Feb 152018

Compass Box Phenomenology

46% abv

Score:  88.5/100


Held to impossible standards, maybe.  Such is the esteem John Glaser has written himself into.  Even the least of the Compass Box releases stands head and shoulders taller than any comparable whiskies on the market.  Glaser has done amazing things for the world of blending, especially as it relates to the world of blended malts.

A visit to the Compass Box website tells us that “phenomenology is a school of thought in psychology that focuses on phenomena or the experiences we get from our senses.”  Okay.  Leave no stone unturned in your search for intelligent and intellectual marketing.  This has always been a forte of the company that has brought us the Lost Blend, Enlightenment and Hedonism.  Tie that to packaging that shames nearly everyone else in the industry (excepting maybe Ardbeg) and whiskies that consistently hit harmonious heights that others merely gawk at and it’s no wonder Compass Box is such an industry darling.

In keeping with their stance on transparency in whisky, the good folks at CB have kindly jotted down the recipe for Phenomenology for us (on their website, of course, because to do so directly on the bottle itself is obviously such an overt threat to the dinosaurs in the SWA that we need to find workarounds to share the info).  Quite a concoction, this.  One you’d never peg blind, I’d wager.  72% Glenlossie, 24% Tamdhu, 2% Highland Park, 1% Talisker and 0.5% Caol Ila.  The latter three contributors – making up just 3.5% of the cumulative volume – bring so little heft to the final product that smoke is nothing but a suggestion.  It wouldn’t surprise me if most folks thought that was nothing more than barrel char notes.  I did.

So what do we think?  Well…it’s great, of course.  I’d expect no less.  Unfortunately it’s also almost forgettable.  Beautifully constructed, but just not enough personality to differentiate itself.  It’s like the models that grace the pages of the fashion magazines in your local grocery.  They’re all lovely, but they’re also interchangeable, nameless and soon forgotten.

Nose:  Clean grains.  Soft fruits.  Pear and underripe pineapple.  Fruit flan.  Vanilla.  Heavy cream.  White chocolate.  Just a hint of eucalyptus.  Syrup-heavy fruit cocktail.  A whiff of smoke somewhere in the far reaches.

Palate:  Firm, oaky backbone.  Crunchy apple and pear.  A touch of pineapple again, caramelized.  Lychee fruit.  Oily vanilla.  Lemon.  Alcohol-soaked angel food cake.  Decent finish that fades mostly on fruit and a slightly woody note.

Thoughts:  Quite lovely, all in.  Just maybe lacking a little of that oomph we expect from Mr. Glaser.  Especially at the $220 mark.  Left me wanting more.  Happy to drink it, but doubt I’d buy it at this price.  Compass Box aficionados should be well-pleased, though, I’d think.


 – Image and words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:36 am

  2 Responses to “Compass Box Phenomenology Review”

  1. Thanks for the review. I know Compass Box is well respected for a number of reasons (some very good whiskies, attempting to provide some detail on what’s in the bottle and getting in the SWA’s face about it too). I haven’t been able to try any living as a result of living in a veritable Siberia for Scotch but seeing the price listed for this ($220) I have to ask if I’m just really out of touch because that seems awfully pricey to me? I know we’re in a bubble and such (never ending it would seem) and I’m not personally in the $200 plus market (ever, actually now that I think about it) but that just seems steep to me.

  2. Glaser’s held to his own standards, sort of –

    Challenges the legality of the SWA’s interpretations of the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009… except in court, while claiming that some of his whisky was ruled “illegal”.

    Stands for transparency… but you don’t get it on all CB products despite a workaround that, so far, seems to work (and I don’t think there’s age info for this stuff either).

    But he’s a very good blender.

    More interesting to me is the observation that this stuff is great but almost forgettable. If great whisky can verge on being forgettable, I think it’s a fair argument to redefine great whisky and/or the way many use the 100-point scale: somehow we need 15% (80-95) of the scale to score 85% of whisky expressions and 85% (0-80 and 96-100) of the scale to score 15% of whisky expressions. Part of the issue with CB might be that they’re made to a relatively high standard to support price point, but that there’s also a “good enough” point that seems to kick in (as with Macallan and Ardbeg) where it becomes clear that “this IS all you’re going to get for your money” and the expression is then left to rest on the company’s reputation – much like Macallan and Ardbeg – and criticism is just dismissed as hating. Even so, the part about magazine models strikes a chord and is probably something that CB should take to heart, particularly with bottles costing $220.


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