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Compass Box Spice Tree vs. Glengoyne Scottish Oak

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Compass Box Spice Tree vs. Glengoyne Scottish Oak

Postby hpulley » Wed Dec 28, 2005 2:51 pm

Wendy's recent tasting notes for Compass Box' Spice Tree reminded me of a recent Whisky Magazine article about John's latest creation.

It seems John Glaser has gotten into a bit of controversy over his Spice Tree bottling in which some of the vatting is finished in fresh french oak. Some are complaining that scotch whisky cannot be aged in new barrels.

However, this seems the same as Glengoyne Scottish Oak finish, which uses new native wood. When it came out I asked, probably here on the forum somewhere, if this was scotch by definition but no one cared. Why do they care about Compass Box but not Glengoyne? Scottish vs. French oak? It is not the scotch bourbon I feared it might become with the fresh wood since it is a very short finish, just 3 months and a week (or so says the box).

Will the controversy be good or bad for John? There's no such thing as bad press so I'm sure he'll get lots of good marketing out of it. I for one hope the LCBO picks up a few bottles so I can do a HTH with the Glengoyne 15yo Scottish Oak finish which I find quite enjoyable and tastes like scotch which is the main point of the scotch whisky association's rules; in fact, I find many of the triple-wood and port wood expressions to be much less like scotch than the new scottish oak expression. Heck, even some brutal sherry finishes seem less like scotch.

Any thoughts? Why Spice Tree is raising the "is it scotch?" question while the Glengoyne did not?

Harry
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Postby Jan » Wed Dec 28, 2005 3:15 pm

Good question.

Could be that inserting wood staves are percieved as different or artificial compared to a traditional finishing.

Another, perhaps more likely, explanation could be that John Glaser are seen as a bit controversial and a bit too successful and some feels he needs to be taken down a peg or two.

I don't know - personally I feel it's ok, just the next logical step in the current finishing craze really.

Cheers
Jan
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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Dec 28, 2005 5:47 pm

I think it was the method that raised eyebrows, rather than the wood itself, although I'm not quite sure why, as I don't really understand what it is they did.

The main reason, if not the only one, that the Scotch whisky industry has traditionally used second-hand barrels is because there aren't any trees in Scotland! Not many, anyway, or even in the UK as a whole. One of the many reasons Britain was keen to hold on to its American colonies in the 18th century was the British Isles had been largely deforested, and the navy needed the wood, especially tall trees for masts. Different problem, different wood, but the same basic cause.

In any case, I don't think there's any reason that fresh wood could not be used for Scotch, other than custom; although, as Harry has inferred, most distilleries would likely prefer not to present the sort of profile that would result.
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Postby kallaskander » Wed Dec 28, 2005 6:01 pm

Hi there,

in itself the mix of old and new staves in one barrel is not worse than filling a 8-9 year old Laphroaig into new oak quarter casks.
In the Laphroaig Quarter Cask you can experience what new wood does to whisky. It gives a maturing boost. The Quarter tastes much more mature and aged than it has the right to taste IMO. There is older malt in the bottles, too but the bulk is young. You do not do this with a malt you intend to stay in the barrels for 10 or 20 years for good reasons. The use of new wood in itself is not the problem.
Maybe it is because Mr Glaser is an American. In Germany we have a heated discussion because the EC has allowed American wine into Europe that is no real wine anymore but is made from wine components in order to facilitate the sales of European wine in the US. It will not be labeled as fake wine, of course.

European vintners cry now to be allowed to use oakwood chips in stainless-steel tanks to create the barrique taste you usually only get from new barrels.
Mr. Glaser is a whisky designer who worked for marketing at Diageo and his designs run outside and contrary to Scottish and whisky tradition. The finishing mania is bad enough but the question is what will the likes of Mr Glaser do next to create a hype and ride on the waves? Where is the limit? And please my learned colleagues, don´t even try the argument of "the market will know best". Just try to imagine where the final stage of this development could be, think that through and then call me a traditionalist.

Greetings
kallaskander
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Postby Lawrence » Wed Dec 28, 2005 6:11 pm

It wasn't the cask (or new wood which is perfectly legal) that raised eye brows it was the inclusion of extra staves into the cask. I can't see why anybody (in the industry) would actually care.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Dec 28, 2005 6:24 pm

If that's all it is, then I don't see a problem, either.

kk, I follow your reasoning generally, but I would like to know what it is specifically you think Mr Glaser is doing that is leading down the road to ruin. I've always been skeptical of "slippery slope" arguments--"What will they do next?"--because it is usually changing the subject, arguing about some hypothetical abomination rather than the issue at hand.
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Postby ScotchBlog » Wed Dec 28, 2005 11:26 pm

John uses an "inner-stave method" I haven't talked to him about this, but I assume that it simply means inserting the new sessile oak staves into a barrel of maturing whisky - sort of like a cinnamon stick in a pot of mulled wine.

