Aah, Compass Box. I need to reign in my love here, in some sort of desperate attempt to sound impartial. Ahem, Oak Cross. Oak Cross was one of Compass Box’s earlier expressions, released after the front runners of Hedonism and Asyla, and as a sister dram to (blush) The Spice Tree.
Like all Compass Box releases, they’re kind enough to treat us with some recipe goodies. This time, we’re following the same core concoction as beloved Spice Tree – smashing together Clynelish (of course), Dailuaine and Teaninich to form their much utilised “Highland Blend”. But instead of The Spice Tree’s more diverse range of toasted and (ahem) spicy casks, we see Oak Cross take the blend and split it between just two: their fancy hybrid casks (toasted and retrofitted with virgin French oak heads) and juicy first fill Bourbon.
Oak Cross is, however, bottled at a mere 43%, where the rest of the Compass Box malt stable starts at 46%. This already tells us something about the intention – Oak Cross is designed to have a broader appeal, certainly.
Anyone who knows Clynelish will pick it up in Oak Cross immediately. Oily, waxy, with lighter fruits – apples, grapes. Highly floral overall (old lady perfume) and something like cucumber, celery. It has a sort of white wine aroma, which is rare but appreciated.
Come to think of it, far less “oaky” than you might expect. The vanilla is there, but not a major player, and the more dense, caramel stuff is barely a whisper. Oak Cross is a fruity dram, not a woody one. A lovely whisky to huff.
Delicious. Like the Aultmore 12 I reviewed a couple of days ago, my immediate description of Oak Cross is “light”. A gentle whisky with no one flavour competing for attention – as you might expect, brilliantly balanced.
Simple overall, but deeply satisfying. You get more of the wood coming through on the palate, richer vanilla and butterscotch. Bananas. Grapefruit. That cucumber makes a reappearance. A sort of seasoned/smoked sea salt. And very, very malty – a nice, deep earthiness that reminds you you’re drinking manly stuff.
What’s this? A Compass Box blend that doesn’t do water? We have a live one. Perhaps unsurprising given its ABV, Oak Cross is not the most buoyant of whiskies around. With a little water you ramp up those floral notes intensely, but everything else is nauseatingly diluted – the fruit, vanilla and salt dissipate and become sludgy. Skip it – Oak Cross is clearly made for straight sippin’!
Fairly salty, mildly bitter, and moderately lengthy. Good stuff for a summer evening.
Oak Cross is to blended malts what Glenmorangie 10 is to single. An accessible affair with no objectionable or acquired flavours going on, another one of those pop-and-pour drinks. And a great remix of Clynelish with some fun recipe details to get you into whisky nerdery.
That being said… It would be very difficult for me to justify grabbing this over aforementioned Glenmorangie, particularly at half the price. And when it comes to premium blended malts Green Label, Gauldrons, Scallywag and Rock Oyster are a much more tempting proposition – and of course The Spice Tree has got me by the short-and-curlies for the same money. Aultmore 12 is a superior light dram in every way, and a neat splash of Clynelish 14 does it every time. With so many exceptional choices in this “bracket” I honestly can’t see when Oak Cross would be on the shopping list, but if someone’s offering – sure, hit me!