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Compass Box are a blender, known for creating some of the most intriguing Scotch whiskies on the market. The company was founded in 2000 by John Glaser, an American who abandoned his studies in order to learn how to make wine. After spending time in France and California, however, an opportunity arose to work for Johnnie Walker in New York, a role that would eventually see him transferred to London. It was during his time with the giant of blended Scotch that he became frustrated with a lack of innovation within the industry and began to pressure his employers to try some new ideas. His pleas fell on deaf ears, however, and Glaser soon decided to set out on his own, creating Compass Box as the platform from whence to share his vision of what blended whisky could be.
The company launched with a blend of grain whiskies that would come to be known as Hedonism. Back then, indeed even now, the idea of a ‘blended grain’ was unheard of but for that very reason it was perhaps the perfect introduction to this new ideology that would see flavour take precedence over tradition. 19 years later the Hedonism blend continues to have its place at the heart of a core range that also includes The Spice Tree, Oak Cross, The Story of the Spaniard and The Peat Monster.
Throughout the years, the experimental nature of the Compass Box blends have seen the company occasionally run afoul of the Scotch Whisky Association. When it was discovered that initial releases of The Spice Tree were created using ‘inner staves’, a process often used to boost the impact of casks in the wine industry, Glaser & co received what amounted to a cease and desist letter, with any surviving bottles swiftly pulled from shelves. More recently, they locked horns with the authorities over their decision to reveal the exact makeup of their blends. Current EU law states that only the age of the youngest component in a blend can be declared but Compass Box argued that consumers deserved to know what they were buying and even went so far as to campaign for increased transparency within the industry. Depressingly but not surprisingly, this campaign met with little support and the issue seems to have died a death, for the time being at least.
While it is understandable that Compass Box often attract vast column inches for their run-ins with the authorities, it sometimes feels like the controversy can overshadow the most important aspect of the company and that is the sheer quality of their whisky, which is always consistent and occasionally magnificent.
Great King St
Taking its name from the address of the Compass Box offices in Edinburgh, The Great King St range comprises of two products… ‘Artist’s Blend‘ is a tribute to the master blenders of yesteryear whilst the ‘Glasgow Blend’ takes inspiration from Aeneas MacDonald’s 1930s book ‘Whisky’ in which he outlines the preferences of the Glasgow-based whisky drinker. Bottled at 43%, it retails at around £35 a bottle.
Smell: Thick Smoke and barbecued meats with lemon and smouldering straw. Sherry in the form of orange peel and chocolate covered raisins.
Taste: Salted caramel, orange zest and warming cinnamon with a touch of dry oak and fiery smoke and ash.
Thoughts: An excellent little dram that comes at a very affordable price.
Though it has been diluted to 43%, the whisky has mercifully not been chill-filtered which makes it immensely drinkable without compromising on the mouthfeel and weight of the spirit.
Compass Box are on a mission to elevate blended Scotch above the all-too-frequent snobbery that demeans it at every turn and here, John Glaser and his team have created a fine dram that would comfortably stand shoulder to shoulder with many single malts. Imbued with deep smoke and luxurious sherry, it is fiery, rich and complex – a lot like Glasgow itself.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.
For more on Compass Box, click here.