Compass Box loves grain whisky. This is most obvious in their entry-level Asyla and (exceptional) Great King St. blends, each boasting large amounts of grain. And even on the upper end, the expensive and highly sought-after This Is Not A Luxury Whisky contains two 40-year-old grain whiskies as part of the mix, showing off Compass Box’s unwavering disregard for the single malt elite. They love blends, and they champion the effect that a quality grain can have in a recipe.
In fact, Compass Box believes in grain whisky so much they want you to drink it by itself! Say hello to Hedonism – a blended… grain… Scotch whisky. You read that correctly: Hedonism doesn’t contain a single drop of malt, instead consisting entirely of two grain whiskies (Port Dundas and Cameron Bridge) in various proportions, matured exclusively in ex-bourbon casks. And in true Compass Box style, they’re not afraid to charge dearly for access to their old grain reserves – Hedonism comes with a serious price tag, one guaranteed to make a crusty malt snob choke on his Laphroaig.
Pale, golden straw.
This is one creamy customer. Vanilla, cereal and plenty of butter. Golden syrup-sweet, roasted nuts.
The sweetness is far more subtle than expected – this is no bourbon bashing you over the head with its fresh oak sugariness, but the similarity is clearly there. And the alcohol is strong, even at 43%. A hint of coconut, oats, vanilla and a Clynelish-style butteriness.
Strong, long, and bitter enough that it made my eyes narrow and my face tighten.
Goes delightfully oily with even the slightest drop of water – excellent. And the taste? Much, much improved. The alcohol is reigned in, and some of the more elusive fruity and floral flavours emerge – that nuttiness on the nose is now revealed in the taste as well. The bitter finish has stayed along for the ride though, which is disappointing.
Hedonism is a seriously smooth, well put-together grain whisky that comes close to being supremely crisp and drinkable. But that bitter finish just gets in the way, and I’m left begging for more complexity and interest – particularly at this price.
But of particular interest is the rare opportunity to try pure grain whisky from Scotland. It’s crazy how familiar it smells and tastes – given that Scotland has only a handful of high-output grain distilleries, the components in Hedonism are representative of the foundation for just about every blend you’ve ever tried, from Johnnie Walker to Chivas Regal to J&B and beyond. Tasting Hedonism really helped broaden my ability to unpack a blend, making it a piece of cake to separate the grain from the malt. An absolute must-try for whisky nerds and novices!