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Compass Box breaks new ground

News and announcements from the Whisky Magazine team

Compass Box breaks new ground

Postby Sally Toms » Mon Nov 14, 2005 5:45 pm

Innovative whisky producer Compass Box has taken whisky in to new territory with the launch of its new brand – but it could be stirring up a hornet’s nest in the process.
The Spice Tree is a vatted whisky and is the result of research carried out by John Glaser in the finest oak regions of Vosges in France.
The result is a whisky produced using the ‘inner stave’ method favoured by the producers of the very finest French red wine. Oak from the region can cost eight times that of oak often used for whisky.
Under the method mature whisky is put in to casks made from the top quality oak that has been lightly toasted. No other alcohol has been in the cask so the wood flavours are rapidly imparted to the whisky, giving it a whole range of flavours not normally found in whisky.

Glaser argues that the resulting product does not contravene rules governing what can acceptably be described as Scottish malt whisky, a view backed by Dave Broom, who points out in his column on page 12 that The Spice Tree is both a quality whisky and a far more desirable option to a host of wood-finished whiskies that have been judged to be within the spirit of the regulations.

Compass Box is proud of its new product, and John Glaser emphasises that the new drink is all about great taste and the finest quality.
“It’s a delicious, rich and deeply-flavoured whisky which has appeal for both malt whisky enthusiasts and new whisky drinkers,” he said.
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Postby The Dazzler » Wed Nov 16, 2005 10:27 pm

Has anyone tried the Spice Tree? To try this blind you would think it was mixed with various spices to get the final flavour. True to its name a very spicy dram, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla, cherry and lavander. A very intriguing if somewhat unusual dram. One for Compass Box to be proud of, probably not an "all time favourite" contender but certainly opens up a new wave of flavour experience.

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Postby kallaskander » Thu Nov 17, 2005 9:09 am

Hi there,

Royal Mile at http://www.royalmilewhiskies.com/produc ... 0000027068

wrote:

The Spice Tree Process
Compass Box have sourced top-quality French oak cask staves of a quality normally only used in the wine industry. This Sessile Oak is slow-growth and 195 years old, and then air dried for two years after felling. This French cooperage have particular expertise in toasting oak, providing numerous toasting types and levels, and their services are in great demand from wineries across the world. Until now the Scotch Whisky industry have not experimented greatly with custom toasting.

These bespoke staves are inserted to reinforce casks for a secondary period of maturation. This adds integrated layers of rich, sweet spice character, reminiscent of cloves and nutmeg. John describes this as "a totally new palette of flavours for Scotch whisky".

This spirit used is Highland malt whisky sourced from 4 top distilleries including Dailuaine and Teaninich. All the whiskies are aged for at least 10 years in first-fill American oak and the whisky is bottled unchillfiltered.

John Glaser's Tasting Notes: A natural, deep mahogany colour and a rich nose with spices such as clove and nutmeg, and sweet stewed fruits. Palate is soft, sweet, deep and rich with a malt whisky fruitiness embellished by rich spice. Very long.

Royal Mile Whiskies Staff Tasting Notes (Tasted Blind October 2005)
Nose: Bready earthy initially, with blueberries and blackcurrants, marzipan and vanilla. A nuttiness and mild gingery character too.
Taste: Very soft, slightly tannic and dry.; Dried apricots and bubblegum.
Overall: Like a nutmeg-flavoured bread and butter pudding.

End of quote.

Dazzler, from your posts I take it that you are involved with whisky selling if not making. Among us, after the finishing mania and the abuse of many a good whisky, as well as the prepping up of many a not so good whisky, what do you think of a "product" like this? I call it product with intent.
On the background of the current whisky boom there are many who want to participate and want to earn money in this sector. There is nothing wrong with that. But more and more the whole show starts to drift into the realm of designing whiskies. If people like that, they shall buy the stuff. But in the long term perspective of things there is no reason just to lay back and watch on, I think.
If you are new, mostly unknown and small you have to make a lot of noise to be heard. But do all these activities help the cause of whisky? I take into consideration the J&B -6, the "designed" products of Compass Box, the finishing mania. Which way are we headed? What is your opinion? Let´s not forget that single malts are only 5% of the world wide whisky market.

