[Review] Compass Box - The Spice Tree 46%

When it's pouring down with rain outside, in a late British afternoon, what better to do than enjoying a glass of whisky. Today, not a single malt but a blended malt, previously called a vatted malt. What is the difference between a standard blend and a blended malt? It is rather simple, a standard blend will be a mix of malt whiskies (made from malted barley) and grain whiskies (made from a range of grain, corn, rye or wheat for example) whereas a blended malt is made from a mix of different single malt whiskies. And that is what The Spice Tree is, a mix of several single malts, all made from malted barley, produced in some of the northern Highlands distilleries (primarily the Clynelish distillery)1
Compass Box is a small producer of blended malt whiskies which was founded in 2000. The guys at Compass Box try to make the whisky industry evolve particularly stating the provenance and composition of some of their blends. When the Spice Tree was introduced in 2005, it had first matured in casks made with fresh French oak before going through a second maturation in previously used whisky casks in which they had inserted new oak inner staves. Unfortunately, even if the technique wasn't new, the Scottish Whisky Association wasn't happy about it, saying the method wasn't traditional, and Compass Box had to withdraw the Spice Tree. The bottle I have is therefore the second edition of the Spice Tree, which was relaunched by replacing the new inner staves maturation stage by more toasting of barrels to try to get to the same full flavour effect. So is the Spice Tree actually spicy?

What I do like about the Spice Tree is that it is bottled at a higher strength, 46% and that it is natural colour and non-chill filtered. The colour is a lovely amber and the packaging, which represent some kind of "hallucinogen-inspired tree" -as stated on the website- is rather interesting.

Nose: Fresh and floral first and with hints of spices indeed. It isn't too sweet. I get notes of almond, pear, a bit of ginger. After a few minutes, it opens up in the glass and becomes sweeter with more vanilla and bourbony notes with hints of cocoa

Palate: Definitely more spice on the palate, but still some sweetness. It is rich and waxy with oaky notes and some pepper

Finish: Warm, spicy/peppery, hints of cereal and some chocolate/vanilla sweetness lingering around

With water: Sweeter nose with marzipan notes, but also some ginger and citrus, and orange blossom. Less waxy on the palate but still rich, sweet and spicy. Sweeter finish, less spice and more confectionery. 

Overall, it is a very good dram even if it is not a single malt. I wouldn't actually think that single malts are better than blends or vats as some of them are definitely better, tastier and more complex than some single malts! I do like what Compass Box are doing and would love to try other bottlings or even try to get hold of a sample of the original Spice Tree to compare it with this one. 

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