic peat smoke teases my senses just enough to prepare me for the smoky juggernaut that is set to pummel my taste buds. On the palate the whisky tastes tarry with sharp lemon, plumes of peat smoke, and fruit cake, as vanilla and char develop into a nutty and smoky finish with hints of orange peel, maraschino cherries and coffee. The peat smoke leaves a tarry taste, which reminds me of the tip of a half smoke maduro cigar, and the refill sherry butts leave subtle fruit cake, cherries and orange peel. If peat smoke is your thing, then, in my opinion, this whisky is as good as it gets.
Sipping a triple shot of this sensational smoky whisky on a warm summer night, with occasional puffs of a freshly lit Arturo Fuente Opus X Perfecxion cigar, would be my definition of the perfect evening.