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Compass Box is a much beloved blender of scotch whisky founded in 2000 by John Glaser. Former International Marketing Manager for Johnnie Walker, Glaser was driven to create his own company by a desire for increased creativity in the whisky industry, especially where blending was concerned. He launched with Hedonism, an unusual vatting of grain whiskies, the likes of which had rarely, if ever, been bottled before. That sense of inventiveness and willingness to try what no-one else would, or could, has come to rather define the company in the years that followed.
One of the latest additions to their core range is The Story of the Spaniard, a blended malt inspired by a chance meeting with a local man whilst Glaser was travelling through the south of Spain, visiting as many village bars as he could find. On one occasion an elderly gentleman took it upon himself to educate the American on the merits of sherry and clearly it was an experience that lingered in the memory, later to be recalled in the form of this sherry matured blended malt whisky.
Scotch whisky has been linked with the sherry of Spain for as long as the spirit has been held in oak casks. This symbiotic relationship owes its origins to the popularity of Sherry among the British, even whilst scotch whisky was in its infancy. The Spanish shipped their product to the British Isles in storage barrels and throughout the duration of its journey a proportion of the wine would be absorbed by the porous wood and remained in the oak long after it had been drained. Since there was no profit to be had in shipping empty casks back to Spain, thrifty Scottish distillers would snap them up and use them to store, transport and mature their spirit.
In 1986 it was made law that Sherry had to be bottled in Spain, putting an end to the already-waning process of exporting it by the barrel load. Since then, the sherry casks used by the whisky industry have been specially created in a Spanish cooperage from new oak, then sent to a bodega to be seasoned with sherry for anything from six months to two years. The sherry is then drained and often used to create sherry vinegar whilst the cask is sent to Scotland to be refilled with new make spirit. It is an expensive and time consuming process yet the potential result is a whisky of great richness and depth.
The Story of the Spaniard is a blend of malt whiskies matured in sherry seasoned casks, Spanish red wine casks and virgin French oak. Bottled at 43% it retails for around £50.
Smell: Pleasantly complex. Sherry leaps from the glass with juicy raisins, sultanas and currants, but it settles down to reveal orange, caramel and heather honey. There’s vanilla and barley malt and pleasant spice in the form of cinnamon and clove. There’s even a little strawberry and raspberry too.
Taste: First thing I noticed was a lovely silky texture. Then came dark chocolate, raisins and sultanas. Cherries. Caramel and vanilla sponge. Malt and baking spices before a dry woody finish.
Value for Money: Compass Box have received some criticism for the pricing of their bottles recently, yet while it is certainly true that their limited editions are no friend to the bargain hunter, their core range remains rather good value for money.
Perhaps not the sherry bomb some would expect. The fortified wine has a strong presence certainly but the whisky is able to stand its ground. It works well for me because as pleasant as sherry-forward whisky can be, I sometimes wonder if people wouldn’t be better off just drinking sherry? With 48% of the whisky matured in wine casks though, The Story of the Spaniard is a complex, nuanced blend that achieves a balance between the wine of Spain and the whisky of Scotland and I am finding it really rather satisfying.
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Learn more about Compass Box here.