One Saturday afternoon after completing a couple of weeks of work in Oxford (I was there on a grant funding my research on Bill's formidably fantastic ferret fascination), I took the train into London's Paddington Station, then worked my way to the Compass Box offices in the Chiswick. There, Gregg Glass treated me to many of the intricacies and joys of the Compass Box approach to whisky and whisky blending. If you don't know much about Compass Box, the short version is that it produces artisanal whiskies--and really, really good ones. Compass Box also knows a thing or two about marketing. Beyond that, you can find a lot more on the company and its philosophy here.
As with some of my distillery experiences in Scotland, this was not a typical experience (but in this case also was not a tour). Gregg treated me very well, and I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about Compass Box and to get pictures of the new packaging on its main line of products. More on that below. But the opportunity to try my hand at blending for the first time was a pleasure I had not anticipated being able to have. I dove into it with great relish (figurative relish: no pickle relish made it into my blend, nor did any other hot dog condiment).
We once imagined that it would be, and now I can say it definitively: blending is difficult. In fact, it is truly painstaking work. The Compass Box offices are filled with sample bottles from all of the casks being considered for new expressions and from those being saved for future reference. And when you see the care and detail that the folks at Compass Box put into their whisky blending, it makes your head spin (or at least it did mine--and the Artist's Blend High Ball that Gregg handed me as I walked in the door did not contribute to that effect one iota--if anything, it helped me not to feel too overwhelmed in the face of all of it).
When I tried my own hand at blending, the initial results were not good. Over-over-peated, to be more exact--and I'd only used 10% peated malt! I'd like to think I learned quickly and recovered well, but it's more accurate to say I muddled through and have a nice sample bottle full of a decent whisky to show for my efforts (mostly thanks to the incredible whiskies I employed as "ingredients").
Other highlights/fun facts about Compass Box:
• Compass Box was founded by an American, John Glaser, who remains the face of the company.
• Apparently, something about our site piqued Gregg's interest and imagination, because when I arrived, he'd fashioned a set of Malt Impostor glasses out of a pair of squash googles, two bungs, and some muslin (they appear in two pictures in this post).
• Compass Box has done more for making the public aware of the greatness of aged grain alcohols than probably any other whisky producer in recent years.
But enough of that, check out the gorgeous new(ish) packaging for Compass Box's main line of products (click on any of the pictures to see a larger version). You can at least get a hint of the old packaging by checking out the minis from our reviews here and here and here. Somehow I missed photographing the Spice Tree that day, but you can see the new packaging for that expression here.