Greetings
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Postby laddie teun » Fri Nov 18, 2005 8:56 pm

in the end the only thing that matters to me is: do i like it?
I love the spice tree.
i adds a whole new flavor and experience to the whisky!!
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Postby The Dazzler » Sat Nov 19, 2005 2:20 am

Kallaskander, I can understand your reasons for doubting new and innovative creations on the whisky market as being a novelty and designer whiskies. AsLaddie Teun says it all comes down to the person drinkin the stuff and do they enjoy it.

The whisky industry relies on innovators like John at Compass Box and also guys like Bill Lumsden for his wood finishing innovations at Glenmorangie. With these guys out there the industry will continue to change with the times, not all folks out there are die-hard whisky connoisseurs and this is where JMR and Compass Box, wood finishes etc can tap into the lesser knowledged and the curious.

On the Spice tree as I say, it is not going to be a contendor for my favourite whisky of all time but it is an exceptional dram with flavours which will make it memorable. Eulethera and Peat Monster are also very good creations. Quite often, and I think this myself, that blends, vatted malts etc can be that wee bit light on the palate as we get used to the bigger and the more fulled bodied flavours of the malts. This is why I think it is important that these whiskies are categorised properly and we know exactly what we are drinking, then, we can make assumptions compared to other blends etc.

I think most folks here on this forum would defiinately be more malt drinkers, however I imagine a wee return to a blend from time to time takes place. When we do we don`t look to compare it to an Ardbeg or a Macallan, do we?

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Postby kallaskander » Tue Nov 22, 2005 1:17 pm

Hi there,

today I found two things that I would like to quote instead of an answer of my own writing. I think I could not say better what concerns me about things like "The Spice Tree".

Here goes.

"Arran ‘Chateau Margaux Finish’ (59.1%, OB, 317 bottles, b. 2005) I must say the ‘race’ between Arran, Edradour, Glenmorangie and now Bruichladdich regarding ‘who’s gonna get the rarest wine casks’ is very funny. We’ll soon have all the Bordeaux 1855 Grand Crus in these ranges – and I can’t wait to read ‘Johannisberger Trockenbeerenauslese’ on a whisky label (and hear a Scot pronouncing it ;-)) "

And

"The Spice Tree (46%, Compass Box, Inaugural Batch, 4150 bottles, 2005)
Colour: gold. Nose: very oaky, as expected. Sawdust, heavy nutmeg… Very heavy nutmeg… very, very heavy nutmeg! Notes of kummel liqueur, burning fir tree wood, getting then very waxy. Shoe polish, turpentine, fresh mastic, grapefruit rinds… Whiffs of white pepper. A very unusual profile, for sure – and yes it’s very spicy. Mouth: lots of nutmeg again, with also lots of wax, pepper, chilli… It gets very gingery, with some Schweppes, Campari… Quinquina… Eucalyptus candies… Very, very different indeed. The finish is long, very waxy and ‘nutmeggy’ (of course). Well, we all like John Glaser’s enthusiasm and his passion for experimentation and no doubt this ‘whisky’ is very ‘honest’, whatever that means. But on the other hand, I feel this Spice Tree is too far away from ‘what whisky is’ (whatever that means again), especially because of these very heavy spicy notes from the wood (yeah, nutmeg) that nobody will find in any other whisky. So, I will give it 80 points because that’s kind of a neutral mark in my books, but some could give it 90 points, and others 70 or 60… Frankly, I'm lost here and I just don’t know how to rate it. Ha, ratings!"

Both taken from http://www.whiskyfun.com/

the latest epistle.

So much for now.

Greetings
kallaskander
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Oak Alternatives and Stainless Steel

Postby Tommy » Sat Jul 08, 2006 11:44 pm

Yes, I said it, stainless steel. Forget the legalities for a minute and the fact that Compass Box can't produce any more of it's "inner-stave" whisky (or at least they can't call it Scotch). The wine industry is debating this with vigor and increasing numbers are turning to stainless steel tanks and oak alternatives to age their product (although most aren't ready to trumpet the news). What about the whisk(e)y business? Surely this topic should be discussed.
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Postby Lawrence » Sun Jul 09, 2006 4:39 pm

