Friday, May 04, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #75

Compass Box Spice Tree
Vatted Malt Scotch Whisky
46% abv


Happy 75th! Will we make it to 100 in this Malt Mission? Can't stop now...

Released in a limited run of 4150 bottles back in 2005, Compass Box's Spice Tree was welcomed with some due praise and a flurry of controversy.

The whisky is/was made up of 4 malt whiskies aged at least 10 years in first-fill bourbon or rejuvenated/recharred casks: Clynelish, Dailuaine, Glen Elgin and Teaninich. A portion of this whisky was put through a secondary maturation, and here is where the Scotch Whisky Association starts to get in a huff.

John Glaser was researching fancy oak from a particular cooperage in Vosges, France. He found a mill that makes oak for cooperage from slow-growth, 195 year-old French Sessile Oak trees, air dried outdoors for two years, for wine producers.

The secondary maturation take space in a cask with specially inserted and specifically toasted staves of this Sessile oak. A second release in April 2006 used several different toast levels on the Sessile oak, but either way, the SWA demanded Compass Box cease producing this product immediately.

The issue is in the way the SWA interprets the law regarding traditional practice in the production of spirits in European Union countries. The SWA does not like Compass Box's technique of using barrel inserts (made of the highest quality cooperage oak you can buy) in the casks they use for secondary maturation. While John and Compass Box disagree with their interpretation, they decided the legal fight wasn't worth the time or money. They are, after all, small guys in the industry (even though they are doing HUGE things).

In John's words, "I tried to explain to them that we had studied the law and believed that what we were doing was well within it, not to mention a positive quality step forward for the industry. 'Quality,' I was told by the SWA, 'is completely irrelevant.'"

With quality being irrelevant (!?), all of the first run (4150 bottles) of the Spice Tree sold out in months, and the second (smaller) batch was all pre-sold for export before it was even bottled. Compass Box has ceased production of this whisky using the inner stave technique but has created the Oak Cross since, and continues to negotiate with the SWA in the hopes of not only bringing back the Spice Tree, but opening up a new avenue for Scotch whisky maturation.


Tight package. Closed nose and quite tough to unpack. Nutmeg, tea leaves, cloves, dates, oats. Lots of woodiness. Vanilla and caramel.

Spicy and lively. Ginger. Dives deep to a series of great burnt sugar flavours.
Boozy brioche. Creme brullée. Rich and spicy. Chewy. Long, oak dominant finish.


Certainly seems to accomplish what John set out to do; it showcases an oak new to Scotch Whisky maturation and yields new, spicy flavours.

Could be worrying for some readers to learn that 200 year old trees are being slain for whisky maturation and, as much as someone may be supporting Compass Box's ingenuity, make it difficult to hope that the whisky industry at large adopts such techniques.

For me, while the malt does stand up to the powerful oakiness, the finish is a touch too tannic. That being said, it is well suited to accompany food... or a pint. It came, it saw, let it go. John Glaser and Compass Box have many other brilliant ideas up their sleeves. Show us the magic...

* - price listed is likely no longer applicable. As this product is no longer in production, the few thousand bottles that are out there will likely be sold for more than this number.

Malt Mission #71
Malt Mission #72
Malt Mission #73
Malt Mission #74

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