You may not be overly familiar with John Glaser and his company Compass Box whisky, especially if you’re reading this in Australia (as distribution is rather limited here). But I feel like you should be and here’s why.
Compass Box and their whisky philosophy
Compass Box are what you could broadly describe as an independent bottler of whisky. What I mean by that is that they don’t actually distil their own whisky, rather they acquire whisky from other, established distilleries then bottle it under their Compass Box brand. Well, that’s how most independent bottlers work, but in the case of Compass Box I’ve just oversimplified it by a fairly big margin.
A good deal of the independent bottlers out there cater to the segment of the market that enjoy single cask whiskies. They literally get a cask, fill as many bottles as they can, then sell it as is. When it comes to Compass Box though, rather than simply describe them as an independent bottler, the term ‘whisky maker’ is perhaps a better descriptor. Whilst they don’t distil their own whisky, they don’t just ‘bottle’ whisky either. They like to create.
John Glaser and his team have built their reputation on the back of creating some exceptional blended whisky. Add to that their brilliant packaging design and you’ve got a pretty unique product. Another aspect that sets them apart from many others in the industry is that they’re quite happy to actually disclose what goes into their revered blends. If it’s got some 30 year old Caol Ila blended in there, they’ll tell you. Likewise, if the blend contains 12% 8 year old Glen Ord, they’ll also tell you.
The Scotch Whisky Transparency Campaign
Well, that’s what they used to do (and that’s what they’d still like to do), but that recently got them into a bit of hot water with the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), the governing body of the Scotch whisky industry. Why? Well, the SWA’s guidelines actually prohibit this level of transparency. Sounds a tad crazy, doesn’t it?
This brings me to another reason why I believe you should familiarise yourself with Compass Box. Rather than sit back and live with the SWA’s decision, they’ve decided to do something about it. I’ll let John Glaser do the explaining.
The good people at Bruichladdich were the first to put their hand up and say, ‘yep, we support you!’ Soon after, independent bottler the Boutique-y Whisky Company announced that they would start adding age statements to all of their bottles as well, so it looks like Compass Box aren’t the only ones who believe in transparency.
As John says in the clip, if you think whisky produces should have the option (but not necessarily the obligation) to tell you all about the whisky in your bottle, head on over to the Compass Box website and lend your support.
Compass Box: The whisky
Just in case I haven’t given you enough of my opinion for one post, how about some thoughts on two of their latest releases, the Compass Box Flaming Heart 5th Edition and This Is Not A Luxury Whisky (one of the coolest whisky names in recent times in my opinion!)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 5th Edition
This is actually a fifteenth-anniversary bottling of Flaming Heart and at it’s heart, it’s comprised of 38.5% 14-year-old Caol Ila, 27.1% 30-year-old Caol Ila, 24.1% 20-year old Clynelish and 10.3% seven-year-old blended malt. That blended malt, inside this blended malt is made up of whisky from Clynelish, Teaninich and Dailuaine. How’s that for transparency!
My first reaction on nosing this one was ‘Ahhh!’. Lots of sweet and dry sooty ash notes. There’s a hint of salty sea spray and some waxy honeycomb notes with a hint of vanilla notes. It’s fairly bright and punchy, but quite well balanced.
Lots of medicinal mossy peat on the palate. I didn’t get much in the way of smoke, but there’s a fair salty tang with a lemon rind/ herbal bitterness and some damp soot. To me, it tasted a lot more mature and older than it nosed.
Compass Box This Is Not A Luxury Whisky
Such a great name. I actually think this is a luxury whisky, but not in the collectable, put it on a shelf and stare at it sense. If that’s what you’re doing with this bottle then I’m sorry, but you’re totally missing the point. No doubt the bottle looks pretty sweet, but the contents, now that’s where the fun really is!
Again, thanks to Compass Box’s transparency, we also know what’s in this one. 79% of the liquid is 19-year-old Glen Ord aged in first-fill sherry butts. 18% is 40-year-old-grain whisky from Strathclyde and Girvan and some 30-year-old Caol Ila (4%) has been blended in there as well.
The nose is quite dense and closed, even with some airtime. I got notes of cereal grains (coconutty?), old leather, polished timber, fragrant dried flowers and some cedar wood spice. Given some time, more tropical fruit notes (think pawpaw, papaya and green banana skins) and faint honeycomb sweetness. There’s a mossy peat note in the back there too. Quite a complex nose, one that’s hard to pin down (the power of clever blending!)
On the palate it’s much more lively. Loads of those tropical fruit notes from the nose, some juicy vanilla, spice, honeycomb sweetness and oak. The faint peat notes make it almost meaty and mossy toward the finish, where a lot more of the oak comes out.
Compass Box in Australia
The good news for Australian Compass Box fans is that both of these expressions will go on sale here in the very near future. The bad news is that only a minuscule number of bottles are being brought into the country, so if you want one, start making friends with your flagship Dan Murphy’s store now. And if you want to see more of these here, follow the lead of Compass Box, be a little bit vocal (in a nice way, of course) and let your local store know.