To what advantage Tommy? 90% of the flavour if whisky comes from the cask, using SS would eliminate these flavours and what would you be left with?
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Postby scoobypl » Sun Jul 09, 2006 5:54 pm

OK. I 'm gonna make myself unpopular again! :wink:
I frankly don't understand the fuss about the spice tree...Although John is definitely doing a good Job, with a lot of love for his work and also a lot of knowledge.
We had the spice tree in a blind tasting a couple of months ago, and 90% of the audience thought it was remarkebly similar to an ex-sherry cask, european oak cask. (all people with more than 10 years experience in tasting)... and yes, if you put it in a line-up of european oak matured whisky's, it does not stand out as much! (just like the 'Truffle-oak" by Glenmorrangie)

To me, "spice tree" proves what a lot of experts say: that the species of wood (ergo: european red oak, or american white oak) has as much, or more influence on the ultimate taste over the long run (meaning: as maturation vessel, instead of finishing vessel) than the previous contents of the cask.
In other words:
Finishing (= less then 2 years further maturation....just to put some arbitrary line) = more influence from the previous content
Maturing (whole maturation in same cask) = more influence from the woodtype, less from the previous content.

What do you think?

P.!!!
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Postby Tommy » Sun Jul 09, 2006 10:58 pm

Lawrence, the advantage, assuming that the product meets consumer acceptance is in cost savings to the producer. I expect that there would be a clear cost savings in large stainless steel tanks with oak alternatives to provide flavor and finishing versus oak barrels. I don't know what size they might be but I have to imagine that 10,000 gallon tanks are cheaper than the 180 plus barrels it would replace. Okay, so the angels might also complain - no more angels share. As I mentioned in my earlier post, the wine industry is debating this and I have to imagine that whisky producers, especially the large ones, are debating this as well and perhaps experimenting somewhat albeit out of sight.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Sun Jul 09, 2006 11:14 pm

Interesting discussion you're bringing up Tommy, but I think Lawrence's point is valid. Also, the comparison with the wine industry is more complex than outlined in this thread - and the goals for the wine industry and the whisky industry can be quite different. To "finish" a wine with oak chips or staves is not nessecarily beneficial to the wine itself. Propper breathing and oxydation in a cask affects wine in good ways and some of the most precious wines are still produced the traditional way. The modern trend of drinking "young" and fruity wines stored in steel tanks is perfectly applied when the wine is designed for that very purpose - being as fruity as possible, but how could this benefit the whiskies supposed to be breathing in a cask for 10 years or more? Remember, a wine is usually not matured in barrels for more than 2 - maybe 3 years. Unless you're Italian with a preference for young whisky and celebrating the world championship - what would be the point?

Edit/added: I'm afraid I didn't read the previous posts propperly thus I ignored the information that it's purely a "finish" of whisky already aprx. 10yo. So is this only a way to save money by buying 3'rd fill single malts destined for blending (if it is cheaper) rather than blend 1'st or 2'nd fill sinlge malts? Any ideas?

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Postby Tommy » Mon Jul 10, 2006 1:05 am

Admittedly, I'm far from an expert (quite far) but here's where I'm confused. If we recognize that the maturing, finish and flavor come from the cask, why can't the "cask" be substituted with other methodologies. The container can be stainless or glass, but filled with oak chips that serve the same purpose as the walls of the cask. It's not acceptable practice, understood, but the logic seems to be that if you can expose the whisky to oak in alternate ways then the container could be anything. A fascinating topic none-the-less. Take it a step further and instead of using increasingly scarce and expensive sherry barrels, why not "pressure-treat" oak chips with sherry and use them in one of these alternate containers? I'd love to be back in a chemistry lab and try some of these experiments (and yes, chemistry, to some, will also raise some hackles).
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Mon Jul 10, 2006 3:53 am

Tommy wrote:Admittedly, I'm far from an expert (quite far) but here's where I'm confused.
That makes two of us :wink:

If we recognize that the maturing, finish and flavor come from the cask, why can't the "cask" be substituted with other methodologies. The container can be stainless or glass, but filled with oak chips that serve the same purpose as the walls of the cask. It's not acceptable practice, understood, but the logic seems to be that if you can expose the whisky to oak in alternate ways then the container could be anything.

