Ever walked into a room and inadvertently stepped into the middle of someone else’s argument? Yeah, well, that’s how I feel right now. What to do? Excuse oneself, turn tail, and run? Attempt to make peace between the quarreling parties? Join the melee on the side of whichever skirmisher has the best whisky collection?’
This discomfort has been forced on me by a sample of a Compass Box release, generously shared by Dave. While he certainly has my sincere thanks for sending this along, I would also be nagged by a feeling that I was being churlish if I didn’t give it a fair and honest review. However, a bit of preliminary research reveals that we here at Malt have got a bit of a… “history” with this company, in a way that makes me want to tread cautiously.
Compass Box was described in this space by Nikkhil as a “boutique blending house,” in which review he also lauded the company’s transparency in terms of the blend components and their respective ages. Jason, on the other hand, has been critical of the heavy-handed influence of parent company Bacardi. Dora dinged them for offering relatively weak value for money in her review of The Story of the Spaniard, a release that also left Jason cold.
It would be very easy for me to defer to those with better-informed opinions and effectively pass on trying to make my own assessment of this liquid. Perhaps, however, what I lack in emotional baggage will make me a more impartial, if not objective, reviewer? I’m seldom tasked with reviewing a dram where I haven’t formed some opinion about its makers, in either a positive or negative sense. Thus, today’s review represents something of a holiday from my normal preoccupation with my normal biases, heuristics, prejudices, and other lapses of reason.
As for the subject of the review: this expression, called “Affinity” (ah, irony), is a blend of Scotch whisky and, surprisingly, Calvados. Now, I love a neat snifter of Calvados as a digestif but had never considered it as a potential blending mate for Scotch. My interest is more piqued than if this had just been a hodgepodge of random malts. Regardless of the result, Compass Box has at least succeeded in creating a USP.
True to Nikkhil’s praise, the technical sheet for this release offers a good amount of generic information about what went into this blend (technically a “Spirit Drink” per the label). In descending order of contribution: this is 37.5% Calvados Pays d’Auge (a smaller subset of the Calvados AOC), 20% “Undisclosed Speyside Malt Whisky” (additionally labeled “First Fill Sherry Butt, One Year Finish”), 13% “Blended Scotch Whisky Parcel” (also “Refill Sherry Butt”), 11% “Highland Malt Blend” (further: “Custom French Oak Cask – Heavy Toast”), 10.5% “Highland Malt Blend” (further: “Custom French Oak Cask – Light Toast”), 8% “Highland Malt Blend” (further: “Custom French Oak Cask – Medium-to-Heavy Toast”).
This level of factual detail can sometimes become so granular as to obscure that which it it meant to illuminate. To summarize: this is just over 1/3 Calvados Pays d’Auge, 1/5 Speyside single malt finished in a sherry butt, 1/5 blended Highland malt (matured in French casks with varying toasts), and the remaining 1/8 topped up with blended Scotch.
This is… fine? Not knowing the sources of the component malts, I’m not really feeling my pulse race at the prospect of trying to pick out this or that characteristic element, in a bit of nasal detective work. I’m forced to relax and just take this for what it is: a funky blend of diverse types of Scotch whisky and Calvados. Willing to try anything once, I’m ready to take the plunge.
This was released in a limited edition of 6,028 bottles. It is bottled at 46%, at its natural color and without chill filtration. Retail price at my local is $130, though it appears all over the interwebs at closer to $150. This is available from Amazon for £105.89 and The Whisky Exchange will sell you a bottle for £99.85.
Compass Box Affinity – Review
Color: Palest gold.
On the nose: The Calvados element really sings here with a juicy apple note upfront. There’s so much more, however. I get a chalky nuance of stone as well as the sweet airiness of freshly whipped cream. The apple note returns again in spiced form, as of an apple cider. There are rich notes of honey balanced with a fresh spearmint nuance, some flower petals, and the baked sweetness of glazed tart. Forced to nose this blind, I might have mistaken it for Speyside’s finest, in the sense of this having an aromatic profile that is abundant and diverse, cheerful yet serious. I’m dying to give this a taste.
In the mouth: Upfront, the ample fruity notes from the nose present themselves in more restrained, tart form. There’s a liminal space between the front and middle of the mouth where a hint of milk chocolate meets a more stolid, rocky note. Texturally this turns quite woody at midpalate, where the cask influence is most noticeable from both the sherry butts and the toasted oak, in the form of a richness but also a tannic astringency. This takes on a warming quality as it progresses toward the finish, where it abruptly quiets down. I’m left with a mélange of vaguely mineralic, salty, and nutty flavors as fading reminders of the whisky that came before. A drying, chalky note creeps back around the edges of the tongue, playing against a warming heat that sits squarely in the middle of the mouth.
This argues its case most convincingly on the nose, where the Calvados adds a distinctive character to what otherwise smells like a competently made blend of Scotch whiskies. The aromatic promise remains unfulfilled in the mouth, however, where the few distinct flavor elements are fleeting, and the texture never really knits cohesively.
As always, I now undertake the miserable business of considering the above with regards to the price. Did I enjoy this? Yes. Would I go out and pay a buck thirty for this? No, principally because there’s abundant competition in the roughly $30 to $100 range when considering the blended whiskies on offer. It’s perfectly nice, and I’m happy to have tried it, but I’m forced to give it a score which concurs with my colleagues’ assessments of the quality for value trade-off that seems to be the fatal flaw of this “boutique blending house.”
Lead image kindly provided by The Whisky Exchange and the flavour wheel comes via Compass Box. There are commission links within this review, if the concept floats your boat, and you wish to make a purchase.
A very good read and thanks for the shout out! Even the Double Single starts very promisingly on the nose but not as much on the palate. Like I had mentioned in my article pricing is a bit of an issue now where you are actually paying more for the “story” than the juice should command. I would stick to their core range.
Thanks Nikhil. Indeed, this kind of money gets you a very nice blended whisky, or a very nice Calvados, or even a bottle of both if you’re a savvy shopper. As pleasant as this was, it fell well short of how good it would have had to be to justify that price tag. Cheers!
Interesting review. It’s really common with Compass Box that the nose is strong and then the spirit falls flat. It’s not just the ABV that does it as I tried the Hedonism Felicitas at 53% and whisky tasty it did not justify the the price tag.
I think I’d rather have a poster of all the beautiful labels.
Graham, thank you. Unfortunately, all the lovely label design in the world can’t make up for subpar whisky. Here’s to better drams ahead!
I have a bottle of this stuff! Amazing holiday spirit
I started making my own blends that I call the chrismas spirit.