I've tried The Spice Tree and I like it. When it is available in the US (This coming quarter) I will buy it.

I'm not sure why people like to pick on John so much. His stuff is good. Yes, he was a "marketing guy" at Diageo - does that mean he doesn't know whisky? There are VERY few blends which hold a candle to the stuff John is making.

I've met John and I'll put his whisky knowledge up against just about anyone. Compass Box is doing great things for the whisky industry. As are the many other folks pushing the boundaries.
Last edited by ScotchBlog on Sat Dec 31, 2005 11:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Lawrence » Thu Dec 29, 2005 2:38 am

I understand that the staves are secured in the casks, I asked him why he just didn't use casks made up entirely of these staves and he said that they would simply over power the whisky. Either way it's tasty stuff.

If you have specific questions ask John, he'll reply quite quickly.

Lawrence
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Postby MGillespie » Thu Dec 29, 2005 4:16 am

I have an interview "in the can" with John on this very subject, and will probably make it the subject of the next WhiskyCast after the holidays...

Basically, what he said is that the flat stave is anchored to the end of the barrel with a plastic bracket that doesn't affect the flavor of the whisky. It would have been harder to do this in the days before food-grade plastic, since a metal bracket would certainly have had an impact on the whisky.

Mark
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Postby Admiral » Thu Dec 29, 2005 11:27 pm

I'm not sure why people like to pick on John so much. His stuff is good.


My major gripe is that his products were pretty bloody expensive, and the taste did not justify the expense. We sourced a bottle of his vatted grain when it first hit the market a couple of years ago (can't exactly remember....Hedonism?), and it cost a bomb. We were all very, very underwhelmed with the flavour. Pretty ordinary whisky at extraordinary prices.

Cheers,
Admiral
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Postby ScotchBlog » Fri Dec 30, 2005 12:26 am

Admiral wrote:
I'm not sure why people like to pick on John so much. His stuff is good.


My major gripe is that his products were pretty bloody expensive, and the taste did not justify the expense. We sourced a bottle of his vatted grain when it first hit the market a couple of years ago (can't exactly remember....Hedonism?), and it cost a bomb. We were all very, very underwhelmed with the flavour. Pretty ordinary whisky at extraordinary prices.

Cheers,
Admiral

Hey Admiral,
Can't comment on what you like or don't like - I wouldn't pay $60 for a grain whisky - but if I did, I wouldn't compare the flavor to the single malts that I prefer.

I spent $45 on a Glenfiddich Solera after hearing how good it was. I think it is horrible, undrinkable stuff...others think it's good. They should continue to buy it, while I will avoid it.

I also wouldn't judge John's entire line of vatted & blended malts on one vatted grain - give something else a try before you pass such harsh judgement that his stuff is "ordinary"
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Postby Admiral » Fri Dec 30, 2005 1:11 am

Fair comments, although bear in mind that I'm not making my judgement based on that one offering.

I've since tried Asyla and Peat Monster, and wasn't particularly impressed by them either. They would be okay if they were priced at $50-$70, but they are priced at $120+, and that, frankly, ain't worth it!

Cheers,
Admiral
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Postby MGillespie » Fri Dec 30, 2005 1:28 am

I've seen Peat Monster priced at $30-35 USD around here, and at that price, it's not bad. It's in the same league as JMR's Smokey Peaty One...both are good solid everyday drams, but not outstanding. I'd pick the JMR over Peat Monster, but would be OK with either one...

Mark
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Postby ScotchBlog » Fri Dec 30, 2005 2:20 am

Admiral wrote:Fair comments, although bear in mind that I'm not making my judgement based on that one offering.

I've since tried Asyla and Peat Monster, and wasn't particularly impressed by them either. They would be okay if they were priced at $50-$70, but they are priced at $120+, and that, frankly, ain't worth it!

Cheers,
Admiral

If I'm not mistaken 120 AUS = around 90 US. That's pretty damned expensive.
I recall I paid less than that for a bottle of CB Monster - the limited edition Cask Strength available only at Park Avenue Liquor in NY...which I still haven't opened.

I agree that's far too pricy for the CB line.

BTW Admiral...what's the going rate for some more readily available stuff - say a Glenmorangie 10 - for comparison sake?

I don't think the Peat Monster is a replacement for your favorite peaty Islay - But I'd take the PM over the JMR any day. The PM has complexity,while the JMR is all Smoke and nothing else. "Different folks" :)
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Postby MGillespie » Fri Dec 30, 2005 2:36 am

ScotchBlog wrote:
Admiral wrote:I don't think the Peat Monster is a replacement for your favorite peaty Islay - But I'd take the PM over the JMR any day. The PM has complexity,while the JMR is all Smoke and nothing else. "Different folks" :)


Fair enough, Kevin, and to be honest, I've only tried the Peat Monster a couple of times at festivals, while I have a bottle of JMR at home. I have more experience with it than I do with PM, and will need to pick up a bottle to give them a fair comparison.

