(Photo from Compass Box’s website; I hope they don’t mind)
Compass Box Asyla
Blended Scotch Whisky
$40 – $50
Overall rating: Stock
If you haven’t, first read my Intro to help you understand my review system.
Your first review is of a blended scotch? Not even a single malt?
Sigh. Yes. While my tagline says “Bourbon enthusiast,” that’s not where it ends. I also enjoy scotch, rum, tequila, and brandy. Really anything distilled and aged. Let’s be adults and move on to the review, shall we?
Jake is my whiskey buddy. He and I compliment each other well since he is mostly into scotch and I am mostly into bourbon, but we enjoy experiencing the other as well. So we help each other out. Fortunately I’m on the cheaper end of the spectrum so I get to benefit from his more expensive purchases. Thanks, Jake.
A couple of months ago, Jake bought a Compass Box (CB) gift pack which includes five vials (50 mL each) of their main lineup. The box (a well crafted, black, hinged wooden box that had me wondering how much of the pack price went toward it) included a leaflet with information on the whisky in each vial. This week we sat down to sample them together and compare notes. We went through them in the order they are in the box, as well as the order of the accompanying tasting videos found on CB’s website: Asyla, Oak Cross, The Spice Tree, The Peat Monster, and Hedonism. I’ll be reviewing all five, in order, starting here with Asyla.
My initial experience with scotch was with blends. White Horse, Ballantine’s, Famous Grouse, Chivas Regal 12 year, Johnnie Walker Black and Double Black. Each of them had a very obvious and distinct ethanol presence (like vodka; that smell and taste of rubbing alcohol). I tried single malts shortly thereafter and never looked back to blends. Even after I had heard great things about CB’s Great King Street Artist’s Blend, I still avoided it because of blended scotch’s reputation for being harsh and nearly unpalatable. But one thing i’ve learned in life is to give second chances. Whiskies change, and so do I. So, despite CB being a blending house, I decided to give their expressions a fair chance.
I’m glad I did.
One thing I appreciated about CB immediately was their transparency. The leaflet included in the box tells me about as much as I’d like to know about what I’m drinking. As I’m used to some producers of American whiskey using fabricated history (*cough* Diageo *cough*), or distilleries being very hush-hush about what’s in the bottle, this is a wonderful breath of fresh air. CB doesn’t tell me the exact distillery they source their whisky from, but they get awfully close. About Asyla, the leaflet says:
BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY 40% [Alc/vol]
Single malts from the towns of Alness and Longmorn. Single grain whisky from Fife. Aged in 100% first-fill American oak.
It then breaks the composition down even further, with the reasoning behind each choice:
A. 50% Lowland (East) single grain – fruitiness
B. 40% Highland single malt – perfumed
C. 10% Speyside single malt – fruitiness
1. 100% first fill American oak – vanilla
As I mentioned above, there are tasting videos to go with each whisky. Jake and I didn’t want to taint our own experiences by having someone else tell us what we should be smelling or tasting so we opted to watch the videos after we’d finished with each sample. I found we agreed with John Glaser (CB’s founder and Whiskymaker) on some things, and disagreed on others (not just on Asyla, but the others as well). I tend to think that a master distiller, or ‘whiskymaker’, certainly knows more about what they make than I do about what I buy. So I might be inclined to give Glaser the benefit of the doubt and assume he can sense things I don’t. But, that doesn’t detract from the fact that there were certain notes I just didn’t pick up.
Alright, let’s get down to it.
Asyla is a very light gold, almost like water with a little apple juice added to it. It looks clean and crisp.
I was immediately enticed by this whisky from the first scents. It nosed much more like a white wine than it did a scotch. A Sauvignon Blanc or a dry Riesling. It is light and delicate. There is white flesh fruit, like sour apples and a faint peat reminding me that this is, indeed, scotch. Asyla’s nose opens up with a little time in the glass giving way to more of the fruit, and strengthening the white wine essence. I detect not even a trace of ethanol.
Medium to heavy body, fairly creamy and velvety. Soft. Delicate apple carries over from the nose with the addition of a slight note of vanilla. There’s a slight floral flavor like first spring flowers on the breeze. There is faint oak here that I really had to search for. There’s a sweetness here too, but light and far from cloying. I found the finish to be medium and warm, certainly longer than I would have expected from the delicacy of flavor. Perhaps it’s the creamy weight in the mouth that helps. That sweet white flesh fruit carries itself from the nose to the throat.
Glaser suggested in the tasting video that this is a “Sunday afternoon in the garden” whisky, which I’m inclined to agree with. For those beautiful late spring afternoons where the air is comfortably warm but still cool enough to want to be in the sun. He also suggested that this could be enjoyed with ice, water, or club soda. I found Asyla to be just too delicate and well crafted to want to add anything and chance washing away the clean, crisp structure (especially at the minimum 40% alc/vol). I let it be and enjoyed it in its natural form.
This is a beautiful scotch that doesn’t drink like a blend at all. In fact, if I didn’t know, I would have sworn this is a single malt. I typically don’t like delicate or lightly flavored whiskies. I don’t want to work hard to find the scents and flavors. Delicate whiskies can often mumble quietly to my palate and I’m left wanting to say, “Speak up, please!” Asyla, while delicate, spoke softly but clearly. It was a soft voice which, rather than presenting me with an experience, intimately invited me in for one. In my three years of whiskey drinking, I have only once before called a whiskey “feminine” (Brenne), but here I find myself readily applying that adjective. Asyla is graceful and elegant. The white wine character is so intriguing as to draw me back for more. In fact, the night after I sampled it I lamented at not having any more on hand and was already thinking about buying a bottle. At its price point, this is a fantastic value.