Compass Box Quartet! (suggestion morphs into voluntTOLD)

A certain word has entered our vocabulary – “Voluntold” – where one is rather enthusiastically volunteered for an activity or responsibility… accompanied by a fairly heavy undercurrent of being “told” to step up and “volunteer”….

Original credit goes to a dear friend from Winnipeg who “voluntold” her husband to be the official photographer at our wedding. Given he’s both a brilliant filmmaker and photographer, the results were spectacular, very welcome and the best possible gift!

Since then it has stuck.

And with some marvellous applications… including a recent innocent and offhand “suggestion” to a fellow whisky aficionado for an upcoming Bombay Malt & Cigar whisky session, which somehow slipped into a “voluntold” interpretation to acquire from La Maison du Whisky in Singapore.

And the results? A quite interesting quartet of Compass Box blends…

BMC’s Compass Box Quartet

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Compass Box – No Name 48.9%

Last in our Compass Box quartet was “No Name”…. in a black as sin bottle, a neck dripping in tar like wax… And what did we discover?

No Name 48.9%

  • Nose – Our immediate reaction? Who needs a cigar with a whisky like this! Smoke was in your face, campfires burning, sweet, charcoal, burnt leaf, acrid, tar…. yet still an underlying sweet
  • Palate – Sweet, almost too much sweet, more cigar, spice, bitter and dry, one even remarked “its like burnt plastic” chased by dark fruits
  • Finish – Bitter
  • Water – The verdict was out whether it helps or harms

This is no easy whisky. And for our resident sherry aficionado, it was the complete opposite of the kind of whisky he would chose. Even those who enjoy a good peaty dram found it a bit much. Clearly it is unique, and one cannot ignore it… but it is certainly not for everyone.

And what do the folks at Compass Box have to say?

For this our peatiest whisky yet, we have decided on No Name. The idea for this limited edition was sparked by the discovery of a parcel of casks of mature, heavy-peated single malt whisky from a well-known distillery located along Pier Road, in the Southeast of the island of Islay.

Even peatier than our whisky called ‘The Peat Monster’ – the staple peated Blended Malt Scotch Whisky in the Compass Box range – the resulting blend is massive in terms of the intensity and complexity of flavour; a whisky brimming with complex peatiness, but tempered with hints of fruit character and an underlying sweetness.

Flavour Descriptors A bonfire-like smokiness on the nose with a peatiness that is by turns tarry and medicinal with hints of autumn leaves. A powerful smokiness and peatiness follow, accented by hints of ripe cherries, plums and spice.

Recommendations This is a whisky for slow sipping either neat, with a splash of water or with an ice cube, which will reveal the layers of massive complexity this whisky offers as the whisky very slowly dilutes.

BMC’s Compass Box Quartet:

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Compass Box – Phenomenology 46%

Next in our Compass Box quartet explorations was a true conversation starter… every element had something different to deliver.

Phenomenology 46%

  • Nose – Did this whisky really start off with a faint whiff of eau du detergent?? Then apple juice, slightly sour… however the aromas were exceedingly shy… taking effort to tease out… A bit of talcum powder, then finally as it began to open up some light spice, coffee, vanilla custard, toffee
  • Palate – Holy toledo! What a contrast. An absolutely awesome whisky… so smooth on the tongue almost soft initially then explodes into spicy sweetness… fruity, cracked black pepper, all in a velvety coating with a puff of smoke
  • Finish – Deceptive… highly deceptive… as it is very long yet at a whisper not a roaring spice

There was no mistaking this is a complicated and contradictory whisky – a nose which is almost elusive in character initially. Then a palate that made an extraordinary arc from subtle and nuanced to needle sharp spice. Even the finish provoked a debate – some suggesting it was remarkable by its absence and equally strong opinions it was there if only one tuned in to its quiet frequency.

Well named and well constructed to be discordant yet harmonious too.

And what do the folks at Compass Box have to say?

We’d long been working on a blend of single malts that combines seemingly dissonant flavour profiles, but together creates something compelling. We landed on a recipe that elicited a surprising range of reactions and descriptions, each person taking away something different from the whisky.

Rather than try to settle on whose perceptions were ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, we were inspired by the phenomenological school of thought to consider how different people experience the same phenomenon.

