(Photo from Compass Box’s website; I hope they don’t mind)
Compass Box Hedonism
Blended Grain Scotch Whisky
43% abv (86 proof)
$90 – $110
Overall rating: nip/bar
If you haven’t, first read my Intro to help you understand my review process.Here we are (finally!) at the final sample in the Compass Box (CB) sample pack. To recap, each of the five samples of CB’s main whisky lineup came in a 50mL vial that I split with my whiskey buddy Jake who purchased the pack. Hedonism was the last vial in CB’s suggested order as indicated through the presentation in the box and through the order of accompanying tasting videos on CB’s website (which we watched only after we had already completed our tasting).
This was the bottle whose packaging I most enjoyed (which never factors into my review of a whiskey, but I do notice it). I had no idea what to expect from the blend and all I knew going into the tasting was that this, unlike any of the other CB blends (and unlike any blended scotch I’ve ever had) had no single malt in its composition at all. It is comprised entirely of grain whiskies which are typically used to fill in gaps with blended scotch but here are its only components.
As a quick lesson in scotch terms, a single malt scotch is comprised entirely of one grain: malted barley. Malted means that the barley was germinated (caused to sprout) by soaking it in water and then this process was halted by drying the barley with hot air. The germination produces enzymes in the barley which change the starches into sugars. Barley already contains some sugars but the germination produces others that were not already present. It also helps to make the barley more yeast friendly. Grain whisky is produced from any grain other than malted barley (including barley that has not been malted); typically corn, wheat or rye.
I have my guesses as to which grains are used in Hedonism, but I’ll get to that after the tasting notes.
A light, soft gold.
At first, there is a similarity to the white wine character of Asyla, but that fades. This is a complex nose with plenty to observe. There is very slight ethanol. There are notes of vanilla and custard, sweet bourbon, and rye whiskey (that sour pickle juice). There are notes of white grapes, white flesh apples* (Macintosh, Macoun), ginger and citrus (some orange but more lemon). I’m finding delightful caramelized sugars. The ethanol, forgotten through the above presentation of teasing scents, presents itself again (still very slight and not offensive at all).
This is a beautiful, enticing nose with plenty to enjoy and look forward to with each approach to the glass. After time, and when there is little left in the glass, there is assertive, rich cinnamon and cinnamon dusted rice pudding (sort of a combination of custard and sweetened condensed milk). I want to smell this whisky for hours.
Rich, creamy, sweet, hot (not offensively so), and balanced. This is like drinking desserts. Creamy custard and sweet grains. The finish is hot, long, and caramely sweet, like the way your palate feels after eating creme brûlée or vanilla pudding (the good stuff) twenty minutes ago. That lingering, sweet richness without being cloying. I really want to continue experiencing this, and it has what I call “the draw” for sure. It just keeps drawing you back for more.
Hedonism, as defined by dictionary.com, means “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good,” or, “devotion to pleasure as a way of life.” I would say that this blend of single grains is aptly named. I derived plenty of pleasure from even just the nose. As I said, I wanted to sit and continue to experience Hedonism for hours; there are very few whiskies that I have found this enticing. More, please.
If I were to wager a guess as to the grains used, I would say rye based on the pickle juice in the nose as well as the ginger and citrus. I would also guess that the dessert quality of this whisky comes from wheat which has the same sweet effect with American whiskey. Corn can also impart sweetness but typically identifies itself by a distinct corn smell which I did not detect here. I could, of course, be completely wrong, but those are my guesses. The aging in first-fill American oak casks (ex-bourbon barrels) also helps to impart bourbon’s sweet notes.
What I discovered after the tasting (and just prior to my subsequent bottle purchase) is that Hedonism is produced in relatively small batches. Because of this, and the uncertainty of cask availability with the desired flavor profile, there’s bound to be variation from one batch to the next. This can, however, be the case with any whiskey as, unless you’re drinking a single cask/barrel, you’re drinking from a blend of many barrels/casks that, upon meeting certain conditions, are dumped and blended together to attain the house’s desired flavor profile.
The difference here is that the grain whiskies, and their sources, may be different from batch to batch. CB ensures that while variation is inevitable, the same hedonistic profile will be delivered. As the batch I sampled was not the first, I’m inclined to believe it. What a luscious beauty.
The latest batch, MMXIV-A (fancy romany numerals for 2014-A), was bottled on Feb 6 of this year. As Jake purchased the sample pack in March or April, it’s safe to assume what we tasted is from this batch. That and I believe the sample pack is a relatively new CB product so it’s doubtful he purchased a previous year’s offering.This batch is a blend of two grain whiskies both distilled in 1997 making it a 16-17 year old blend depending on when the whisky went into the barrel and when it was pulled for bottling. The age isn’t terribly important but it’s nice to know if you’re going to spend ~$100 on a bottle. These grain whiskies came from the Girvan Distillery in South Ayrshire and the Cameronbridge Distillery in Fife. CB doesn’t say this directly but the distillery towns are provided and as these are the only grain whisky distilleries in their respective towns, it’s understood.
Because I enjoyed this so much, but it’s expensive, my overall rating was very difficult to arrive at. Were this even a $50 whisky I would readily recommend it as a stock bottle. But at or over $100, I just can’t do that. I waffled between nip/bar and bottle. I would heartily recommend you at least go purchase yourself a sample at a local whisky bar or wherever you can. It’s certainly worth that. But, unless you like rich, sweet whiskies, it may not be worth it to purchase a whole bottle. I did because my wife and I are expecting a child soon and I wanted something to open for that special celebratory occasion. That made the price easily justifiable for me. But under normal circumstances, $100 for this bottle would have me very thankful that I was able to sample it as I passed it by on the shelf for something cheaper.
Between the price and the expected variation from batch to batch (however slight it may be), my overall rating is nip/bar. That being said, if you want something for really special occasions, I would readily recommend this.