A Set of Compass Box Reviews

So when you get into whisky there’s a lot of people who’ll immediately jump onto some sacred cow beliefs that are prevalent.

Things like “never ever add anything to your whisky” which is dumb, because it’s your whisky. I may not like it with an ice cube or felched out of your partner’s nether region but that doesn’t mean I get to dictate what you do with your booze.

Another one that pops up is “single malts are always better than blends”, which is one I struggle with, because my own reviews may state that, but… well…

As usual, I’m typically wanting cows to be turned into some steaks, maybe a ribeye or two, and some brisket. And some leather. Maybe some construction goods and some binders for food.

Thus today I’m diving into quite a few blends from Compass Box. Started by a former marketing director at Johnnie Walker, Compass Box specializes in blends. And typically when someone mentions good blends, they mention Compass Box.

But ideas and beliefs need to be tested, over and over, much to the hatred of my poor liver (joking aside I do well and drink responsibly, please do the same).

So let’s see how this batch tastes, shall we?


Thanks to /u/devoz for sharing this dram

Compass Box No Name 2 has a lot to live up to. No Name 1 was very good. It’s a peat heads delight while showing that it didn’t need to be purely an Islay, and the complexity from the other malts and expert blending was evident.

Which is tough, as anyone who was the second child in a high school will tell you: You’re going to attract comparison.

What’s new? Well last time it was Ardbeg mixed with Caol Ila and Clynelish and the Highland Malt Blend. Now it’s more Caol Ila, Talisker, and Clynelish.

Presumably the third one will be mostly Talisker, keeping the Clynelish, and losing the Caol Ila. That is, if they follow patterns and did that on purpose.

So is this middle child a good follow-up, like Godfather 2? Or terrible, like Jaws 2? Let’s see, shall we?

Price: £110

Region: Blend

Components: 76.5% Caol Ila from Refill Sherry Butt, 10.5% Talisker from Recharred American Oak Hogsheads, 13.5% Clynelish from Recharred American Oak Hogshead, 0.5% Highland Malt Blend from Custom French Oak Cask with Heavy Toast (which is made up of Clynelish, Teaninich, and Dailuaine)

Bottled: February 2019

Number of Bottles: 8802

Abv: 48.9%

Colour: 7.5Y 9/4

Nose: Lime, goldenrod, manure, mineral

Ok, so more of the lime, and peat of the Caol Ila… And then more of that, cool… And some of that.

Where the hell is the rest? Already I’m fine with a balanced, if simple nose, but the floral aspect of the Clynelish is here and so is the Caol Ila, along with mineral that could come from the Talisker or the Caol Ila. Where’s more of the salt, the richness of Clynelish?

Not boding well folks.

Taste: Wax, honey, brown butter, grass, citrus

Ok, now we get a ton of the Clynelish. And frankly, if I’m noting wax that means there’s a metric shit ton of it since I’m pretty wax blind (I run into candelabras and beehives all the time).

Buttery, grassy. Better complexity, however, there’s real peat influence. Which is pretty rough what with the sheer amount of peat in there.

Finish: Cocoa, mineral, anise, orange

Hey, some peat influence is back, now with spice, anise, cocoa. Alright, it’s good, if you’re into Orange and Chocolate, which means you may have suffered a head injury and be entitled to consideration.

My hatred of citrus aside, again, which we keep having to do, it’s nice, nothing rough, but I have to ask again: Is this better than a simple peated single cask that’s young? Where’s the addition from the blend? And I think you’ll find not in my glass.

Conclusion: How the mighty have fallen. What’s in a name? A lot, it turns out. This drinks like a simpler, should-be-cheaper single cask whisky and doesn’t really show much off.

I have a theory on this, if you will.

This was made either with the assumption they could bottle lightning a second time under the name or they made something peated that wasn’t great and threw the name on it, hoping that fans of the first one would buy it hoping for more.

Either way, or if this is supposed to be a different direction, I didn’t enjoy this half as much as No Name 1. And as a Canadian, who holds the No Name brand in such high regard from childhood memories, I say: Shame, and here’s hoping the threequel redeems it all.

