...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Things I Really Drink: Compass Box Orchard House blended malt

Time for the monthly TIRD! The first two TIRDs were of the blended whisky sort, while this one is a blended malt produced by a brand I used to hold in high regard.

If you ever get a chance to meet or watch John Glaser you'll immediately notice the man's patrician style. At first his elegance shone through in his brand's crisp, clean graphic design, and high quality whiskies in the $40-$60 range. But, Compass Box was never going to stop there. Familiarity was a starting point. Luxury malt was the destination.

This sort of observation has been aired previously by Bozzy and Whisky Monster, so I'm not breaking any new ground here. 2017's Three Year Old Deluxe and This is Not a Luxury Whisky names were a good chuckle, but their price tags were much higher than previous limited editions, and they began to make Glaser's quarrel with the SWA start to feel like a marketing scheme. Then, around 2019-2020, CB's limited releases came flying out at an almost monthly rate, which finally caused the bespoke hand-carved Compass Box sign to fall off its gently rusted hook inside my whisky brain. Did you follow that metaphor? I didn't.

It took last year's arrival of Orchard House, the standard range's newest member, for my interest to reawaken. Orchard House's marketing materials describe it as a "Fruit-Forward & Spirit-Driven" whisky. Its ingredients are approximately:

39% ~8 year old Linkwood from first-fill bourbon barrels
29% ~8 year old Clynelish from first-fill bourbon barrels
20% ~8 year old Benrinnes from first-fill bourbon barrels
8% ~6 year old Aberlour from "Revatted Oloroso Sherry-Seasoned Butt"
2% ~8 year old Caol Ila from first-fill bourbon barrels
2% ~10 year old blend of Glen Moray, Balmenach and Tomatin aged in heavily charred French Oak

I like Fruit-Forward & Spirit-Driven whiskies, and this mix sounded nice, so I split a bottle of Orchard House with my buddy, Dr. Springbank.

Brand: Compass Box
Type: Blended Malt
Age: see above
Maturation: see above
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtered? No
Added colorant? No
(from a 50/50 bottle split)


The nose begins with unripened stone fruits, saline, cardamom and vanilla. Barley and candle wax fill the middle. Hints of band-aids, pickle brine and circus peanut candy keep the background lively.

A surprising raw heat roars loudest in the early palate. Once that peels away, the whisky turns floral and sweet. Some malt and tart limes appear occasionally. A woody bitterness appears later, alongside brown butter and salt.

It finishes very tangy and floral, with hints of cayenne pepper and salt around the edges.


This is the first time I've been disappointed by a Compass Box blended malt. Yes, it was at times spirit-driven, but those first-fill casks still appear in awkward places. Unlike Spice Tree and Peat Monster, Orchard House doesn't feel like a complete piece. Even the company's blended whiskies, which fall far short of their malt cousins, arrive as a single unit on the palate. Thus, for the senses, Orchard House doesn't fit the Compass Box house style.

It's also not that fruity. Though I do list limes in the palate notes, I frequently find lime notes in young malts. What it's missing is the orchard. Where are the apples, pears, or ripe stone fruits?

I ended up drinking most of my half bottle on the rocks, which I've never done with a Compass Box blended malt. Not only will I not purchase a full bottle, I'm concerned about the current quality of the rest of their standard range.

Availability - Europe and the US
Pricing - $50-$60
Rating - 78