As a wine lover that was turned to Scotch, John Glaser has been making waves in the Scotch industry by bringing innovations more common in the wine industry to Scotch making. The original batch of the Compass Box Spice Tree was finished in barrels lined with extra oak staves suspended within the cask, a technique often employed by French wine makers. While this method quickened the aging process giving the drink a rich profile, the Scotch association quickly responded threatening Compass Box with a lawsuit: Scotch, they said, needs to use unmodified barrels.
Compass Box agreed to stop selling the original Spice Tree, but John Glaser took a different route for the next iteration. The whisky is aged a minimum of 10 years and is a blend from of whisky from a few Highland distilleries, including some aged in first-filled American oak casks and others in re-fills. Compass Box buys these Scotches, blends them, and then ages it an additional 3 or so years in barrels that have heavily toasted new French oak heads. While this finish is much longer than the 6 months with the staves (used in the original Spice Tree that was marked illegal), having had the original I can say that this process provides a similarly rich flavour profile.
While John Glaser innovates with the wood used for the production of his Scotch, he is more traditional in terms of not using chill-filtration and he doesn’t add any additives for colour. In that respect, you are getting a true drink, bottled at 46% alcohol. I especially like this, as the trend in Scotch is currently to move down to 40% alcohol as a way of cutting down the price and ‘improving’ the flavouring. I don’t entirely buy the latter argument (though I’m sure it’s true in some circumstances), and see it as a method to increase production yet lower costs, by adding more water to the final product. Compass Box Spice Tree has won a number of awards and is rather popular among a circle of Scotch enthusiasts.
The golden amber colour of the Spice Tree is all natural, with no added caramel for colouring. The nose is quite lively with oaky vanilla, sweet cereals and a lingering spice. The pallet is similar to the nose with sweetness from the grains coming through, some honey notes, and spice. There’s a touch of smokiness, likely from the oak, that gives an extra dimension to this vibrant drink. On the long finish there’s a lingering honey sweetness and spice, and a creaminess to the texture that gives this drink a great mouth feel. This is just the type of drink you want to have after a big meal, or during the cheese course of a fine meal.
There are plenty of supplies available in the LCBO, but this product is officially marked as “discontinued.” I’m hoping the LCBO brings it back, but in case they don’t, my recommendation is to pick it up soon. The other product from Compass Box is the Peat Monster at just over $60. While I only had this drink once at a whisky show, I quite enjoyed it, and it’s perfect for peat-fans. Compass Box, and John Glaser, are not finished with this product, as they have additional innovations they are bringing to the Scotch marketplace.
Note: Originally published on Spotlight Toronto