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The Compass Box Confirmation

Disillusioned and jaded, James felt that there was nothing else to be done; five years had passed agreeably enough, but could he sustain himself with only the polite and the pleasant for company? Had he not better, James asked himself, seek his fortunes further afield? Perhaps there was merit in this rum business that everyone was talking so animatedly about…

If I come across as a character the misanthropic like of which Dickens or Beckett drew, I’m not being entirely serious. My whisky life isn’t all that bad; with regular tastings at the Quaich Society, Scotch Malt Whisky Society visits and the odd Edinburgh-based whisky event now and again, I come across genuinely interesting and tasty drams. But the problem worsens: the more whiskies you taste, the rarer those whiskies of exceptional character and quality become. You become inured to the sensation of pleasure and wonder over time, the bar is raised to heights tantamount to masochistic denial. If only the VVVVVIPs can make it into the club, it starts to look pretty empty.

Little or nothing can pin you back in your seat with exhilaration, or catapault you into the air with excitement, or turn you to a beaming, self-satisfied jelly. ‘This is good,’ you acknowledge, ‘but does it better Dram X of three months ago? It certainly can’t hold a torch to Dram Y.’ It is time and romance, of course, that have transformed Dram Y into that picture of transient ambrosia. With more experience, the impressions past whiskies have made in the mind remain, while I can only dimly recollect the actual cohesion of flavour and aroma particular to them.

Compass Box The Entertainer.

Thank goodness, therefore, that Compass Box exist to reaffirm my faith in whisky. In January, two samples arrived which represented the shafts of radiant sunlight on an otherwise overcast day.

Compass Box The Entertainer 46% £85 available exclusively at Selfridges’ UK stores, and online (1,000 bottles)

Colour – rich lemon curd yellow/gold.

Nose – vanilla unfurls, bringing with it barley with a bristly texture. Strawberry patch: straw, crushed berries and earth. It opens up onto creaminess, with a hard layer of peat. Demerara sugar and sea spray. Growing citrussy warmth: orange zest. Lemon butter icing, gingerbread-accented malt and honey.

Palate – very sweet, with dancing peat: dry, fragrant, with a suggestion of smouldering pine furniture. Dries leisurely with some vanilla spongecake, oak, and gently honeyed malt.

Finish – quite rich, with the peat evident, but towards the back of ‘the mix’. Icing sugar and marzipan. Lemony and creamy.

With water, the nose became more biscuity and the smoke reduced to only a texture: like the last embers of a log fire, so soft and ashy. Creamy again with the finest Scottish tablet. Pastry cases, almonds and boiling damsen jam. On the palate the creaminess continued. All was super-soft at first with banana, vanilla and ripe pineapple, before the oak dug in a little. Ginger, clove and pear then appeared. Cereal sweetness dominated in the finish with muscovado sugar, marshmallow, and beach bonfire.

I tasted this for the second time in conjunction with the latest Flaming Heart, when its sweetness came back into line and the peat was not so pronounced. It lost, too, a slight ‘sweaty sock’ aroma which hadn’t been terribly welcome the first time through. This is another strong runner from the House of Compass Box and assuredly worth finding in the four Selfridges of England. However, it was the second sample that rocked my world.

Compass Box Hedonism 10th Anniversary 46% DISCONTINUED (120 bottles, single cask)

Colour – syrupy dark honey/gold.

Nose – incredibly delicate cereals at the top, with dryness and a rum-like sugariness. Thick golden creme patissiere and heady toasted coconut. With my nose in the glass now, I get acrylic paint and impressions of dusty age at first, but then baked red apples slide into view on a bed of caramel and marginally mentholated oak. The cask is rigid, but sublime: it allows vanilla, oiliness and tropical fruit to emerge (especially passion fruit) while keeping everything structurally sound. So much runny honey and icing sugar. Grape, lemon curd and marzipan sweets. Christmas spices with time.

Palate – Bourbon-like at first with rich, spicy oak. But then… Oh goodness me… pooling yellow fruit, such sweet warm lemon, marzipan again and book glue. The body so thick and creamy with just enough balancing dryness. Damn near flawless. In fact, the best whisky I have sipped ever.

Finish – white chocolate profiteroles, gorse blossom. Cannot quite sustain perfection as a tad too much cinnamon-driven dryness comes in. Nutmeg, sweet cereals and buttery toffee.

After adding water, coconut became more pronounced on the nose with stunning vanilla shortbread and sandalwood handsoap sumptuousness. Candied orange. Then pralines, rich and sugary. Soft leather. With more time an amazing freshness emerges: Soy-covered Japanese vegetables, satin-like golden syrup. The palate wasn’t quite the wonder it had been. Still Bourbon-y at first, the lemon and sugar were there, too, but not quite in such terrific collaboration. Blackberries and strawberries baked in sugar. The richness is impeccably balanced. Going into the finish, I found caramel wafer bars, buttercream icing, and that leatheriness returned to support the coconut oils.


Released in 2010 to coincide with the company’s 10th anniversary, John Glaser had scoured the land for grain whiskies which could pay tribute to the expression that started it all: the blended grain seductress, Hedonism. He found it when scrutinising samples from Invergordon, and one from 1971 could not be passed up. I adore grain whiskies that have been left in prime ex-Bourbon casks to do their thing, and this fits the bill absolutely. Master of Malt still have it listed on their website - though out of stock - at £197.01. Multiply that figure by ten, and I would scrimp, save and sue to purchase a bottle of this. It is utterly extraordinary. And ‘the bar’ is now somewhere near the jetstreams.

My profound thanks to Chris Maybin for the samples.

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March 7, 2013 um 5:51 pm
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