Compass Box Whisky reviews – the series, Part II, Hedonism
The first review in this Compass Box series was Asyla, Blended Scotch whisky, meaning that it has both Single Malt and Grain whisky components blended together. Asyla is an easy-going, approachable, good quality whisky that has broad appeal but is not overly complex or particularly demanding. A whisky that would serve well as an introductory whisky for non-whisky drinkers.
In our second review of this series, we explore Hedonism, which is a rather unique whisky in the current market. Unlike blended Scotch whisky, Hedonism is a 100% Blended Grain whisky composed of grain whiskies from the Cameron Bridge, Carsebridge, Cambus, Port Dundas or Dumbarton distilleries, depending on the batch.
On the Compass Box fact sheet (here), Hedonism is described as an annual release and part of their Signature Range, although even as an annual release, in my shopping forays, I can usually find this on the shelves. (Note: that Compass Box did issue a “reserve” release of Hedonism Maximus with only 1,500 bottles produced and which is now difficult to find.)
Grain whiskies being released as either single grains or like here as a blended grain are somewhat uncommon, however, you can find some independent bottlings in some specialty stores or via shops here or from shops in the UK. While somewhat rare, grain whiskies are gaining some increased exposure with release of Greenore, an Irish single grain, the newly released Girvan series of grain whiskies, and a few others.
So what distinguishes grain whiskies from malt whiskies?
Grain Whisky vs. Malt Whisky
Grain whiskies differ from malt whiskies in a number of ways. First, most obviously, is that the mashbill for grain whisky is different. Whereas the mashbill for malt whisky is 100% malted barley, grain whisky is composed of unmalted grains other than barley – although there is always a small portion of malted barley included to help initiate fermentation. The most common grain used is maize, although across history all sorts of grains have been used, including wheat, oats and rye. Of these “alternative” grains, Maize is probably the prefered as it is usually readily available, is cost-effective, and provides a relatively high yield.
The second primary differentiation between malt whisky and grain whisky is the distillation process. Malt whisky is distilled in pot stills and in batches. In an overly simplified description, a pot still is effectively a gigantic kettle heated from below (see image at right). As the wash boils, the spirit vapors flow up the neck and out the Lyne arm into a condenser (a Worm Tub or other cooling tower) that converts the vapors back into liquid. For most Scotch whiskies this process is repeated a second time, and most Irish whiskies undergo a third distillation (some Scotch whiskies also use a third distillation – Auchentoshan – or a partial third distillation – Springbank).
The Pot still distillation process is somewhat inefficient, particularly in comparison to the continuous still process. For each batch, the still is filled and the distillation process runs its course. Between batches the stills must be cleaned. Then the process begins again.
Grain whisky, on the other hand, is produced in column stills (below), also known as the continuous still, the patent still, or as the Coffey Still – all synonymous for the same style/process. The Coffey Still is named after Aeneas Coffey, a former excise officer who is recognized as the “inventor” of the continuous still, although, in reality, he really just improved on prior attempts and was able to introduce and gain acceptance of the method within the industry. Regardless, his name is associated with the process even today.
Most grain whisky is produced for contribution to blended whiskies and the focus of grain distilleries has usually been more on volume produced as opposed to matured flavors. As a result, the continuous still process fits the needs of this segment of the industry very well. The continuous still process can be easily moderated and allows for greater production rates when demand requires, making it highly efficient and extremely cost-effective.
Today’s grain distilleries are massive industrial complexes lacking the quirky charm and historical appeal of so many malt whisky distilleries. The grain whisky distilleries produce massive amounts of whisky – in some cases they produce more in one day than some malt distilleries produce in months, perhaps even a full year.
For comparison, Cameronbridge (seen at right), reportedly the largest distillery in Scotland produces over 100,000,000 liters per year, producing spirit for whisky, gin and other uses. In contrast Glenfiddich,
arguably the largest malt whisky producer in Scotland, produces approximately 13,000,000 liters per year.
Hedonism, Blended Grain Whisky
Color: The color of this whisky is a very pale, white gold.
Nose: (Neat): a light, delicate nose with a slight alcohol vapor at initial nosing, but this is likely tied to the freshly opened bottle. As the whisky settles in the glass …. vanilla cream, vanilla extract, butter cream, toffee and/or butterscotch …deep and rich notes of these sweet aromas. Behind the vanilla I also get a bit of grassiness, some soft green apple, coconut – actually quite a bit of coconut as it goes along, and surprisingly, to me, perhaps a very
slight hint of burnt grass smoke, and a bit of cedar woodiness. This whisky shows a nice complexity and excellent balance, but the nose is focused on the vanilla and butterscotch notes which take and keep center stage. (With Water): Water drops that slight alcohol vapor note allowing better access to the flavors. Again, this has this gorgeous warm vanilla cream note. Toffee, coconut, and just a soft hint of oak. The water also brings out more of the green apple tartness and a delicate touch of lemon peel that adds a slight bitterness, which is a nice complement to the vanilla and toffee notes..
Palate: (Neat): A beautiful rich, oily arrival that spreads rapidly around the inside of my mouth coating it with rich vanilla, toffee, definitely some coconut that grows the longer I hold the sip. There is a soft citric bite putting a little “sharpness” into an otherwise very round sweetness. The palate is perhaps even sweeter and fruitier than the nose indicates. (With Water): With a couple of drops of water the mouthfeel becomes even denser! Again there is vanilla and coconut……coconut cream pie? There is some citric tanginess like lemon peel. The palate remains softly sweet, tangy, long on the vanilla, toffee, coconut, some subtle green fruits, vanilla, lemon, honey and vanilla.
Finish: The vanilla is the strong note, but as the finish fades, so too does the vanilla note fade showing more of the lemony/light citric tangy-ness and the coconut notes that lead to a delicate, but surprisingly long finish.
Overall: Hedonism was the second Compass Box whisky that I tried previously and this re-visit reminds me how much I enjoy it. Hedonism puts a positive light on what grain whiskies can offer when managed well and matured in quality casks. A very elegant nose, subtle in character with a beautiful depth and a richness of flavor on the palate that showcases the style very well.
Distillery(ies): Cameron Bridge and Cambus (most likely, although may include others)
Type: Blended Grain Scotch whisky
Age: Not Stated
Maturation: 100% First-Fill American Oak, ex-Bourbon
Price: $100 (Specs)
Availability: Generally available