Review: Compass Box Oak Cross

(Photo from Compass Box’s website; I hope they don’t mind)

Compass Box Oak Cross
Blended malt scotch whisky
43% alc/vol
$45 – $50
Overall rating:  Friend

If you haven’t, first read my Intro to help you understand my review process.

Yesterday I posted a review of Compass Box’s (CB’s) Asyla.  As I stated there, it was a part of a CB gift pack with five vials (50mL each) of their standard lineup.  Today I’m reviewing the next whisky, Oak Cross.  After having tasted Asyla first, I was very excited to continue with the lineup, expecting good things.

I’m a little upset with myself that I didn’t take any photos of the gift pack or the whisky itself to post here.  While I appreciate readily available marketing photos, they can sometimes be inaccurate or, at the very least, misleading.  This isn’t always the case, and the CB photos on their website (that I am using here) seem accurate enough.  But there’s something nice about posting real photos of real whisky rather than relying on the brushed up commercial versions.  So for my oversight, I apologize.

As I said on my review of Asyla, I really appreciate the transparency of CB.  The leaflet that came with the gift pack has the following information about Oak Cross:

BLENDED MALT SCOTCH WHISKY 43% [alc/vol]
Three Highland single malts form the villages of Alness, Brora and Carron, with partial aging in French oak.

It goes on to break down the composition with the expected results from each component:

WHISKY
A.  60% Highland (North) single malt – fruitiness
B.  20% Highland single malt – perfumed
C.  20% Speyside single malt – meatiness

OAK AGING
1.  60% First fill American Oak – vanilla
2.  40% New French oak – clove spice

So here we go.

The eyes.
Oak Cross is a light gold.  It has a clean transparency.  Additional generic phrase describing the liquid.

The nose.
The first thing I detect out of the gate is Jolly Rancher apple.  Jake, my tasting partner through the CB gift pack, described it as sour apple.  It’s very apparent and is assertive enough so as not to let other scents through until some time has passed.  After some time in the glass, I’m finding the nose to be light but not delicate, and it softens as time continues to pass.  There is a floral note (carnation).  I detect ethanol but only in extremely faint and infrequent doses.  There is a light peat behind it all, and some distant malt and fresh oak.

The mouth.
The apple carries over to the palate just as strong as it was in the nose.  There’s a light to medium mouth feel and it’s warm but not hot, and spicy on the tongue.  The oak, staves damp with apple brandy, is stronger in the mouth (not surprising given the name).   I was surprised to get little to no vanilla both on the nose and on the palate given the larger portion of first fill American oak.  That is the reason why I didn’t want to watch the tasting video for Oak Cross before I tasted it myself; I wanted to let the scents and flavors come to me, not seek out what I was told is there.  As with the nose, there is peat here but it’s very faint, almost like unintentional leftovers from the malting process.  The finish is medium length with plenty of that Jolly Rancher apple.

Conclusions.
Where Asyla has a delicate femininity and a complex white wine character, Oak Cross seems less intriguing of a whisky and I found the sour apple covered over a lot of what I had hoped to discover given the first fill American casks and the French oak which is known for its spice notes.  It was not a bad whisky by any means and, in fact, seems well crafted for a blend.  It was just too plain and uninteresting for me especially after the wonder that was Asyla.  And, given that Asyla is a blended scotch but this is a blended malt (meaning no grain whisky, just a blend of single malts) I had expected more from it.  John Glaser (CB’s founder and Whiskymaker) notes in the tasting video that the blended malts that make up Oak Cross are aged in American oak for about ten years.  After that time, about half of the blend is moved to barrels that have American oak staves with French oak heads (which explains why, to me, there is a lack of expected spice).  This is also one of the tastings where I disagreed with Glaser’s assessment of the whisky.  I did notice an overall sweetness, but found no “light clove” or “mocha” notes.

This is worth at least a sample, free if you can but don’t hesitate to spend a few bucks to try it if you get the opportunity (if you really like a light scotch that tastes like Jolly Rancher apples aged in oak).

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