Saturday, September 25, 2010

Review: The Spice Tree Malt Scotch Whisky by Compass Box

Age Statements, much ado about nothing!
The average whisky consumer probably assumes that age statements (ie. 10yrs, 12yrs, 18yrs, etc.) on the labels of whisky bottles are indicative of quality.  Older the whisky, the better the taste, so goes the notion.  Not necessarily so.  While Glenlivet 18yrs is superior to the 12 years, there are also a number of younger siblings that outshine their older brothers and sisters.  For me, just one example would be Cragganmore 12 years which beats many 15 and 18 year old single malts.  Another example is Laphroaig Quarter Cask.  It has no age statement.  In a head to head tasting with the Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength, the QuarterCask comes out on top.

These observations were triggered by my reading the latest edition of Whisky Magazine (Issue 89 - October 2010) in which the editor, Rob Allanson, makes this point.  For him, he prefers the 15 year old bottling of Glenfiddich over the 18yrs, 21yrs and so on.

To hammer this point home, there are blended malts (blends containing a variety of single malts, but no grain whiskies) that have no age statement, but are superior to many single malts and blends that do.  "Name them Debly!  I want names damn it, you think to yourself."  Ok, consider:  Spice Tree.

Spice Tree is a blended malt made by the Compass Box Whisky Company.  The ingredient single malts making up this blend are all from the Highland region.  They acknowledge Clynelish distillery as one of the sources of the Highland malt in it.  I taste Oban (a great West Highland malt), but this is pure speculation on my part. 

Nose (undiluted)
Malty, sea air, harness leather, dulse, against a rich hot chocolate background.

Palate (undiluted)
Round and sweet flavors of almonds, vanilla, After Eight mint chocolate and poppy seeds which intensify by mid-palate.  Mid-palate the sweetness transitions to drying oak.

Finish (undiluted)
Rich, subdued oak and vanilla transitions into ginger, lime, lemon grass and spices (nutmeg).  Final tastes echoing on the palate are of toned down pepper steak spices and cigar.

Add Water
A little water is also very nice in this dram.  A teaspoon to 3/4 oz (2cl) brings out creamy oak notes.  Makes the whole taste more decadent.  You gotta try it with water and then decide.  As an acquaintance of mine remarked that Spice Tree "is a cracker!"

General Impressions
Impressive!  Reminds me a lot of Oban 14 years, a great highland malt.  Although it is high in alcohol strength (46% volume), it is never offensive.  A smooth, highly quaffable whisky!  A balance is struck between oak, vanilla and rich fruit.  Really drinkable and beats the hell out of some single malts.  I visited the website of Compass Box Whisky and they advise that all the ingredient malts are between 10 and 12 years.  I have no doubt.

Very little peat is present in the flavor profile.  Not a problem, just an observation.  There is smoke, but very restrained.  Sherry flavors are present, but do not dominate.  For someone looking for a step up from blended scotch whisky, without breaking the bank, this is an obvious choice.  It will definitely become a regular fixture in my liquor cabinet, so long as this blender can maintain the consistency of flavors presented in this current bottling.

Very Reasonable Price
This whisky is priced fairly and is even what I consider to be a bit of a bargain.  For example, Oban 14 years is priced nearly twice as much and I can't say it is twice as good.  I acquired Spice Tree for a little more than the price point of Glenfiddich 12 yrs and Glenlivet 12 yrs.  While they are considerably different flavor profiles, Spice Tree is superior.

I liked it so much, I bought two more bottles. 

So, while there is no age statement, don't let that deter you from buying it.

Until next time . . .


Jason Debly
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.


  1. Hey Jason,

    I have not tried the Spice Tree but I did try the Compass Box Peat Monster (and do have a bottle)...incredible, wonderful, outstanding - in particular for it's minuscule price of $50 US. Another vatted single malt from a "artisan" whisky blender...

  2. Compass Box seem to put out great stuff. I have heard from others that the Peat Monster is nice. Ripley, can't wait for your review!

  3. Jason, I would really like to see you review Springbank 10 year, and George Dickel No. 12, two of my favorites.

    Thanks, great blog.

  4. Glad to hear you enjoy the blog. Appreciate the feedback. As for Sprinkbank 10 and George Dickel, I would like to review them but the trouble is that they are not available where I live from liquor store retailers. However, Springbank 10 is available at a local bar specializing in whisky. I will sample it a few times and formulate some notes. However, I am hesitant to post a review as I like to buy a bottle and sample it over a period of time. Anyway, maybe I will bread with tradition and do so!

  5. SWA has forced the halt of Spice Tree production over disagreements with barrel configuration. Now I can't get to try. bummed.

  6. I believe the SWA no longer have any objections because the Compass Box Whisky Company agreed not to use staves inside the barrel as they did in the past.

    SWA had in the past raised a major stink about production, but I think that is all settled now.

    If they date of the press report you are referring to is recent (ie. last 60 days) then that is indeed a new development.

  7. Hey, Jason!
    Have you ever sampled any from this admirable company's Great King Street Artist's (I believe it's called?)blend? I've been thinking of picking up a bottle tommorow or the day after during the course of my errand-running, and I hear only excellent things regarding it as a fairly priced and craft presented high-malt blend. Hope all's well.

  8. I have not tried any such release so can't tell you anything. Others on the web who have good judgement on whisky seem to like other releases by the company, so it might be worth a try. Especially if the price reasonable. Good luck!

  9. I noticed that the stores here in Moncton started to have Compass Box products on hand. I'm curious if there are any similarities between Compass Box whiskies and some of Forty Creek's higher end whiskies such as Heart of Gold and Confederation Oak. Which would be your choice?

    1. Choosing Canadian whisky or Scotch will depend upon my mood. In general, I prefer Spice Tree over Heart of Gold.

      Spice Tree is available in Moncton and is very good.

      There are some releases by Compass Box that I would stay away from. "Asyla" is a real disappointment and tastes somewhat soapy and perfumed. Not a good thing.

      Compass Box offerings vary widely in style. Peat Monster is ok, but best to get it on sale.

      Merry X-mas!

  10. Thanks Jason, that's a big help

    The Peat Monster seems like a good bargain, it's only $50, same price as JW Black Label. Non-chill filtered 46% ABV and no added colour.

    I will probably get that one and the Spice Tree.

    Many thanks and a very Merry Christmas to you and yours as well!

  11. Would you put it over Wemyss Spice King?

  12. If you like Laphroaig quarter cask you should try Compass Box Great King Street Glasgow blend. It is not a blended malt but has some grain in it. It does have a very high proportion of single malt (more than 50%). And the smoke comes from Laphroaig. Glasgow blend is like quarter cask lite, but in a good way.
    I also love the spice tree. To me its something like Glenfiddich 15 on steroids. I don't really taste peat there at all.