Flavour Descriptors Aromas and flavours reminiscent of berry fruits, baked apples and hints of banana, with a delicate peaty-smokiness that follows and resonates in the long finish.

Recommendations This is an ideal whisky for sipping and contemplating on its own, or with a splash of water or an ice cube which will reveal subtle complexities.

BMC’s Compass Box Quartet:

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Compass Box – The Double Single 46%

Next up in our Compass Box quartet was The Double Single, named for it bringing together one single grain whisky (Girvan) and one single malt whisky (Glen Elgin)… with the idea that bringing them together elements beyond the sum of their parts.

And what did we think?

The Double Single 46%

  • Nose – Initial hit of varnish, has heft, sharp, then shifted into blood oranges, then green apples with a tartness, spice like paprika, cloves, cinnamon, marmalade sweetness, vanilla sponge cake, icing super, dancing around… after some time, took on a musty sweetness
  • Palate – “My god its complex!” Chilli flakes, sweet chilli spice, silky smooth, coats then spices flare gently, no question it is robust, complex with different elements playing counter point to each other
  • Finish – Very sweet with an interesting contrast to the palate

For one, on the nose it reminded of Mr Kipling’s “French Fancies”. And what a remarkable palate. It was without a doubt the preferred whisky to accompany a good cigar. In short, we loved it!

And what do the folks at Compass Box have to say?

Flavour Descriptors  In The Double Single we have combined single malt whisky from the Glen Elgin distillery and single grain whisky from the Girvan distillery. The elegantly complex, ethereal malt whisky character is balanced on a decadent cushion of rich, sweet, vanilla-tinged grain whisky character.

Recommendations The combination is a deeply satisfying yet versatile whisky, perfect served as a rich aperitif before a winter’s dinner, or as a rewarding post-prandial any time of year.

BMC’s Compass Box Quartet:

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Compass Box – Whisky de Table 40%

First up in our Compass Box quartet was a chilled bottle of Whisky de Table, blended for La Maison du Whisky to enjoy like a glass of wine with dinner. So what did we think?

Whisky de Table 40% for La Maison du Whisky

  • Nose – Bursting with fruity grains, sharp honey, citrus, bright, cheerful, dried limes and wild flowers
  • Palate – More weight than anticipated based on the nose, lightly herbal, a bit of smoke. 2nd sip was pure sugar, spice, very sippable…
  • Finish – Not much of a finish, just short and sweet
  • Ice – We skipped water and went straight to a few cubes of ice… which brought out green lime cordial, very sweet
  • After time… really started to shift into an orange oil essence, quite enjoyable

The initial impression taking a whiff even before pouring was “It’s a Sauvignon Blanc!” And on the first sip, it was an exclaim of “Very drinkable whisky.”

For some, the nose was more interesting than the palate. More than one remarked on how much it reminded them of sipping on a crisp bottle of white wine.

While not complex, chilled it is refreshing, enjoyable and far too easy to drink… exactly what one would want in a whisky with a light repast.

What more do we know about this whisky? It is a blend of Clyneslish, Caol Ila, Benrinnes and Linkwood, aged in American oak barrels from Buffalo Trace.

BMC’s Compass Box Quartet

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Whisky Lady – February 2018

Time for the monthly round-up of malty adventures and more! February was a quieter month with just two whisky tasting sessions, providing an opportunity to share impressions from WhiskyLive Singapore.

Photo: Rashmi Dhawani

As the Whisky Ladies had joined the gents for a round of independent blends, we decided to have a completely random evening of “Contributor’s Choice” at the close of January:

This was followed by our original club being overwhelmed by the inventive packaging while being undwhelmed by the whisky:

Our Bombay Malt & Cigar gents are becoming rather regular in their sessions – no mean feat consider most members can be more easily be found loitering in London, Dubai, Munich, Singapore and various US and other airports. What did we explore? A Compass Box Quartet!

Photo: Keshav Prakash

What a remarkable trio! As I could not make it to the session, the samples reached home to enable us to compare our guest writer Nikkhil Shirodkar’s notes with the group with my independent impressions of our Kavalan Solist Cask Night:

I also kicked off the first batch of a series sharing fleeting impressions from Whisky Live Singapore 2017:

Photo: Nikoulina Berg

Beyond the tasting group meetings, there was an impromptu gin evening with a few friends

Curious to know more? Check out recent Whisky Lady’s monthly missives:

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Compass Box Enlightenment + Oak Cross

Compass Box just does blends to a different standard. These are no run of the mill drams. Their quirky sometimes stunning packaging is as appealing as what is contained in the bottles too.