76/100


Thanks to Sam for bringing this to a group tasting we were both at.

As whisky jumps in price, quite a few aficionados have branched out: Mezcal, Tequila, Baiju (if ya nasty), rum, Brandy/Cognac/Armagnac (because heaven forbid I only mention one of them), and Calvados.

I have not hit that point, what with having plenty of beer and wine to drink when I don’t feel like whisky, and otherwise still working through enough samples to choke many a donkey.

However whisky makers have noticed this, and enter Compass Box Affinity, which isn’t a Scotch, isn’t a blend, and I should be shot for even mentioning it here. But I’m not, kill your sacred cows.

This is a blend of aged Calvados with Scotch. Seems like an interesting idea. People like Calvados. People like Scotch. People like Mixed Drinks. Let’s do all at once. Because mixing everything you love makes things better, like chocolate and roast beef.

Oops, spoiler. Let’s see how it tastes, shall we?

Price: £100

Region: Blend

Components: 11% Highland Malt Blend from Custom French Oak Casks with Heavy Toast (see above), 10.5% Highland Malt from Custom French oak Casks with Light Toast, 8% Highland Malt Blend with Medium to Heavy Toast, 37.5% Calvados Pays D’Auge Domaine Christian Drouin in a Primarily French Barrique, 13% Blended Scotch Whisky Parcel (unknown origin) in a Refill Sherry Butt, 20% Craigellachie in a one-year finish First Fill Sherry Butt

Bottled: 2019

Number of bottles: 6028

Abv: 46%

Colour: It’s not Scotch so I didn’t write down a colour… sure, let’s go with that.

Nose: Spiced apple, pepper, light coffee notes

Apple with some spice… apple, spice… ahem… Uh… apple.

Maybe light coffee notes, but not like “oh what kinda coffee” more like “generic McD’s coffee brewed 15 minutes ago” smell.

I’m unimpressed.

Taste: Apple, cinnamon, strawberry, caramel

A bit more going on, but I’d be a lying liar (the worst kind) if I didn’t mention it’s mostly apple. I’m not one of these “doctors” who hate apples due to a saying: I’m just saying this tastes mostly of apples and bits of flavours on the side.

So I’m unimpressed.

Finish: Cinnamon, cranberry, hazelnut

Mostly spice and woody-red fruits at the end. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk, fuck this.

Conclusion: If this was a third the cost, it’d be totally fine to have around as a dessert dram. It’s not that complex, it’s not terrible, but nothing that great. You could have it, crack a bottle on winter nights, all is good.

And price doesn’t affect my score. The score below is based on the quality of this super simple apple forward dram.

My comments, though, are the true reason behind reviews, and this is way too much for a simple, easy-drinking combination.

Do yourself a favour: Buy the Calvados instead.

61/100


Thanks to /u/EvilAFI for sharing this dram

Now let’s jump back in a way that makes me look like a better writer but actually confuses people: Juveniles Bistro à Vins is a wine bistro in Paris that’s been around for over 30 years now. Like any good booze emporium, they take risks based on their tastes and quality. Take that, not good places!

So to celebrate these Parisian Potable Paragons, and since John Glaser is good friends with Tim Johnston Compass Box was approached to make Compass Box Juveniles. Well he was about 13 years ago to make the 20th anniversary, which this is not. This is the third such endeavour.

So let’s just fix my bold comment by saying it’s Compass Box Juveniles (3rd Edition) and we’re all good.

But we get the story by now: What’s it taste like? Let’s see, shall we?

Price: £65

Region: Blend

Components: 34% Strathmill from Refill Hogshead, 34% Balmenach from Refill Hogshead, 20% Clynelish from Re-Charred Hogsheads, 10% Clynelish from Refill Sherry Butt, 2% Glendullan from First Fill Sherry Butt

Bottled: 2018

Number of bottles: 14,894

Abv: 46%

Colour: 7.5Y 9/6

Nose: Rotten citrus, peanut, pear, caramel Well, that’s… certainly, an interesting way to start. Holy damn that’s a strong note of the orange you left in your locker in high school.

