Let’s repeat the idiom we’ve trumpeted here since day one. We love Compass Box. We love John Glaser. We love his maverick style and damn-the-torpedoes approach. Most importantly though…we love his whiskies.
So many of the expressions he’s created over the years have really great stories behind them, built on evocative imagery, esoteric naming conventions and revolutionary displays of non-conformity. These controversies have been well articulated through the whisky ‘media’, and have only served to make the SWA look stupid and outmoded. The organization itself, and its adherence to tradition in most matters, only make sense when industry-vested interests are removed and a liberal dose of logic is applied. Otherwise, every innovation is a perceived threat. It’s this butting up against logic that has been the thorn in the side of someone like John Glaser, who is merely trying to stretch the canon, not overtly bend the rules.
The name of this vatted malt (again…I refuse to bow to the idiocy of the unnecessarily confusing SWA-enforced ‘blended malt’ nomenclature) is a reference to the juxtaposition of malts matured in both both American and French oak. The whisky that results from this crossing of the more effusive American oak and the tighter-grained, refined French oak brings a profile that, while not necessarily instantly unique, is immediately charming.
Strip away all of the adornment of cask (and cask head) play, clever name, and snazzy packaging, however, and you’re apt to find a little bit of a surprise. So often when we pull back the curtain, what we find is that we’ve been awed by nothing more substantial than so much smoke and mirrors. In the case of Oak Cross (and Compass Box as a whole, really), behind that curtain we actually do find a real modern day wizard. One who is making things happen as promised, and not simply talking the talk. Glaser set out to make great whisky. And once again, he has.
I read the company’s spec sheet on this one and started doing my own sleuthing to find out which distilleries from the regions disclosed therein were actually included in this three malt vatting, before finding a shortcut in simply Googling the answer. As it turns out: Dailuaine, Clynelish and Teaninich. An odd threesome, but a menage that certainly equates to more than just the sum of its parts. The integrated whole here is spectacular, and the suggestion of this being a blending of any sort (even one comprised entirely of malts) seems almost preposterous. Try it if you doubt me.
I should note…I have tasted this whisky many times over the years, and this is not the same dram I remember from earlier releases. This is a malt that seems to get better as the years go on.
Oak Cross seems to fly under the radar a bit compared to some of the other Compass Box releases. Not sure why. I can only imagine that will change soon.
Nose: Gawdayum! Is this ever clean. Orange and lemon zest. Some polish. Buckets of spice (mild cinnamon, clove and nutmeg). Oily vanilla. Apple and a hint of peach. Pepper and just the faintest earthy peatiness (almost like good clean soil). Spiced cake. Salty home made play dough. LOVE the balanced profile.
Palate: More oak and vanilla notes here than the nose hinted at, but not overwhelming at all. That pithy citrus zest again with some ginger and other spices. Some clean, farmy barley flavours now. A touch of peat. A little drying. Red apple skin. It’s the Clynelish that really shows through the most here. A few notes that remind of ’70s peated Glen Keith (Glenisla).
Thoughts: Far too drinkable.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt