Hello friends! It is I, South Africa’s biggest Compass Box fanboy. I love the attitude, I love the rebellion, I love the class… Those labels are off-the-chains sexy. Oh and the whisky is bangin’, too.
So when I heard my favourite Compass Box blend – The Spice Tree – was getting a limited edition release? Dayum, son. I was all over that. One to drink, one to keep. And it took a while, but I finally cracked one open to put through its paces.
From Compass Box’s handy fact sheet we can see Spice Tree Extravaganza has some first-fill sherry butts in addition to a dash of the fresh bourbon barrels used in the standard expression. Plenty of their “hybrid” casks make an appearance here as well. What could go wrong?
Very grassy. Pollen. Paprika, cayenne pepper. A little fresh mint. Raisins. Butterscotch. A heck of a lot of grass. A Glenfiddichy tinge – apples and pears. Faint banana right in the back. Did I mention grass?
Okay, first alarm bell. Spice Tree Extravaganza is very hot when sipped neat. Never thought I’d say Compass Box blend needed a touch of water by default. Lots of rich, zingy malt, dull sherry but near impossible to analyse at this temperature. Onwards!
With a little water, the code is cracked and you can proceed to unpack. Initially tasty. Chewy. Spicy is definitely the right term, but… there’s not much else going on. Pineapple. Some fresh pastry. Almost a little “ripe” – bitter and mossy. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s… dull. The sherry note reminds me of The Spaniard, which is to say “a little off” – flat, lifeless. Almost as if (this is killing me to say) it was an integration issue.
Moss, apples, Glenfiddich 12.
Ugh, I was primed in every way to love this. I truly was. And as much as I may have zero authority to criticise the masters themselves, this feels like a blending problem.
If you’ve ever tried to blend whisky yourself, you’ll recognise the symptoms – try do too much and you end up with something that is less than the sum of its parts, something flat and spiritless. As bewildering as it is to say, Spice Tree Extravaganaza tastes hauntingly similar to my own bumbling attempts and mixing and matching malts. Somehow, it always ends up tasting like stale Glenfiddich.
And that damn sherry is a problem too, just like The Spaniard. It’s a shock to me in both cases that added fresh sherry casks seem to be hurting the mix, when in almost every other case sherry casks are an easy win.
Let me be entirely clear: The Spice Tree is one of my top 5 whiskies of all time. Extravaganza comes nowhere near, at double the cost and at a fraction of the mastery and enjoyment. When picking the score, I always refer back to my scorecard and pull no punches. In this case, I wouldn’t be tempted to buy this. I’d truly prefer most other common malts. And there’s something not quite right going on here. In between “Meh” and “Not bad…”, which means (gulp) 3.5 it is.
On the other hand, great! Limited editions are exclusionary by design, and this should motivate you to get two bottles of widely-available Spice Tree instead 😉