Once that calms it’s collective whisky titties, nutty, more edible fruits, some caramel. Nothing too over the top to take out the expired orange.

Taste: Grapefruit, oak, golden syrup, grass, candle

Tart, some oak, a bit of strong sweet notes as well as some grassiness and some wax (hey, I’m getting better). No take candle from a Clynelish this time!

Warcraft memes aside, a nice balance to this, though the tart/citrus does take centre stage pretty quickly and doesn’t let anyone else have fun, like that one DnD player we all wish we could have an adult conversation with.

Finish: Grapefruit, vanilla, white sugar, grass, peanut

And… more grapefruit and nuttiness. The sugar seems a bit more established now. All in all a better set of the flavours from the taste, but just barely.

Conclusion: Grapefruit and peanut, all the way. The nose is pretty rough but it turns itself around. Am I loving this? Not really. It’s a simple summer dram that has notes that aren’t meant to offend (again, save for the nose).

I get the feeling that as this became more popular they attempted to use younger malts to get more out of the barrels, and this is where we’re at. It’s not really a “wow, hyped-up limited edition” more like a “huh, I guess I’d be fine if this was my summer daily drinker I got on sale”.

Here’s hoping they go back to their roots and take some risks on the next edition.

70/100


Compass Box Great King Blend Kensington Marrying Cask is a limited edition of the Great King Blend married in its own Marrying Cask (large casks that the whiskies are laid in to blend for an extra maturation together).

In this case, it was Married on January 18th, 2017 (a simpler time [no, not really]) and then taken out almost 2 years later (2 days to go, what are we doing people).

There’s a handful of these out there, and I like the idea. So how does cask #8 taste? Let’s see, shall we?

Price: $85 CAD

Region: Blend

Components: 46% Cameronbridge from a Re-Charred Bourbon Barrel, 30% Clynelish from a Re-Charred Bourbon Barrel, 16% Highland Malt Blend, 8% Linkwood from a First-Fill Sherry Butt

Marrying Cask Type: French Oak Barrel

Selected by and Bottled Exclusively for: Kensington Wine Market

Married: 18/01/2017

Bottled: 16/01/2019

Cask No. 8

No. Of bottles: 210

Abv: 49%

Colour: 5Y 8/8

Nose: Tropical fruit, cereal, brown sugar

Huh, that’s nice. Generic tropical notes, some cereal to balance that out, a bit of molasses/sugar going on. I’m not hating it. If anything it’s enticing, if simple. Doesn’t really scream complex but also doesn’t scream your name while killing your daughter’s rabbit so that’s something.

Taste: Tons of brown sugar, honeydew, brine, apple

Alright, that’s a lot of brown sugar. I was going to quote the Rolling Stones here but I don’t think I should take a chunk of that song less I sound out of context and really fucking racist.

Suffice to say this tastes like molasses laden brown sugar, not like a whisky should. Too much. Any other flavours are buried deep in diabetes land.

Finish: Wood, bitter, brine, molasses.

Somehow the unbalanced taste of pure brown sugar leaves your thoughts at the finish and you’re left with a woody, spirit bitter salt mess with just a hint of molasses to try and save you.

Spoiler: It doesn’t.

Conclusion: Nice nose, rest is a letdown. It’s really too bad they pulled this when they did, because it’s really, really young tasting. Unbalanced, sugar, fruit isn’t developed, and the finish is bitter and spirit forward. Water does calm down the taste some but then it becomes really generic and the nose isn’t as nice.

I don’t think this is truly terrible, but it shouldn’t have been out of the cask just yet. I’d skip.

68/100


Thanks to /u/the_muskox for sharing this dram with me.

Compass Box Phenomenology. Those of you who’ve ever perused a whisky shelf (virtual or real, though the other is rarer now given the world is broken) you’ll know whisky sometimes has names that is pretty hard to either pronounce (unless you understand Gaelic, then congrats on being 1.1-1.7% of Scotland/Ireland that speaks it) or it was made up (looking at your BenRiach).