I think you can do what you describe. I even think it's technically possible to make a steel cask that enables the whisky inside to go through its retractive and subtractive period. It's certainly possible to use chips and staves to perfect just the desired level of oak taste/scent/character you wish - included all possible degrees of charring or toasting. It might even work for all I know and my only possible reservations could very well be the result of utter conservativism....

I think there are a few factors to think about though:
1. there is usually no fast and easy way to success - not without consequences anyway.
2. where would the producers draw the line with all the potential innovations? Could we end up with an "oaksyrup substitute" instead of even chips and staves?
3. who would benefit from these cost cutting measures? Surely the producers (at first) but would the customer enjoy a considerable discount?
4. how would this affect the bourbon industry and their sole use (legally) of new barrels?

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Interesting Tommy

Postby jamiepotter » Mon Jul 10, 2006 9:11 am

It's always struck me as somewhat arbitrary to delineate what counts as 'Scotch whisky' and what does not, especially when you consider the industry's roots. It all feels a bit like Che Ghevara T-shirts to me.

However, isn't there a bit of an issue with environmental factors however? I can't imagine, for instance, Old Pultenay made in SS tubs. What are you going to do, add sea salt? Maybe I couldn't tell the difference, with my palette having all the subtlety-detecting mechanisms as a standard viewer of South Park, but I'm sure there'll be some people who would be able to.

It's a bit like knowing that lovely bit of art on your wall is just a print. You can't go up to it and look at the brush-strokes, examine which bits she did first, see the little tiny errors that make it human etc. Similarly in whisky - I love being able to taste the production through the end product, and try to figure out where its flavours are coming from.

And although this is may be only a tiny difference in real terms, it's enough to take the edge off it, and then you might as well be drinking flavoured vodka. That is, they can taste really interesting, but only a chemist would be interested in what esters they combined to make the flavouring.
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Postby Lawrence » Tue Jul 11, 2006 10:01 pm

You'd have to change the SW Act also.....I think things are working quite nicely now.
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Postby PuckJunkie » Tue Jul 11, 2006 10:18 pm

It does seem a little strange to hold conversations about terroir and its effects on scotch whisky; listen to serious conversations about racking methodology and its effects; and even read literature from distilleries about particular storage facilities being better for their whisky - and then have a serious discussion on aging whisky in stainless steel using chips or staves to lend the flavors normally imparted by aging in casks.

It's nothing revolutionary - I know people here that experiment with distilling their own spirits, and that's exactly how they do it - but surely it can't be thought a real substitute for aging in a cask. Although I can see at least one reason for distilleries to prefer it; no cask means no breathing. No breathing means no "angels' share", meaning higher-proof end product, and more of it... diluted to standard ABV to generate more product with the same input. What's not to like?

I can't really judge, of course, without tasting the product. But my initial reaction isn't terribly favorable.

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Postby MGillespie » Wed Jul 12, 2006 3:44 am

There's a segment on John's decision to comply with the SWA request to stop producing Spice Tree in the current episode of WhiskyCast #48.

Mark
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Compass Box

Postby Wendy » Thu Jul 20, 2006 1:28 pm

Compass Box Breaking New Ground in Ontario --

This is off topic from the controversial Spice Tree topic, but I thought it noteworthy to highlight an announcement that John Glaser made in Whiskycast Episode 48. In conjunction with the LCBO, John will be unveiling a Limited Edition release of a new whisky called Magic Cask to be sold in Ontario.

I quite enjoy Compass Box whiskies and had the pleasure of trying Spice Tree which I really liked. I am looking forward to sampling this new release!!

Cheers,
Wendy
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Postby Frodo » Thu Jul 20, 2006 3:30 pm

HI Wendy. Do you know anything about Magic Cask (ie - what he's trying to do with this bottling)?
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Postby MGillespie » Thu Jul 20, 2006 3:31 pm

John didn't give me any specifics when he mentioned it during our interview. I suspect he's trying to keep it a surprise until release time...but I could be wrong.

Mark
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Postby kallaskander » Thu Jul 20, 2006 4:39 pm

Hi there,

he used a stainless steel drum and the whisky tastes - of oak! Now this is magic.

Greetings
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Postby Wendy » Thu Jul 20, 2006 5:47 pm

Hi Frodo,
I believe Mark is right re surprise until release time! I am just taking John's lead and whatever information he brings to the forefront, I am quite happy to help carry it a bit farther.

