This is not a Festival Whisky, Compass Box, Blended Scotch, 49.0 %
We have a treat for you! Another rare limited edition bottling with very limited quantities still available worldwide.
This one is a release from Compass Box that was intended to be showcased at the 2020 Whisky Live Paris Festival. As fate (and a couple of scientists studying bats) would have it, this festival was not to be. Compass Box went ahead and released it anyway to everyone’s delight – after all, that was a year everyone really needed a drink.
Compass Box bottled a very flavoursome and interesting beast for the abortive festival. This is rich, full on flavour and very complex. A bottle of this is also in short supply.
Whisky Live is a series of whisky tasting shows held across 30 locations around the world annually. Each year, quirky independent bottler-blending house Compass Box creates a blended malt specially for Whisky Live Paris. But things went a bit different in 2020, and all in-person events had to be cancelled. Yet, the absence of a whisky festival does not have to mean the absence of a festival whisky. Therefore, Compass Box created this special limited-edition blend to celebrate whisky and the ways in which whisky connects people, even when everyone is apart.
Compass Box is well-known for being very big on transparency. If you would like the full stats, check out the fact sheet at their website.
Distilleries: Glen Elgin, Clynelish, Highland Park, Caol Ila, Cameronbridge, North British
Brand: Compass Box
Region: Scotland- various regions
Distributor: Independent Bottling (IB)
Classification: Scotch Whisky
Style: Blended Malt and Grain Scotch Whisky
Cask: Recharred American Oak Barrel, Refill Sherry Butt, First-fill Bourbon Barrel
Age: NAS (at least 15 years old)
Behind the Label
Compass Box is fond of making references to the artworld in its bottle label art or in its naming of bottles.
What of the weird name “This is not a Festival Whisky”?
This expression’s name really refers to Belgian artist René Magritte’s painting that features a large caption “This is not a pipe” under an image of a tobacco pipe. The painting intends to question our perceptions of reality – human beings would falsely equate the idea represented by the image with an actual pipe, when in reality it is simply an image, not a pipe. The bottle we have today both is, and is not, a festival whisky.
This is meant to be a 15-year-old blend, with four single malts and two single grains married by Compass Box. Most of the components are older than 15 years old. This combines varying styles of whiskies from across different regions- from Speyside, the Highlands, Islay and grains from the Lowlands.
Note: The label does say that 1830 bottles of this expression were produced when in fact only 1260 of them were released.
Compass Box is well-known for its high-quality and award-winning blends. One would expect a whisky intended for a festival showcase to be quite impressive.
In the glass, the liquid is straw coloured with slightly thick legs.
On the nose, very refined and perfumed fruitiness from the outset, and rather complex secondary and tertiary layers of aroma. This leads with captivating and lively sweet fruits – pineapples, pears developing into something a little sour and cloying like Limoncello. This is followed by a layer of substantial maltiness, with some cereal, vanilla and freshly-baked baguette bread.
The toasty aromas of bread develops to darker and earthier notes of ground coffee.
Nosing this closely might reveal a faint aroma of ash and sootiness accompanied by some menthol. The peatiness is so subtle, it is almost not discernible on a casual nosing.
On the palate, this is very malty with substantial cereal and dried barley notes, contrasted by a gentle smokiness with camphorous and mentholated notes that fill your nostrils in a rather pleasant sensation. The gentle smokiness is reminiscent of a burning incense, while the notes of camphor and menthol really remind me of the last time I applied Tiger Balm to my temples. The mint turns towards a slightly spicier side on the sides of the palate.
The smokiness comes with a degree of brininess and iodine, which I would attribute to the maritime character in the Caol Ila. Overall, the maltiness and smoke do intertwine very harmoniously and cling to the palate due to the slight waxiness in texture.
There is not a lot of sweetness in this. Yes, there is vanilla, and some soft orchard fruits with pears, tangerines and ripe bananas. Yet, the fruitiness takes a backseat now while the maltiness and dry smoke take centre stage on the palate. The medicinal notes carry a very slight herbaceous bitterness- a small component of ginseng flakes.
The finish is long and elegant. The maltiness and smokiness fade much quicker than expected, but the sweeter notes continue to linger on the palate. Tropical fruits are a little more obvious now, while vanilla grows in prominence. This brings me an impression of a banana split with vanilla ice cream topped with some coconut flakes.
In the final act, there are some soft, fading herbaceous notes somewhat like chamomile tea.
Full on flavour and complexity. This is quite an unusual tasting whisky, and is by no means a rookie whisky. But if you are relatively familiar with peaty whiskies, this Compass Box opens up a new perspective towards experiencing smoke or peatiness. Unlike many other peaty expressions that simply overwhelm your palate with smoke, the smoke here is so subtle and so evenly balanced with the maltiness.
Two hats from Magritte. This is certainly a complex and thought-provoking dram that you would spend some time thinking about.