At Whisky Live in Singapore (November 2017), I skipped all the whiskies sampled not so long ago with the Whisky Ladies to instead focus on lightly sniff, swish and spit my way through two.

Enlightenment 46%

  • Nose – Fruity, malty, cereals, bit of pepper, crisp fruits, teasing vanilla
  • Palate – Sweet light spice that grows, bright, citrus
  • Finish – There… with more spice

Overall it is exceedingly nice and eminently drinkable.

And what do the folks over at Compass Box have to say?

Inspired by the writers, philosophers and scientists of the Age of Enlightenment, this blend of fruity fragrant Highland Single Malt Scotch Whiskies is bursting with aromas of fresh orchard fruit, vanilla, soft spice and pear.

Oak Cross 43%

  • Nose – Light oak, malty with a bit of fruit
  • Palate – So smooth with a woody spice, clove
  • Finish – More oomph than expected, warm and stays

In many ways Oak Cross is a great name for this whisky…. it has solid oak crossed with a nice spice. It absolutely works!

And the Compass Box folks insight?

We begin by sourcing whiskies from three single malt distilleries; one for its ethereal fruity character, one for its enchanting perfume and one that lends a complex and substantial structure to the blend.

All are aged in American oak casks before we place a portion into innovative hybrid casks featuring heavily toasted new French oak heads. These give the whisky an added richness and spice-like complexity. By carefully blending back the French oak-aged whisky with its American oak-aged forebear, we are able to create a refined, rich, but well-mannered malt whisky, with fruity aspects that will remind you of baked apple or pears, complemented by a rich, toasty oak character.

More Compass Box experiences:

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Whisky Ladies Compass Box Eve – Peat Monster 46%

At last! Our final Whisky Ladies Compass Box Quintet whisky of the evening!

We started with Spice Tree Extravaganza, then the lightly peated Great King Street Experimental Batch, shifted gears completely to the blended grain Hedonism before being bowled over by the majestic Flaming Heart!

No easy feat to follow, Peat Monster boldly entered the fray!

Compass Box Peat Monster 46%

  • Nose “Did I just singe my eyelashes?” Punchy, pepper, much spicer than the Flaming Heart, malty sweet embers, coffee
  • Palate – Sweet, campfires burning, spicy yet not harsh, smoky, malty, lightly fruity
  • Finish – Smoky embers, cinnamon sweet spice
  • Water – This was the 1st dram of the night where a few drops of water really helped open it up, dampening the fires, bringing out a wider range in the spice elements, black liquorice, basil and more… a kaleidoscope of flavours to the back of the mouth and throat

After the gorgeous complexity of Flaming Heart, Peat Monster was a return to a dramatic dram that gets right to the point. Nothing fundamentally wrong with that – in fact at times that is exactly what you are in the mood for! No nonsense, this is what it is and enjoy!

For some, previous memories of Peat Monster was of a well-balanced, rich peaty dram that didn’t demand a single drop of water. Yet this one did. With a few drops transforming it, achieving the accessibility and drinkability we remembered. Interesting…

Here’s what the folks at Compass Box have to say:

You will find a spectrum of seaside and medicinal peatiness, along with kipper-like smokiness, all surrounding a core of fruity malt whisky character. THE PEAT MONSTER is a whisky for those who love intensity, flavour and freshness, balance and drinkability. A whisky for those who appreciate the blending of seemingly dissonant elements to create something sublime.

For the whisky geeks, I’ve included Compass Box’s info graphic, outlining the break-up between Laphroaig, Ledaig, Caol Ila, Ardmore with a 1% dash of Highland malt (Clynelish, Teaninich, Duilaine) with a warning that with each batch variation will occur.

Our Compass Box evening included:

Psst… this wasn’t my first brush with Peat Monster… you can read more about my earlier experience here.

This whisky was purchased by one of our Whisky Ladies and sampled from an unopened bottle in July 2017. It is also available in India through The Vault Fine Spirits.

