Alright, we have two reviews complete and several more to go in this series on Compass Box whiskies. So far we have reviewed a blended Scotch, Asyla, and a blended grain, Hedonism, and now we are reviewing the first of several blended malt whiskies, Oak Cross.
Blended Malt whiskies are….well, they are just that, a blend of single malt whiskies but which come from various distilleries. Also, in comparison to blended Scotch, like Asyla, which has both malt and grain whisky, there is no grain whisky component in a blended malt – just malt whisky.
Before we get into the actual review, I want to reiterate a point I made in the first review about disclosure and Compass Box. The next time you are in the aisle of your favorite liquor store, look at some bottles of blended Scotch. When you do, you will notice an almost total lack of information about how they are made, what whiskies go into the blend, how they are matured, and just a general lack of information. I understand that some mega-producers may have concerns about proprietary recipe information, but, thankfully, Compass Box doesn’t share those reservations. Compass Box is very forthcoming with information about their blended whiskies, giving easily deduced hints about which distilleries are the sources of the whiskies that go into the specific release. For example, taken straight from the back of the Oak Cross box, Compass Box discloses that this whisky is made entirely of Highland single malt whiskies from the villages of Brora (fruitiness), Carron (meatiness) and Alness (perfume). They also routinely disclose the cask type, and in some cases the duration of maturation. While many consumers may not really care about these details, providing this information does show a level of respect for consumers who do appreciate knowing a bit more about what is in the bottle. So, kudos to Compass Box for their openness!
“I am not afraid to be unconventional to create a new style of whisky if the result is a delicious drink.”
– John Glaser
Unconventional sums it up pretty well. At its most basic, Oak Cross is a relatively traditional blended malt whisky with component whiskies sourced from Clynelish (Brora), Teaninich (Alness), and Dailuaine (Carron) and aged in American oak ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks – so far…..pretty standard stuff – but it is what John Glaser and team do after this initial aging in these primary casks that puts their own subtle, unconventional twist that provides nuance and complexity to the final whisky.
To create the Oak Cross whisky, Compass Box takes it one step further: after the initial maturation stage, the whiskies are married together and then re-racked for a secondary maturation in a mix of 60% American oak ex-bourbon and 40% “Oak Cross” casks. The “Oak Cross Casks” are similar to the ones used for The Spice Tree (more on that in our next review), made from American oak ex-bourbon barrels that are fitted with new French oak heads. The American oak brings out sweet vanilla, coconut and honey notes and the French oak head imparts subtle notes of pepper, clove and other herbal spices.
Oak Cross, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
Color: Sauvignon Blanc, very pale, light gold.
Nose: (Neat): The nose starts out very fruity – very fresh and very vibrant; it is full of ripe orchard fruits, peaches, bananas, strawberries in cream and, like the Hedonism, a touch of fresh coconut. All the fruits commingle with loads of sweet vanilla ice cream. The Oak Cross casks shows its influence behind all the sweet fruits where there are hints of herbal spices – cloves, pepper and a touch of cardamom. This is quite a sweet nose, yet not cloying; all the fruit and vanilla notes sit in harmony with the spices, creating a glass full of very nice, very appealing aromas. (With Water): Adding water seems to bring out more tropical fruit notes – a hint of pineapple and some papaya. The vanilla continues to fill the nose, and the pepper and clove notes are slightly more obvious.
Palate: (Neat): The arrival is soft, the body somewhat thin, then the vanilla and fruits start to expand across the tongue, becoming richer, oilier on the palate. I get a lot of berry, coconut and omnipresent vanilla. I also get some sweet malt/cereal flavors and a delicate herbal spiciness that keeps this from being too one-dimensional. (With Water): Water improves the arrival – the mouth feel is immediately richer. The vanilla still is in the forefront, but now I also get some nice citric notes of lemon juice or lemon peel, bringing out a bit of tartness that balances out the sweet vanilla. Bananas, a touch of the coconut, tropical fruits, now.
Finish: Full of sweet vanilla, ripe fruits, pepper, the lemon-citric tang, becoming slightly tannic. A full and moderately long finish.
Overall: This one continues to shine a bright light on the Compass Box concept. There is a lot of quality malt here, the aromas and flavors are bold, vibrant and very fresh. The whisky is reasonably well-balanced with some complexity as the flavors ebb and flow in the glass. The “Oak Cross” cask maturation process seems to have done as advertised, adding a nice bit of herbal spice to the nose and the palate that creates an intriguing whisky. To me, this is a definite step up from Asyla – offering deeper, richer flavors, some spice, and a nicely oily mouth feel. It is a good quality, all-malt whisky at a very attractive price point making it certainly worth a try, if not a regularly place on anybody’s whisky shelf.
Distillery(ies): Clynelish, Teaninich, Dailuaine
Type: Blended Malt Scotch whisky
Age: Not Stated
Maturation: American Oak, ex-Bourbon and ex-sherry, re-racked 60% American oak ex-bourbon and 40% American oak ex-bourbon fitted with French oak heads.
Price: $50 (Specs)
Availability: Generally available