So “Phenomenology” gives me pause, however, turns out it’s real, just like the stripper’s love for you or the confidence all those “girl boss” pillows made you feel.

Wait, I said the opposite of what I wanted to say. Phenomenology means the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness. So the study of how we interact with, are directed towards and interact with the world through our limited electric chemical meat pies that happen to live between our ears.

The idea for a whisky? Take whiskies that have dissonant flavours, and mix them so it tastes all yummy, with different flavours that are experienced for different people.

But as anyone who’s ever ordered just one pizza for a party, it can be pretty tough to entertain everyone. Let’s see how they did, shall we?

Price: £150

Region: Blend

Components: 72% Glenlossie from Re-Charred Hogshead, 24.5% Tamdhu from First Fill Bourbon, 2% Highland Park from Re-Charred Hogshead, 1% Talisker from Refill Butt, 0.5% Caol Ila from a Hogshead

Bottled: 2017

Number of bottles 7,908

Abv: 46%

Colour: 7.5Y 8/10

Nose: Banana, cereal, yeast, lemon, cantaloupe

Interesting. Definitely some ex-JD casks. At least I’m guessing, I’ve heard through the grapevine that imparts a banana flavour, and that’s evident here. Good balance between sweet and acidic, but not really giving that much beyond a fruit cup with some nutritional yeast.

Taste: Banana, anise, caramel, sugar syrup, lemon

Ok, some spice now. And… basically the same as the nose, with less tropical tartness. Still a good amount of banana though. Easy to drink really.

Finish: Cereal, vanilla, ginger, lemon pepper, brine

Here’s where the banana moves aside to… use what little Talisker is in there. Smoke, earth, some heat. Again nice, but nice in that “they are just a friend” kinda way.

Conclusion: A Banana-Bomb, and very little else, which is too bad. I get the idea: Take some things that have distinct flavours and mix them to make complexity. And instead I ended up with fruit and then a finish of heat.

I’m not angry at drinking this. More so I look at the components and the impetus and see a disconnect: I guess I like my Glenlossie sherried or my Tamdhu sherried, and find they shine with those, with this not doing much. Good use of peat on the finish, but not quite living up to the hype.

77/100


Thanks to /u/EvilAfi for sharing this dram with me.

A bit of a back-up here. This is not XXV, the 25th anniversary celebration bottle made for Delilah’s, a punk rock whisky bar in Chicago. This is the original, the 20th anniversary bottling of Compass Box Delilah’s XX Limited Edition, which was released as just Compass Box Delilah’s, but in 2018 a new one came out and people are confused and if 2020 keeps going the way it is the Aliens who take over will be too.

I found out afterward this whisky was made as the perfect whisky to pair with a beer. Sorry I didn’t do that. Not for a hatred of beer, just… well, I usually don’t do that.

So fuck it, let’s see how this tastes, shall we?

Price: €206.61

Region: Blend

Blend Components: Single malts from the towns of Alness and Longmorn (approx 50% of the recipe) (40% from Teaninich and 12% from Glen Elgin); single grain whisky from Fife (Cameronbridge) (approx 50% of the recipe) (actually 48% Cameronbridge). All barrels were American oak.

Total Bottles: 6,324

Bottled: 2013

Abv: 40%

Colour: 2.5Y ⅞

Nose: Jujubes, pineapple, currant, oak, gingersnap

Fruit candy, more acidity, some rich notes, and some vanilla/oak going on. Gets spicy/buttery with time.

I can see this taking a simple lager and making it closer to an IPA. On the nose at least… and I guess if you’re shooting it that’s not really what you’re going for… I’ll move on.

Taste: Hay, lemon seltzer, herbal, salt, jujube

Farmy, some spritz, bit bitter and salty, and still has that sweet candy flavour. If I was better at this reviewing thing I’d love to see what it tastes like with a beer.

I’m joking of course, however I think they’ve made something that’s not bad without the beer. Certainly interesting.