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Whisky Ladies Compass Box Eve – Flaming Heart 48.9%

Our Whisky Ladies Compass Box evening moved on to Flaming Heart with a “smouldering, spicy, complex” profile from whisky aged in new French Oak blended with peaty Islay single malt.

What did the ladies find? In short – wow!

Compass Box Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary Limited Edition (July 2015) 48.9%

  • Nose – Greeted by sweet smoke, surprisingly light and fresh, candied peat, leafy, a bit dusty almost musty, black pepper and also green capsicum, intense without being too much so. As it aired more, revealed vanilla, sea salt and seaweed, mossy, gaining in richness and aromas, even a faintly metallic quality. As even more time passed, it revealed further dimensions from star anise to dried fruits and tight berries to an almost herbal quality…
  • Palate – Rich, very unique, oily, heavy, peppery cinnamon or perhaps even a red chilli dark chocolate, gorgeous rich fruits, bitter, toasty, later even leather joined the flavours, an exceedingly tasty dram with a marvellous rich mouthfeel
  • Finish – Woody, dry, fruit spice, feels like it doesn’t end…

One of our ladies nailed it “I’ve been transported!” For her it was straight to Scotland. For others, it was a walk along a beach with the spray and scent of seaweed. Or striding alone along a wind swept cliff. Or coming home to an old leather chair, settling in with a dusty library of beloved books.

This is a ‘weighty whisky’ of substance. A big whisky. With lots of smoke and gorgeous complexity. So much personality and character.

Talk turned to whether it could be described as “Wuthering Heights” like until another quipped “No… this is Game of Thrones” for its complexity, its depth and range… its different personalities… its distinct stages with Acts 1, 2 and 3. This whisky is the stuff of the Iron Islands, sex and dragons.

Here is what the folks over at Compass Box have to say about their 15th Anniversary edition:

First released in 2006, Flaming Heart was the first whisky to combine the rich, complex spice of Scotch aged in new French oak with the evocative peat-fired smoke of Islay malt. It created a genre-defying style that was smouldering, spicy, complex – and so popular that we’ve re-released it four more times in the years that followed.

A unique interplay between spice, sweet and smoke characteristics. Sweet fruits and wood-smoke on the nose. Fat and full-bodied on the palate with a spicy sweetness and a brooding complexity that is rich, sweet and addictively decadent.

And for the whisky geeks, here is their infographic on its composition:

Our Compass Box evening included:

This whisky was purchased at Le Clos at Dubai International Airport for AED 375 and sampled from an unopened bottle in July 2017. 

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Whisky Ladies Compass Box Eve – Hedonism 43%

At our Whisky Ladies Compass Box evening shifted gears completely… Having just sampled Spice Tree Extravaganza and the lightly peaty Great King Street Experimental Batch, we realized before launching into the decidedly peaty Flaming Heart and Peat Monster, it might be a good idea to recalibrate our palates with the unique Hedonism.

Compass Box Hedonism 43%

  • Nose – Exquisite! Subtle, nuanced, fresh oranges, exceedingly fresh and fragrant
  • Palate – Piña colada with that mix of coconut cream and pineapple, sweet light spice, silky smooth, vanilla custard
  • Finish – Starts with a great finish then “Oh you are gone, but was nice while it lasted!”

There was an immediate flashback to the Nikka Coffey Grain with its coconut, pinneapple, yet obviously a much more nuanced variant… for some it was absolutely delicious and for others, just not their style. Which seems to be the case with grain whiskies.

It was a complete departure from the earlier drams and an excellent example of the range of unique blends Compass Box produces.

Here’s what the folks at Compass Box have to say:

The inspiration behind our whisky HEDONISM is just that – pleasure, enjoyment, a celebration of that ideal marriage between distilled spirit and high quality oak maturation. The aromas and flavours hint of vanilla, caramel, a delicate fruitiness, accented by flashes of coconut in the finish. This is a whisky that will appeal to both the ardent whisky enthusiast and newcomers to whisky alike.

Our Compass Box evening included:

Psst… this wasn’t my first rodeo with Hedonism… you can read more about my earlier experiences here. I was delighted to sample a more recent incarnation.

This whisky was purchased by one of our Whisky Ladies and sampled from an open, nearly full bottle in July 2017.

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