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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: Compass Box Hedonism Blended Grain Whisky

Last Tuesday I posted a report on the first of three single grain whiskys -- Cambus 18yr 1991 -- sampled on a March 10th Taste Off.  It was better than I had expected and gained a bit of character when water was added.  The following Thursday, I reported on a North British 20yr 1991 single cask single grain whisky which completely transformed into a fascinating whisky with the added water.  Today, I'll take a look at the last whisky of this grain Taste Off.

Company: Compass Box
Bottling: Hedonism
Type: Blended Grain
Distilleries: Different combinations of Cameron Bridge, Carsebridge, Cambus, Port Dundas and/or Dumbarton (depending on batch number)
Maturation: first-fill ex-bourbon American Oak
Age: 14 to 29 years old
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Hedonism (great name!) is a blended grain whisky.  This means that it's a blend of ONLY single grain whiskies.  And in that approach, it's almost alone on the market.  The only other blended grain that I know of is The Snow Grouse, and the best thing I've heard about that one is it's best left for mixing.  Hedonism on the other hand has gotten considerably more positive attention.

Its creator is Compass Box, a small independent blending company led by John Glaser.  Before starting Compass Box, Glaser worked in the wine industry and then later spent a number of years in marketing for the big Johnnie Walker brand.  He left that job to turn his hobby of blending whiskies at home into a business.  And over the last dozen years he's become the face of the new school rule-challenging independent blenders.  Compass Box has released blended whiskies, blended malts, and this blended grain.  Per an interview with David Driscoll, Glaser said that he'd always been a grain whisky enthusiast and that great things could be done with high quality single grains.  In that, he found a place where the market was wide open.

I'm excited to try any and all of the Compass Box products; I'll probably buy the Great King Street blend blind before the year is out.  But this one, Hedonism, was so different that it was hard not be intrigued.  So I picked up a dram of it from Master of Malt and added it to this Taste Off.  (Note: It's different than the two whiskys from last week in that it's not a single and not cask strength.)

There are also many different batches of Hedonism with slightly different combos as Compass Box produces it in small quantities, annually.  I'm pretty sure this is from last year's batch, but I'm not 100% certain.


In the glass, the color is a dark chardonnay.  The nose is lovely.  It's fresh, bright, full of vanilla bean.  It's a plate of ice cream profiteroles.  The texture is creamy and very smooth.  The palate starts on bananas and brown sugar, then something lightly fruity slips in.  A note between citrus and cherries.  It has a finish of moderate length, full of brown sugar.

WITH WATER (approx 37.9% ABV) --
Water brings out the bourbon notes.  The nose is mostly vanilla and a rye-less mid-aged bourbon.  The palate is also big on the bourbon and oakier with a tropical fruit note.  The finish is mild yet pleasantly sweet.


This is one dangerously drinkable whisky.  It's very mellow and easygoing, but not lazy in flavor.  I think its character holds up best without water, as Compass Box found the right ABV point at 43%.  While the two grain whiskies reported on last week had more exciting elements pop up, Hedonism was the most consistent and enjoyable sample in the Taste Off.

If I were to purchase a grain whisky, this would be the one.  The pricing -- while appearing to be on the steep side -- takes into consideration the old whisky ingredients (up to 29 years) as well as Compass Box's independent set up.  The other good news: it's available in the United States.

Availability - Some US spirits specialists
Pricing - alone on the market, so it sets the pace at $90-$100
Rating - 83

Tomorrow, a bonus single grain report!


  1. I wish Edrington would release Snow Grouse here because it would be very interesting to compare it to Hedonism. For one thing both are practically on opposite ends of the spectrum. Snow Grouse being a three year old blend while Hedonism has whisky ages with double digits.

    I find Hedonism to be a bit too easygoing for its age and price. But that's to be expected when you're the only blended grain whisky on the market in these parts. I just wish there was more complexity.

    1. The nose is very pretty on it and it is very light. I guess it depends on what one wants for $90-$100. Snow Grouse is cheap in the UK. I imagine they can make quite a bit of it if they wanted, then sell it in developing markets. Or our market. Its bottle does look a lot like a vodka bottle.

    2. It appears someone has entered the ring to challenge Compass Box. Noticed at K&L that a new outfit called Craft Distillers has made a blended grain called, well, The Exceptional Grain Whisky. Heck, the bottle is nearly identical to Compass Box minus the embossed logo.

    3. Yeah, I saw that at Hi Time. It doesn't inspire me much. They say there's one whole barrel of 30 year old Carsebridge in the mix, but that's gotta be 10-20% of the product. There will be a malt and a blend released in the next two years. Both also entitled Exceptional. I wish those San Fran distiller/blender/producers luck. I hope their products are better than their names.