Compass Box Oak Cross: 43% abv
Background: Oak Cross is the first whisky in the range of Compass Box selection that is offered as a blended malt. Oak Cross is made up of 60% northern Highland single malt, 20% Highland single malt, and 20% Speyside Single Malt. It is aged for 60% of its life in first fill American Oak casks, and 40% of its life in new French Oak casks. It is still considered a relatively young whisky, we assume, but that shouldn’t be a terribly incriminating feature, considering how young Compass Box is as a company. It is also bottled slightly higher than Asyla, which gives it another plus.
Nose: The nose for this whisky starts off with a slight maltiness, but quickly reveals some peculiar qualities. The nose does have a substantial saltiness to it, along with an odd note of baking soda. It is creamy, and has some vanilla overtones, with dried fruits and sawdust present. There is slight grapefruit citrus and pear, with a fresh medley of grain flavor. Overall, the baking soda seems to be an over-dominant flavor in the aroma, which creates an edgy, harsh nose. The nose is not terribly complex, nor is it thick or concentrated. That being said, the brininess to the nose can be enjoyable at times, and presents a very sea-salt like layer to the nose that is highly reminiscent of Old Pulteney 12 Year.
Arrival: The arrival starts off with a quick introduction of maltiness, followed by saltiness and a hoppy/floral bitterness. The arrival is not hugely complex, with the same softness as the Asyla. It just packs a saltier punch. There is a sense of oakiness in the arrival, which tastes primarily American.
Body: There is an odd prominence of citrus and acidity in the body, which seems to disrupt the event of drinking this whisky. This seems fairly similar to Jura’s 10 year old whisky. As the whisky creeps into the body, a fluoride-like flavor develops. There is mild spiciness that starts to develop in the body, but it doesn’t take a dominant role until the finish.
Finish: The baking soda is back in full effect in the finish. There is a prominence of saltiness, tartness, and malt that pulls from the rest of the whisky. There is a clash of pepper and clove in the finish, along with vanilla and spicy oak. It feels like the French Oak is taking over at this point and really asserting its dominance. There is some hops-like bitterness in the finish as well.
Nose: Water does not seem to curb the salty, baking soda aromas from this whisky. In fact, it might even enhance them. There is a slight shoe polish type smell to this. In general don’t let somebody smell this before they try it, or they may never try it.
Arrival: The maltiness in the arrival opens up a lot more after adding water, and as the whisky hits the back of the tongue, a much more open flavor of fresh fruit and floral notes appears. It is a pleasant surprise in stark contrast to the baking soda. There is a substantial amount of apple in the arrival now as well.
Body: With a little bit of clove, gingerbread, and other dry spices, the mouthfeel in the body has become very dry. The body has eliminated some saltiness, which is good considering the extreme lack of balance that would have presented to the whisky.
Finish: Like the body, the mouthfeel in the finish is now incredibly dry, and the maltiness to the finish has been replaced by more spices, assumingly from the French Oak cask. It appears that the addition of water say made the finish of this whisky slightly intolerable, to be frankly honest. There is more hotness than there is flavor.
Final Comments: This is not the most positive review. Let’s be clear though, KCM doesn’t have a grudge against salty whiskies. Old Pulteney is one of my favorite distilleries, personally. The problem here is that the flavors are not terribly complementary, and the employment of fresh casks seems to be adding a harshness to the whisky that just isn’t doing it any favors. This isn’t a terribly whisky either, though. The spirit itself tastes good, and there doesn’t appear to be any burn associated with impure alcohol. The flavor of baking soda, however, just isn’t adding to the blend. Disappointing, we’d like to see a better lower end offering out of Compass Box, but we’ll just have to keep looking.
Why you’d buy it: You want to feel sea-worthy.
Why you wouldn’t: Old Pulteney 12 Year is perfection in comparison for a similar price.