Compass Box is a name I’ve come across quite a bit over the last year or two, both in terms of what they have to say about the whisky world and in terms of what the whisky world has to say about them.
The general consensus seems to be that Compass Box is a more than capable blender, able to release interesting and appealing whiskies at price points well below most of their competitors. On top of that, it seems that they’ve made it part of their mission to challenge industry assumptions and status quos, and seek new ways to produce quality products.
All in all an interesting company with a short but solid track record. I’ve been eager to get my hands on one of their bottles to judge it for myself, but that goal eluded me until recently. Now that one of their blends popped up here in Ontario, what’s the verdict?
Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend (NAS Blend) – 43% ABV – $55 CAD (LCBO)
Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: Light and surprisingly oaky, with an underlying hint of green apple alcohol. Vanilla, citrus (think lemon rind), and white pepper all make an appearance. There’s even the barest hint of charred-barrel smoke lingering about.
Palate: Sweet, mellow and quite rich on the palate. The citrus really comes to the fore (now more orange than lemon). There’s a floral character reminiscent of young Highland Park (without the peat). There’s a noticeably youthful zing to the spirit.
Finish: Quite short, this is not a whisky that wants to stick around. The vanilla and spice that the nose promised make passing appearances briefly, before the spirit says goodbye.
I like what Compass Box is attempting to do, in putting out quality, affordable products with as little finishing as possible. When nosing this dram I thought that perhaps I’d found my new daily, budget sipper. The notes on the nose are distinct, subtle and tantalizing, but I found myself disappointed with what was ultimately delivered on the palate. Not that it was at all bad, in fact it was quite pleasant, but it just didn’t live up to the wonderful initial impression on the nose.
For all of that, this is an extraordinarily easy drinking and enjoyable blend, and I commend Compass Box for putting out such a product at an extremely reasonable price. For comparison’s sake, here in Ontario Johnnie Walker Black (which I tend to think of as my baseline, average, everyday sipping blend @ ~75/100) is actually $2 more expensive than this bottle. In fact, if it weren’t quite so youthful feeling on the palate I might enjoy this even more than the old Johnnie Walker Gold, which retailed for twice what this does.
All in all, it’s hard to pick this apart too much, given its price point and what I expect is Compass Box’s target consumer base. I imagine this would appeal greatly to those who are new to scotch, but I’m quite happy to have a bottle on hand for sipping on warm summer evenings and for the occasional mixed drink.