Mark
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Postby Crispy Critter » Fri Dec 30, 2005 4:12 am

My Glaser experience has been:

Orangerie ($30, 375 ml bottle)
Eleuthera ($40)
Peat Monster ($40)
Asyla ($30)
Hedonism ($60)

Prices in USD.

Peat Monster was OK, but I'd rather have Laphroaig QC or 10CS for a few dollars more.

Eleuthera was superb. Subtly smoky, a bit of spice, very nice.

At $30, Asyla is a steal. It's the only blend I've had that comes even close to the extinct Campbeltown Loch 25.

Hedonism: Expensive, but I thought it was worth it. Well-aged Scotch grain whisky isn't exactly a common thing, and I abandoned "single-malt snobbery" a long time ago. :)

Orangerie: Simply a treat. Of course, technically, it's more than just whisky, but it's delicious.

My opinion on the controversy is that the SWA cartel isn't happy with Glaser's success, and would simply like to stomp on him, much as they would like to stomp on the independent bottlers.
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Postby hpulley » Fri Dec 30, 2005 5:04 pm

I enjoy Eleuthera most, Peat Monster is nice but as you say I prefer Duncan Taylor Regional Islay to it, for less money here. Asyla is also nice but not exceptional in my mind. I enjoyed Hedonism as well but $90 a bottle here seems a bit much, but that's probably because I'm a malt-head, not a grain-head ;)

Harry
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Postby Frodo » Sat Dec 31, 2005 8:43 am

Admiral wrote:My major gripe is that his products were pretty bloody expensive, and the taste did not justify the expense. We sourced a bottle of his vatted grain when it first hit the market a couple of years ago (can't exactly remember....Hedonism?), and it cost a bomb. We were all very, very underwhelmed with the flavour. Pretty ordinary whisky at extraordinary prices.

Cheers,
Admiral


I'd like to echo Admiral's view albiet less...outraged (is that the word I'm looking for?) - probably because Compass box products in ontario seem to cost less that they do in Australia. Cnd $ roughly equal to Aus $ I think.

Asyla $50 Cdn
Hedonism $100
Eluthera $80
Monster $70

Not sure what to make of Asyla - tasted it a couple of times and was underwelmed! Perhaps I wasn't ready for a laid-back whisky at the time - would like to try that one again! I loved Hedonism and have had nothing like it before or since! But $100 was steep! Monster was not bad, but for $5 more I can get Ardbeg 10, and I'd rather have the Ardie no contest!! The Eluthera - well, I can't really compare it to anything. I tried thinking of what it reminded me of, and I felt a loss for words. And I guess that's the point behind what he's trying to do. I still don't like the price point on that one though!

I salute Mr Glasser for making quality whiskies and making a push to show that vatted malts, grain and blended whisky can rival malts in taste (I'm going to get in trouble for that one). I just think the price point on his whiskies are too high for the flavours that they deliver. And if I think the price point is too high, I can imagine what Admiral thinks given what they cost in his neck of the woods.

If someone gave me a glass of his stuff, I'd be impressed and greatful. They're quality whiskies IMHO. Just not worth what's charged, and consequently I won't be buying any.
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Postby Crispy Critter » Sun Jan 01, 2006 7:46 am

I think the price point seem to be the big sticking issue for the Compass Box products. IMO, the Chicago prices for Asyla and Eleuthera are quite reasonable (especially since Ardbeg 10 goes for $48 here now, when it used to be $30 :shock:, and JW Black is up to $28 now). Hedonism is rather pricy, but I at least felt it was worthwhile as a treat, but certainly not a daily drammer.

The Australian prices seem to be a bit out-of-line, even with currency conversions, but shipping costs and local taxation may be part of the problem.
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Postby MGillespie » Tue Jan 03, 2006 9:07 pm

My interview with John on the Spice Tree is now available in the new episode of WhiskyCast...online now at http://www.whiskycast.com...

Mark
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Postby ScotchBlog » Tue Jan 03, 2006 9:30 pm

Crispy Critter wrote:The Australian prices seem to be a bit out-of-line, even with currency conversions, but shipping costs and local taxation may be part of the problem.


Admiral (et. al) I talked with John the other day and mentioned the Australia prices - this is what he told me:
"I'm sorry that happened. Several years ago a third party sold some Compass Box into Australia (a small amount) and everyone in the food chain seemed to charge as much as they could, and the prices go all out of whack. We now have an official importer in Australia so that won't happen again."

Let me know if the Compass Box prices are still whacky, and I'll let John know.
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Postby Frodo » Wed Jan 04, 2006 12:42 am

Hmmm. Perhaps you could mention that I think his prices here in Ontario are a little "wacky" too. Could he do something about those?
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Postby ScotchBlog » Wed Jan 04, 2006 2:49 am

I'll let him know :)
What do YOU think is a fair price?
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