Since the year 2000, the Compass Box Whisky Company have been carving out a name for themselves with their innovative portfolio of blended whisky – and their combination of approach, attitude, and commitment to releasing high quality product at affordable prices has seen them win over a large and appreciative audience.

We had the good fortune of having Chris Maybin presenting a Whisky Squad session back in March 2011 which introduced us to the core Compass Box range – and when the opportunity came up to visit their headquarters to participate in a “Blending School” afternoon, we leapt on it!

Following lunch at a nearby hostelry (although probably the less said about that, the better) a dozen keen Whisky Squadders descended on the Compass Box office, where we were once again met by the perennially snappily dressed Commercial Director of the operation (and keen cyclist, AND French speaker), Mr Chris Maybin.

The first order of business was to issue each person with a chilled glass of their excellent “breakfast whisky” Great King Street – Artist’s Blend, and do a tour of the office.  It had never occurred to me that it could be quite so interesting to be shown through a room that we’d already walked through: testimony to the speaking magnetism of Mr Maybin.  Looming over us on the end wall was the Compass Box corporate… was it a motto?  Was it a mission statement?  I don’t think we ever got a designation, but the message was:

“Above all – Share and Enjoy”.  Wholly admirable, and something I can definitely embrace.

With the Great King Street overture now fading out, Act One was for Chris to introduce (or for the lucky veterans of March 2011, re-acquaint) us to the core Compass Box range.  The delicate, light & refreshing Asyla – so named for the duality of the word meaning “madhouse” and “sanctuary” – really appealed to me this time around, which just goes to show that tastes are a moveable feast.  As well, the Oak Cross really grabbed me with its sweet vanilla-driven profile.  The Spice Tree (effectively, the same whisky as Oak Cross but with a stronger French Oak influence) was a playful and aromatic dram, and The Peat Monster lived up to its name but delivered the rounded complexity that an artisanal blend can produce instead of being a bit peaty fist in the face.  And to finish the core lineup, the incomparable gentle & fruity blended grain joy that is Hedonism.

As we retired to the relaxation complex (being the corner of the office that has the sofas in it) for a “half time orange” we started thinking about what kind of blends we’d all produce using the sciencey-looking gubbins laid out on our tables.  This wouldn’t be my first foray into blending: there was the (now famous) Tiger Blood incident of June last year.  This was totally different though: whereas with Tiger Blood we could use any whisky at all from the decent-sized collection we’d amassed, today we were restricted to the 5 ingredients provided by Compass Box.  Also, Chris instructed us, the blend needs time to marry together – so there was no point “blending in the glass” and tasting to see if that was what we were looking for, as the same blend 2 weeks down the line might have changed quite dramatically.

On our blending pallette were:

– a lowland grain whisky aged in American oak (a lot sweeter than I was expecting, possibly not too far from the 20yo North British from Master of Malt that I tried recently?)

–  a highland malt aged in American oak (with some great, rounded vanilla character)

– the same highland malt, aged in American oak barrels with French oak heads (a more peaky, spicy whisky with quite a tang to it)

– highland malt aged in sherry (I got a much rounder, toffee flavour from this one)

– a heavily peated Islay malt

Knowing how little Islay it takes to overpower a blend and taking the non-tasting idea into my stride I elected to leave any hint of smoke out of this excursion.  And it’ll be no surprise to those around me that of late I’ve been a bit obsessed with the Buttery Biscuit Base video:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfeyUGZt8nk

So my blend concept combined that, with a tenuous link to Douglas Adams.  After dipping my beak into the various glasses for what seemed like hours, but was possibly only an hour and 10 minutes, I went for a mix of 42% sherried highland malt, 21% lowland grain, 21% American oaked highland malt, and topped up the remaining 16% with the French oaked highland malt, to hopefully provide the cherry on top.  So I declared the name of this concoction to be “Monkey Butter” – the monkey part sort of related to the 42% (Douglas Adams) and cavemen evolving from monkeys (I told you – tenuous! You try having a more linear thought process after tasting whisky all afternoon!), and the butter part was from the buttery biscuit base!  The whisky’s sitting on my shelf, marrying away as we speak so I have no idea what it tastes like yet.

I heard some other names being thrown about the room (“The Last Train Home”, “Mooley’s Malt Madness”, “Crowdsauce”, and something involving the Scots Gaelic word for “birthday”), and just as the pondering what other people’s blends might’ve been Chris asked if anyone fancied a try of any other Compass Box bottlings.  I don’t think he’d even blinked before I’d shot to the front of the queue and sent the phrase “Hedonism 10th Anniversary” in morse code with my eyelids…  Good god, what a treat.

An utterly splendid, educational day out for the Whisky Squad!  Now it’ll be interesting to see who’s been bitten by the blending bug, and who suddenly starts turning up at sessions with 10cL vials and the phrase, “Tell me what you think of this…”.

Photos borrowed with permission from @Mooley (flickr) and @grimnorth (flickr).

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