For the final review in this series of Compass Box whiskies, I’m going to review The Circus, another of the recent limited releases that Compass Box brought to the market in 2015-2016. During its relatively brief history, Compass has put together some truly exceptional limited releases, often composed of very old, well-matured whiskies. My first experience with just how extraordinary some of these whiskies could be was when I first tasted The General, was another blended scotch in which one component whisky was 33 years old and the second was reported (by a number of whisky sites and blogs) to be 40 years old! Suffice to say that The General was an absolutely amazing tasting experience and I was fortunate to be offered a bottle by a friend (Thanks Greg G!). Now I just need to find the right opportunity to open it and share it with friends!
Anyway, after having been wonderfully spoiled by the opportunity to taste two of the most recent limited releases, the Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary Edition and Enlightenment at this tasting, it was a total surprise that Marius then brought out our samples of The Circus! I had secretly hoped that we would have this chance; in the early reports that I read, The Circus was expected (hoped) to be a worthy successor to The General, so I really thought it was a bit of a pipe dream that we would get to try it, especially given that The Circus had a price tag of around $300. But one could always hope, right?
As you can see, Marius really outdid himself in this latest Trinity Hall tasting! Thanks Marius!!
A true, blended scotch whisky, The Circus is uniquely, and very interestingly, made up of four component whiskies that include two different blended scotches, one blended grain, and one single malt from the Benrinnes distillery. The three blends were matured/married in refill sherry butts and the Benrinnes single malt was matured in a first fill sherry butt.
While Compass Box usually offers very good descriptive information about how they make their whiskies, providing details about the style, the distillery, the maturation, and the ratios, etc. they admit that with The Circus they really don’t too much about origins of the various blend components. From their website, here’s what they do know:
“Such is the case with this whisky, for which we were lucky enough to uncover that rarest of finds – old parcels of blended Scotch and Blended Grain whisky that had been aged pre-blended in cask for many years. In such parcels, what you get are whisky blends so seamless, so complex that they function for us as single components. We know little of the component distillery whiskies used in these blends for The Circus, only that they contain both single malt and single grain whiskies and that the ‘marrying casks’ are sherry butts. However, the provenance of the components isn’t important to us now, as what we have are old casks containing whiskies that are extraordinary.”
Review: Compass Box, The Circus, Blended Scotch Whisky, Bottled 2016, 49% abv
As described in the graphic above, The Circus is a blended scotch whisky made with blended malt and blended grain whiskies along with a single malt from the Benrinnes distillery. No ages are offered, both because of the limitations imposed by the SWA and that, apparently, Compass Box knew very little about the actual component whiskies. Release in March 2016, The Circus is a very limited release of just 2,490 bottles worldwide! And the bottle has a really cool, partially embossed label!
Color: Deep golden amber
Nose: Nosing this whisky shows just a distant sherry influence, here: baking spices, figs, orange marmalade, dark chocolate and some leafy tobacco notes, cloves, and some old leather. There is a rising fruitiness – red fruits, some stewed fruits, and a dash of pepper. After a few more minutes, there is a distinct vanilla toffee note, brown sugar, and some buttered bread.
Taste: Deep and richly flavored in the arrival, very “fat” on the tongue. The red fruits play a more significant role on the palate. The sherry notes kick in again with the baking spices, cloves, and tobacco notes supplanting the fruits. There is a vanilla cream and definite warm bread element that I suspect comes from the grains, but these are balanced beautifully by this clean, rather fresh maltiness and the sherry tobacco and spice notes. Toward the end, it is the earthy tobacco and spice notes that are the highlights.
Finish: Quite a rich finish. The flavors are lively and expressive. Red fruits and vanilla cream sprinkled with baking spices. Orange and chocolate, with that earthy cigar tobacco rounding it out.
Overall: Surprisingly, given the sherry-maturation focus, the color of this whisky is relatively modest, not a deep, dark mahogany color as you often get with such heavy use of sherry casks. And, while there is a definite sherry-focus here, it is a rather “light” sherry, very fresh. Where The General was a rich, dark, moody, old library whisky, The Circus is more like a picnic dessert on a warm summer evening type of whisky. Vibrant, yet mature and polished, balanced and intriguing, sweet, fresh, spiced, fruity and elegant. It may not be The General, but it has its own identity and is simply outstanding!
Distillery: Single Malt – Benrinnes; blends – undisclosed/unknown
Whisky Maker: Compass Box Whisky Co.
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Maturation: Refill and first fill sherry casks
Price: $250 – $450 (USD) retail,
Availability: Very limited
Sample Source: Trinity Hall