Finish: Lemongrass, pear, grain, mineral, wood

I have a love/hate feeling about the finish, much like I do about pop punk. I enjoy the lemongrass and the pear, however it really hits that woodworking/too simple flavour and starts a mosh pit with a bunch of 14-year-olds who think telling you to fuck yourself is punk.

Yeah, get off my goddamn lawn.

Conclusion: Overall the finish could be better, though I liked the spice throughout. This is quite impressive for the simplicity and what they aimed for. Heck, I’d argue it tastes much better than something you’d simply shoot and drink a beer with. Yeah, that makes a cool, rough and tumble story, and it may seem hardcore, but take a second to just have this and it works.

There’s nothing lame about enjoying something, getting into it and having a good time. And this does that. Make more like this whisky and people will enjoy.

77/100


Thanks to /u/EvilAFI for pouring this for me.

So you join in on this contest, right? And you are crowned the most inspired of the bartenders by Compass Box. The winner? Rosey Mitchell. But what do you win?

Well you get to create a blend with John Glaser and Jill Boyd (whiskymaker). And they made Compass Box the Circle.

Being a bartender and a whisky blender must share some similarities. There’s just, you know, some differences like the sheer amount and the effects of time versus the effects of cold and shaking/stirring as well as arm width (bartenders are buff as fuck).

So was this sunshine in a bottle? Let’s see how Rosey’s dram turned out, shall we?

Price: $164.99 CAD

Region: Blend

Blend Components: 78.8% Tamdhu in a First Fill Bourbon Barrel, 14.8% Clynelish in a Refill Sherry Butt, 4.9% Highland Park (or Scapa, but it’s HP) in a Recharred American Oak Hogshead, 1.5% Highland Malt Blend in a Custom French Oak Casks with a Light Toast (which is in turn made up of 60% Clynelish, 20% Dailuaine, 20% Teaninich)

Abv: 46%

Colour: 5Y 8/8

Nose: Grain, peach, caramel

Simpler nose. Not getting much from it beyond some cereal/grain notes and fruit. Once you get past the grain it’s nice, it’s just not really doing much more. Where’s my sunshine?

Taste: Lemon, herbal, caramel, apple

Fruity, light, bit herbal. I can kinda see, after the fact, the idea of a fruit forward, bright whisky. However again, I’m not really jiving too much here. Tamdhu usually is better with sherry casks, in my limited experience.

However I’m not getting any of the wax, no real peat like the one above. Granted Highland Park (or maybe Scapa, it’s HP) isn’t as peated as Talisker so maybe a bit more should have been dumped in.

Finish: Earth, lemon, candied peach, grain

Finish teases you with a bit of complexity from candied peach. That’s about it.

Conclusion: Simple, boring, and not really interesting. I have to say I was really let down by this one. A similar contest was held by Auchentoshan and had nice results, so this shouldn’t be a loss.

I think perhaps it just didn’t translate from the blending to the bottle. Sure, it’s a bit bright and fruity but if anything it’s mostly blah. I can’t recommend this one, and I think they owe Rosey a better try.

59/100


Thanks to /u/EvilAfi for this sample.

Compass Box Eleuthera was Compass Box’s first ever single malt blend. No grain, just malt.

Why did it go away? Because obtaining Clynelish 15-year-old aged in re-charred hogsheads became a big no-go moving forward. Don’t got the stuff? Can’t make the juice. I’m pretty sure Shakespeare wrote that.

So this is simply Clynelish 15 and Caol Ila 12, blended under watchful eyes, let vat, and then released as a smoky whisky without “the fireplace aftertaste”. Which is weird cause I like that part.

Eleuthera is greek for the feminine version of “free”, which this is not, and thus that’s pretty ironic.

Let’s see how it tastes, shall we?

Price: Auction between £675 and £800

Region: Blend

Blend Components: Clynelish 15 year old aged in re-charred hogsheads and Caol Ila 12-year-old

Bottled: May 2002

Abv: 46%

Nose: Pear, smoked ham, lime, grass, brown sugar

Interesting. It starts out with some inviting fruit, goes to a meaty/smoked flavour, and has elements of acidity and molasses on the nose.