Cheers,
Wendy
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Postby empeslidis » Thu Aug 24, 2006 6:11 pm

I am very happy to be their distributor in Greece and i suspect their new products will do very well. :D
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Postby old rarity » Sun Nov 12, 2006 11:51 pm

Magic Cask is available now at Queen's Quay of LCBO (maybe elsewhere too in Ontario but that is where I picked it up).

It is a vatting of a 17 year old Linkwood finished in a Madeira barrique and a 14 year old from the village of Brora.

This shows how good a vatting can be: the mouthfeel is soft but the whisky is rich with a fine undertone of peat. The finish is long, elegant, rewarding.

We in Ontario are fortunate our market was chosen to release this fine product.

Gary
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Postby The Dazzler » Mon Nov 13, 2006 12:08 am

I am sure it will be a 14yo Clynelish which is vatted with Linkwood and not a 14yo Brora!!!! Anyone tried the flaming Heart yet???


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Postby Frodo » Mon Nov 13, 2006 5:11 am

old rarity wrote:Magic Cask is available now at Queen's Quay of LCBO (maybe elsewhere too in Ontario but that is where I picked it up).

It is a vatting of a 17 year old Linkwood finished in a Madeira barrique and a 14 year old Brora.

This shows how good a vatting can be: the mouthfeel is soft but the whisky is rich with a fine undertone of peat. The finish is long, elegant, rewarding.

We in Ontario are fortunate our market was chosen to release this fine product.

Gary


OH MAN! Linkwood is something that I've always wanted to try! Have tried a small sample from a new oak cask, but not the usual stuff. Compass Box whiskies have always tasted good to me. Hope one of the tasting towers will carry it soon...

Thanks for the heads-up Gary!!!!
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Postby old rarity » Mon Nov 13, 2006 1:38 pm

Thanks for the clarification, it must be Clynelish that is vatted with the Linkwood. I amended my original note to indicate, as the rear label does, that the non-Linkwood whisky is from the village of Brora.

There has been no whisky made at the original Clynelish (later renamed Brora) since 1983 so a 14 year old whiskey from Brora (the village) would be from Clynelish.

I should add the ABV is 46%.

An excellent product again as are all the whiskies from Compass Box.

Gary
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Postby Jesse » Sun Dec 24, 2006 7:20 am

So, is the SWA's motivation money, preserving the art of whisky production, or a combination of the two?
And by not complying with their maturation standards, are blenders/bottlers merely forbidden to label their product as "whisky" or "Scotch Whisky", or are there other ramifications?

I think the Peat Monster is excellent on ice, as floral as smoky...but the Asyla tastes more like a venerable bourbon, which is a bad thing for me.
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Re: Compass Box breaks new ground

Postby Elagabalus » Tue Mar 04, 2008 2:35 am

I bought a bottle of The Peat Monster and wasnt impressed at all. I would have rather had some Laphroaig.
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Re: Compass Box breaks new ground

Postby randall fairbrook » Tue Mar 04, 2008 3:34 am

try the flaming heart....i really dug it
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Re: Compass Box breaks new ground

Postby woodhill » Tue Mar 04, 2008 8:50 am

Anyone tried the Morpheous?
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Re: Compass Box breaks new ground

Postby les taylor » Tue Mar 04, 2008 9:24 am

[quote="woodhill"]Anyone tried the Morpheous?[/quote]


Sorry Woodhill but we did try the Hedonism Maximus on saturday. That is a real grown up whisky.
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Re: Compass Box breaks new ground

Postby Elagabalus » Tue Mar 04, 2008 3:57 pm

Hedonism Maximus sounds enticing LOL
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Re: Compass Box breaks new ground

Postby Willie JJ » Tue Mar 04, 2008 3:58 pm

[quote="les taylor"][quote="woodhill"]Anyone tried the Morpheous?[/quote]


Sorry Woodhill but we did try the Hedonism Maximus on saturday. That is a real grown up whisky.[/quote]
Can you tell us any more Les?
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Re: Compass Box breaks new ground

Postby woodhill » Tue Mar 04, 2008 4:17 pm

why are the quotes not working properly in this thread?
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