A Phenomenon Revisited – Compass Box Phenomenology 46%

Compass Box’s Phenomenology is one of those whiskies that is both phenomenal and a phenomenon. I have yet to encounter a whisky that provokes such a range of reactions – with highly individual perceptions.

I first had it with our Bombay Malt & Cigar gents back in February 2018. Where our host very generously asked if I would like to take the bottle home to share with others. Would I?? Oh yes indeed!

And the perfect evening presented itself in June 2018 with the Whisky Ladies. We were a lovely small group and after our Highland Hijinks trio, our evening didn’t seem quite finished…

Enter Phenomenology…

And what a remarkable experience it was. Just to give a feel for the contrasting responses, I’ve deliberately kept them separated by speaker for the nose… read, discover and see if this possibly could be the same whisky!

Just a sampling of the aromas different ladies found are noted below:

  • Floral, lots of jasmine, honeysuckle, perfume
  • Almond, like Amaretto, shrewsbury biscuits
  • Citrus, salt, melon or more precisely cantaloupe, a licorice saunf and surprisingly sharp
  • Almond, dum biryani
  • Salted caramel, toffee, rhubarb, orange rind, musk, tobacco leaf
  • A kaleidoscope of aromas, fresh green apples, french vanilla, pure dessert, icing sugar powder, blue cheese, toasted rice, yoghurt

As for the rest, our combined experience was:

  • Palate – A light hint of peat, great “teeth”, whiff of skunk, cedar plank with salmon, sage, had a great mouthfeel, light spice
  • Finish – Citrus and floral, mild spice, black cardamom

To say we loved it was an understatement. It was complex, challenging, sparked conversation. And not only did we each find largely quite different aspects, even individual women found multiple elements too… this was no one-dimensional dram. No siree!

Above all – how could such contrasting characters emerge from the same whisky?

Here is where the folks at Compass Box excel, they share their secrets, telling the world exactly what goes into the bottle so one can attempt to dissect, deconstruct, discover and above all learn and be inspired…

What is fascinating is the bulk of this blend comes from Glenlossie – a distillery I’ve yet to try as a single malt and has no specific official bottles outside of Diageo’s Flora and Fauna range. Yet its been around since 1876 quietly producing whisky for blends.

And what does it add to Phenomenology?

  • 72% total liquid volume with a malt whisky matured in re-charred hogshead
  • And what does it add in terms of its flavour profile? Fresh, Fruity, Apples
Next up? Tamdhu with 24.5% matured in first fill bourbon cask adding Caramel, Oak, Spice. In this case, one I’ve tried but long ago and not at a time when I took any tasting notes, which means I have no particularly memory.
And the last 3? A split between rather familiar distilleries:
  • Highland Park with 2% matured in re-charred hogshead bringing burnt butter, bonfires, tar
  • Talisker with 1% matured in refill butt adding salty, coastal, brine dimensions
  • Caol Ila with a mere 0.5% matured in a hogshead throwing marshmallow, vanilla and sweet smoke into the equation
With this knowledge, do we understand more? Perhaps. And yet the proof is in the pudding so to speak… the way in which the whiskies were blended in such a masterful way to produce something unique and quixotic. And well worth revisiting.
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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 – 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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