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KCM Spirit Reviews

Monday, December 9, 2013

Review 190: Compass Box Spice Tree

Review 190
Compass Box Spice Tree: 46% abv

Background: Getting more intense in the Compass Box range is the first 46% whisky offering. Spice Tree is another blended malt, and there is an obvious foreshadowing present in the name of this bottle that might hint you off to what it tastes like. Spice Tree is made up of 60% North Highland malt, 20% Highland malt, and 20% Speyside Malt, interestingly the same proportions as with Oak Cross. To add to the list of similarities, Spice Tree also uses American and French oak casks, but this time 80% of the aging takes place in the French oak. So, from a strictly theoretical standpoint, this could be a very similar whisky to Oak Cross. The fun part about it is we won’t know until we try it, which we’re going to do now!


Nose: Right out of the glass, you can tell this is a much different whisky than the Oak Cross. From a fresh start, this whisky smells more composed and refined than the Oak Cross, with a thicker nose demonstrating more maturity and complexity. There is a slight hint of savory red wine, with a rich malt and vanilla combination complimenting the aroma. It is spicy, with some white pepper and cloves gently introducing themselves from the glass. The oak in this whisky smells fresh and mellow, instead of harsh and sappy. There is crisp, fresh apple in the nose, which compliments the sweetness of the vanilla and malt. There is also some sweet molasses and caramel in the nose, which starts to become more noticeable and pleasant as the whisky opens up. The nose on this whisky is so much more composed than in Oak Cross, it feels like a different blender altogether.  

Arrival: With a bounty of sweet apple and malt in the arrival, this whisky quickly tells you it isn’t messing around. Sweet caramel and molasses, sugarcane, and a hint of brilliant spice. The oak in the arrival is pleasant and noticeable, but not rough or undrinkable. Left with enough time, a bit of spiciness will start to emerge on the palate, but becomes way more noticeable in the body. There is a bit of smokiness and leftover

Body: The body fulfills the prophecy that the label has foretold. There is some definite clove, allspice, and pepper in the body. It still holds on to the glorious maltiness, along with a certain amount of fruit. The balance of flavors in the body is remarkable. It might just be trying to compare Oak Cross to this that makes this seem like such a great whisky, but it truly is well balanced. There is a bit of mint and cinnamon that start to develop as well.

Finish: The finish of this whisky can only be described as succulent. Succulent apple, strawberry, and huge, full-flavored malty goodness make this finish worth basking in. The finish of this whisky steals the show without a doubt. The medley of balanced spice notes in the finish is still apparent, but it fades away as the sweeter notes replace them.  Given time though, this balance will change. This does have a striking semblance to Clynelish. There is also a slightly cool, refreshing experience to the whisky as well.

With Water

Nose: After adding water, the nose becomes slightly more fruity, with a bit of juicy ripe fruit coming across. The barley smell is softer and greener now, and there is a definite vegetal quality to the aroma that was not present before. There is some lavender and perfume-like smells that are starting to develop as well, getting almost floral in quality.

Arrival: With water, the fresh malt of the whisky, and savory, almost grape/wine like succulence of the flavor returns to the whisky. It is strikingly similar to before in taste, but there is a slightly better balance of flavors.

Body: The body has an almost Irish Whiskey character to it after adding water. There is an interesting mineral-like taste to it, with a nice earthiness and a healthy spice. The oak in the body is in healthy proportion.

Finish:  There is definitely a grainy, vegetal character to this whisky after adding water. The finish brings forth more earthy tones, while still keeping the fruit and spiciness dominant. The balance is enjoyable, although it is clear after a few swigs that the “Spice Tree” is still fighting for dominance. There is some spearmint present in the finish as well.

Final Comments: When the bottle was first opened, this whisky started off fairly succulent. Given enough time, the aforementioned spice will begin to flood the taste buds. It isn’t unpleasant at any point, though, and it tends to work for this whisky. The fullness of flavor is certainly present, and the oakiness to the finish is enjoyable. Adding water just enhances the balance and flavor contribution. It is sad to say, but Spice Tree just makes Oak Cross look WRONG. They are not similar in style, but they do have some commonalities that beg the question of why Oak Cross is so unpleasant. This is such a great whisky as it stands, and stands strong against solid bottlings like Clynelish 14 Year. This is truly demonstrates that Compass Box is capable of some great stuff.
Why you’d buy it: You like an intense, full whisky with some bite to it.

Why you wouldn’t: You didn’t bother reading this review and tried Oak Cross.

Score: 8.5/10

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