I’ll just come out and say it: I’m a huge fan of Compass Box whisky. And while I actually find their range pretty hit or miss, I couldn’t think of a better inaugural review than their most infamous bottle. Ladies and gentlemen, hold on to your pants and allow me to introduce you to The Spice Tree.
Compass Box Whisky is the thorn-in-the-side of the cranky old farts at the Scotch Whisky Association. In their efforts to reinvigorate a stale, stagnating industry with new production methods and an emphasis on quality, they’ve made their fair share of enemies, friends, and frenemies (probably).
Apart from casting them as the Han Solo of whisky, this no-bullshit, nothing-to-hide, experimental approach has meant that Compass Box has released some of the most exciting blends Scotland has ever seen. They don’t chill-filter, they don’t colour. They don’t bottle at less than 43%, even in markets where they might get away with it. They don’t have a single age-statement whisky in their range, openly declaring the importance of young whisky components. They balance this by giving an unparalleled level of disclosure about the composition of their blends (for which – you can’t even make this up – they recently got into trouble. For too much transparency. Right.)
The Spice Tree is Compass Box’s cheeky, controversial blended malt, and marks the first time they were ordered by the SWA to sit in the naughty corner. Let’s give a collective middle-finger to The Man and crack open a bottle:
The first thing to arrive is the strong alcohol bite. The second is the sense of blissful euphoria, followed by the uncontrolled smile that only deep, rich, complex whisky can inspire. The bourbon casks are doing good work here, with a strong base of sweet vanilla and oak. Milk chocolate. Cinnamon. A syrupy caramel. Roasted nuts, and citrus.
With whisky it can be hard to tell whether “complex” necessarily means “enjoyable”. I’m happy to say The Spice Tree nails it on both counts. At first, fruit – apricots, cranberries. Then ginger, pepper, vanilla. Maple syrup. A hint of smoke throughout, with a zesty, flowery crawl to the finish line. And given some time in the glass it reveals glazed oranges, aniseed and a little charcoal. This is breathtaking stuff.
With a teaspoon or two of water the alcohol recedes a little and you get a delightful opening up – revealing a surprising layer of coconut that wasn’t there before, and a highlight in overall fruitiness. At 46% (amen) you have your options open, and I’m happy to report The Spice Tree shines with or without water. Just be careful with the ice – although it takes a while, this stuff can drown if you don’t keep an eye on it.
Just bloody amazing. The Spice Tree is… captivating. Bewitching. Brooding, yet friendly. Water it down a little for a relaxed daytime drink, or keep it strong and dark for an evening of scrutiny and/or sulking. A must-try, must-own blended malt that just happens to be pretty well priced, widely available and bottled by people who care about keeping their whisky pure and simple.
I love this stuff. In fact… to date The Spice Tree is the best whisky I’ve ever tasted, an experience like no other. Shockingly great. I’ll update this review when I try something better, otherwise it’s getting upgraded to a “10”. Watch this space!