(Photo from Compass Box’s website; I hope they don’t mind)
Compass Box Spice Tree
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
46% alc/vol (92 proof)
$55 – $65
Overall rating: Nip/Bar
If you haven’t, first read my Intro to help you understand my review process.
A quick rehash, in case you’re only here for this review: My friend Jake and I sat down to review the CB lineup from a gift pack that Jake had purchased. There were five vials, 50mL each, of the whiskies. Each whisky had an accompanying tasting video on CB’s website. We tasted them in their order in the box, which is the same order of the videos. We didn’t watch the videos until after we had tasted each whisky because we didn’t want our experience to be tainted by suggestion. I really wanted to make sure that we experienced the whisky on our own before hearing the company marketing spiel. I’m glad we made that decision as my tasting notes at times did not match up with John Glaser’s (the company’s founder and Whiskymaker). Had we watched the videos before hand, I feel that I would have been looking for smells and flavors, rather than experiencing what was there.
Knowing what little I did about CB’s lineup going into the gift pack tasting, I really didn’t know what to expect from each of the 50mL vials. The one whisky I knew something about (aside from the obvious expectation of peat in The Peat Monster, being reviewed next) was The Spice Tree. A little over a month ago, when visiting a friend at a local liquor store, I was given a sample of Brenne to try. It was like no whisky I had ever tried before (and still isn’t). Wanting to find out more information, I decided to look up some reviews. Brenne is a French whisky first aged in first fill Limousin Oak then aged in ex-Cognac barrels. I incidentally discovered through this review at The Coopered Tot (a whiskey blog I follow, so I trust Josh’s reviews) that The Spice Tree is aged in Limousin Oak as well. So, given the fascinating whisky Brenne is, I was excited to see what the same oak would do to The Spice Tree.
The leaflet that came in the gift pack had the following information:
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky 46% [alc/vol]
Three Highland single malts from the villages of Alness, Brora and Carron. Extended maturation in custom-made French oak casks with heavily toasted ends.
It goes on to break down the composition, and the reasons behind each choice:
A. 60% Highland (North) single malt – fruitiness
B. 20% Highland single malt – perfumed
C. 20% Speyside single malt – meatiness
1. 20% first fill American Oak – vanilla
2. 80% new French oak – clove spice, vanilla, mocha
I tried not to pay attention to the aroma and flavor benefits so as to come to my own conclusions. Here we go:
The color is very similar to apple juice (Motts, I suppose…I’ve never really payed enough attention to notice if one brand of apple juice looks different from another; I suppose with kids in the house now I’ll be looking more closely so I can start reviewing them…)
The nose is very subtle. I don’t know that I’d call it delicate; more like faint. There is plenty of spice here, like Christmas baking spices, but they seem to be hiding. Like when you enter someone’s home the day after they’ve been baking. You can tell, but it’s not very strong. I can smell indistinct red berries and Christmas desserts. I don’t know what it is that keeps me thinking of Christmas food here, but there’s something holiday-esque about the nose. Like late autumn, early winter New England spices; nutmeg and clove, maybe, but there’s nothing significantly distinguishable. Just Christmas. There’s a light apple note, similar to that of Oak Cross. After a little time, very slight notes of malt, vanilla, and peat emerge. Toward the very end of my nosing time, I found (strange as it may sound), a plain macaroni note. Like when hot elbow macaroni is sitting in the colander after it’s been freshly poured into it. Maybe it’s the sweetness of the malt changing a bit? I will say that, considering the 46% abv, I expected at least some noticeable ethanol, but there’s nothing. That’s impressive.
This is a warm, spicy, oaky whisky. I still detect no ethanol. It’s hot on the throat and the spices are here, but even less distinguishable than the nose. I wouldn’t even identify them here as “Christmas”. I taste malt, light vanilla, and a very slight apple rolling over from the nose onto the palate. The mouth has more volume than the nose but it’s still disappointing. I feel like the base that is holding the flavors up is similar to that of Highland Park (if you were to strip away its flavor components and be down to the bare malt base). The finish is medium, sweet, and semi-spicy.
The nose, while delivering those holiday baked treats, was disappointing. Perhaps it’s that my expectations were too high based on the name, the use of Limousin oak, and the color (given that CB uses no color additives), but everything here is just too faint. When I first nosed those baking spices, I wanted them at a higher volume; they’re just too quiet. Jake put it nicely when he said, “It seems flat, like nothing’s standing out.” Some may call that balanced, but I found it boring. I was really looking forward to seeing what Limousin oak would do with this blended malt. The nose was the most interesting part but those Christmas baked treats were, again, too faint. They would have wowed me with more presence and richness. This package in its present form is just not enough for me to want more. Had I $60 to spend on a whisky, this would not be on the list of candidates. I think it’s worth a sample as the spice character isn’t like any whisky I’ve had before, but I can’t justify purchasing a whole bottle. If you like lighter whiskies, and enjoy sweet, spiced flavors, you might like this. It just didn’t have enough overall presence for me.