The smoky meatiness is what draws you in though. Yes, the other flavours are nice, good compliments, but as in most things, pork is king here.

Taste: Cocoa, honeycomb, wax, banana, charcoal

So I’m wax blind. But you can’t miss the Clynelish influence here. And that’s why you can’t get it anymore, because that’s tasty. The smoke is more of a charcoal, earthy smokiness and it’s very welcome with the fruit and honey.

Aka this is why people sell smoked honey.

Finish: Coconut, grass, brine, beef broth, cocoa

Finish doesn’t feel like a campfire, so goal has been met. Umami, dry, brine, grass, and cocoa. Completes the whole thing with this sweet, lovely taste that makes you go for another sip.

Conclusion: Good Crunchie Bar for Adults. This is what I’m talking about when I talk about blends taking components and making something better. This is interesting, works well, has no rough points, and does something different.

I’m not enthused about a less-that-cask-strength Clynelish 15. I’ve had them, they are meh. But this? This takes a bit of Caol Ila 12 and I don’t care if it’s not cask strength. It’s tasty. It’s good. This is what you make. This is what I want from blends. This is how to get good scores from me. This is how to make a good blend: Age, no grain, good malts. I keep running into it, and if you find one that hits those requirements, pay the extra to get it (within reason, the secondary for this is crazy town).

84/100


Compass Box Rivals is a genius idea. Look, I haven’t reviewed it yet, but the idea itself? Brilliant. This needs to happen more. Not just with whisky.

Rivalry is healthy when not crazy. You get good Tupac albums, you get good Biggie albums.

Rivalry is bad then Tupac and Biggie end up dead, alright? Yeah, Suge Knight can suck my remaining nut: They should have had better, fulfilled lives, and the people who benefited from it are bloodsuckers on their corpse.

Wait, am I dating myself talking about 90s tragedies? Should I had said Nipsey Brown or XXXTentacion instead? Oh well, I’m old.

So when Compass Box had two “Rivals” who wanted to make a blend, I don’t think it was going to end in bodies on the floor. I think instead we would have ended up with potentially bad whiskies.

So Julio’s Liquors and Astor Wine & Spirits were brought together to make a whisky, and put aside… some sort of rivalry based on something. I don’t know, maybe Astor dropped some phat beats about Astor’s man not being thicc enough. Who knows.

So let’s see if it’s better, or if we should have handed out guns instead.

Price: € 440

Region: Blend

Blend Components: 61.8% Macallan, 27.8% Imperial, both aged in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, 8.5% Highland Malt Whisky Blend, and 1.9% Teaninich aged in sherry casks.

Abv: 46%

Colour: 7.5Y 8/8

Nose: Sunflower, blueberry, cinnamon, lemon cake, orange juice

Holy floral Batman! Blind I’d think this was a Lowland, and I sure do love me some Lowlands. Floral, bit of nuttiness, sweet, and spice, all with some cake flavours. Lovely tartness/citrus going on there.

Taste: Violet, caramel, tannic, peach pie

More floral, though a bit less complex now. However I’m picking up this tea/tannic note, good buttery aspect to the stone fruit, and a fruity/floral side that I’m digging. At first it’s not really holding up to the bold nose but… damned if I can’t get enough of this.

Finish: Grape, rose, mint/grassy, wax, malt

Floral, fruity, bit of wax (in a Compass Box? I never!), lovely malt and some really nice spice and mint.

Conclusion: A Good Spring forward dram that really builds upon tasty flavours and a central theme. Again this is greater than the sum of it’s parts. All Malt (a pattern? never), has good casks, and has whiskies that work with ex-Bourbon.

Finally I think we see the aspects of each group coming together: It’s pretty obvious, given the components, one group was going for Macallan + Something and the other was going for Macalan & Imperial + Something, and I think it needs both.

So if you like floral, find this… I guess, if you can. Kinda hard to find it now, but if you can have a dram, I’d go for it.

85/100

Scotch review #1278-86, Blend review #107-15, Whisky Network review #1931-9

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