I know the taste of Hedonism. Compass Box show a direction for whisky

“Is that goat’s cheese that is runny, or cheese from runny goats” Tweeted @Whiskyrepublic, otherwise known as “Dave”. Either way, we both knew what Hedonism tasted like. Not in any kind of existentialist-analytic way, but because we had both just tasted it. Literally.

And I mean “literally”. Unlike (I hope) the young chap I met recently who said he’d done something so bad his teacher was “literally going to rip his head off”. Well, that’s one way of getting attention in class…

No, but you see @Whiskyrepublic and I had both been drinking Hedonism – well sampling Hedonism, the whisky from Compass Box, and Dave and I, along with a dozen or so others on the live tasting on Twitter. And we agreed that its luscious fruitiness would partner well with the aforementioned cheesy comestible of caprine extraction.

So, Compass Box, as you might have gathered, are not your average whisky makers. They don’t distill whiskies themselves, nor do they bottle whiskies under the names of the distilleries that made them. They buy whiskies as an independent bottler, and create their own blends.

I suppose you could say there are plenty of companies buying whiskies from distilleries and creating their own, but none that I know of do it quite like Compass Box. Just look at what they call the whiskies in their Signature Range: Hedonism, Oak Cross, The Spice Tree, Asyla… Not a “Glen” or a “Mac” in sight. And then there’s the packaging; kilts, stags, and Celtic script completely missing.

Compass Box design. Down with kilts!

They are not your average whisky makers, then, but nor are the whiskies gimmicky. I say “they” but Compass Box is really John Glaser’s baby. He’s the one billed as “the Whisky Maker” on the website. His whiskies are made with an aficionado’s heart and with a creative eye for where tradition might be extended.

Hedonism is a 100% blend of very old Scotch grain whiskies. That’s right! no malt whisky at all. An early version was the first Compass Box I ever tried, nearly 10 years ago, and it turned my thoughts about what grain whisky was upside down. Sublte, complex, and rich, as opposed to a cheap way of making whisky.

If Hedonism got us tweeting strange things, it was Oak Cross we started the Twasting with. (Surely by now we don’t have to spell out Twitter vernacular, do we?) Oak Cross is blend too, but a blend of malt whiskies from different distilleries. Whiskies matured in American casks that had previously held bourbon, and whiskies finished in casks with heads specially made using French oak. This to combine (or cross, geddit?) the flavour-giving characteristics of the two types of wood to provide a subtly spicy dram with restrained but enticing vanilla richness.

The third whisky was billed as the special release: a sneak preview of the new batch of Flaming Heart. One from the Limited Edition range, and they’re not kidding; this is only the fourth time Flaming Heart has been created. This one had me ignoring my temporary colleagues on Twitter and all thoughts of runny goats.

The flaming heart of Flaming Heart is big and peated from (an?) Islay malt. There are also contributing whiskies from the Highlands and Islands, so it’s not a peat monster (that’s another in the range, you might have seen it in Waitrose), it has the smoky peatiness but much more besides.

Again, the mix of oaks from the casks that the whiskies came from are used to build complexity: a bonfire on the other side of a Scottish beach, some chilli heat and cake-mix spices, all wrapped up in a rich body that coats the palate with swirls of smoke, and which lingers until after your Twasting companions have finished talking about the gorgeous label and where and when you can get hold of a bottle.


Flaming Desire: Tasted it, now I want more

I suppose you could call them designer whiskies, but that sounds disparaging, and in any case, all whisky is designed, to a greater or lesser degree. It’s just that Compass Box designs, inside and out, make you think about whisky in a different, altogehter modern way. Who would have thought Hedonism tasted of the future?

OK, so I know what Hedonism tastes like, how much does it cost?
The entire range is available from the Compass Box online shop, where you can also find the rest of the Signature range and the other limited editions, as  well as much more info. If you enjoy paying less, you might also want to try Master of Malt which looks to me like it has some keen prices. Hedonism £52.22, Oak Cross £30.94, and Flaming Heart £69.12*.

If you want to sample before you buy, you can buy a presentation pack of 5 x 5 cl test tubes at either location. This includes two other Compass Box whiskies: Asyla and The Spice Tree, but not Flaming Heart. Buying for myself, I would rather forego the fancy packaging and go for the Master of Malt 3 cl drams. (Mostly, signature range only.) Admittedly not as much whisky as in the pack but I think £21.27 plus delivery is a good deal.

*Prices subject to change and delivery charges.
Photos from the Compass Box website.