Whenever someone asks me for my top tips for writing about whisky I always offer up the same advice - research, integrity and passion. To my mind, these tenets should hold true no matter the topic of writing. Putting in the ground work, ensuring a fair and balanced view, and writing in a manner which shows the reader that you care. But what about style? What about flair you ask? Well, those comes later. And they take practice.
When I look back over some of the early reviews I wrote for The Dramble I can still see the research, integrity and passion that I hark on about – but the writing itself is frankly less than riveting. There’s structure, there’s narrative, there’s even the odd hint of humour. But, those initial posts lack the confidence of what I’d describe nowadays as my ‘whisky writing voice’.
In all honesty, it probably took me around a year (and close to 100 posts) to hone in on what my style of whisky writing would look and feel like – and not every post hits the mark – I’ve always been terribly hard on myself. But, no matter whom you are, it takes time to get into the flow and feel self-assured about writing, no matter the level of underlying keen.
We all have to start somewhere. As is often attributed to Ernest Hemmingway – ‘The first draft of everything is shit’.
The Dramble was founded on a bedrock of honesty, integrity, professionalism and passion, but it’s also powered by a unwavering desire to demystify, educate and encourage. And, sometimes it’s simply nice to hear a different voice other than mine.
So, today we welcome Ryan from Gentleman Pursuits for a guest post focussing on Compass Box 2016’s Spice Tree Extravaganza
Today I want to review, a whisky that is both rich in taste and in story. Introducing, the Spice Tree Extravaganza. However, before jumping into the actual review, it would be rude of me if I did not mention the controversies and legal hurdles Compass Box had to overcome before releasing the Spice Tree.
In 2006, The SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) forced Compass Box founder John Glaser to pull his original Spice Tree Vatted Malt off the market. The Association believed that the use of French oak staves inside the barrels (to bring a richer flavour) was a violation of 'traditional practices.' Moreover, in 2015 the SWA accused Compass Box of being 'too transparent' with his latest blend “This is Not a luxury Whisky”. On the bottle, Compass Box provided the full cask makeup of the constituent malts used to make the blend – including their ages.
The SWA legal affairs chief Magnus Cormack claimed that such an act was in violation of both the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 and European Parliament Regulations, and was considered to be ‘third party advertising’. Even though the SWA has no power to enforce the law on its own, they had threatened producers with possible legal action in the past.
In an interview with Scotchwhisky.com, it became clear that Compass Box was unhappy and very frustrated with the situation. They mentioned that companies' failure to provide consumers with a clear answer to "what is in a blend?", only "makes consumers sceptical" and hurts the industry over time.
Compass Box’s aim is clear and simple to provide the best level of transparency for their customers, including fulfilling their rights to understand what they are consuming. Perhaps to the SWA, traditional value trumps everything?
Despite all the controversies, if customers are curious about what is in their blended whisky, they can just contact Compass Box directly. The company are more than happy to answer, sparing few details.
Moving to Compass Box Spice Tree Extravaganza, first of all, it possesses really amazing artwork on the bottle, kudos to the illustrator because the design is one of the reasons I discovered this whisky. The blend is quite complex, being a combination of Allt-a-Bhainne, Benrinnes, Clynelish, Dailuaine, Glen Ord, Teaninich. You’ll still find a few bottles knowing around – usually for the original asking price as such on The Whisky Exchange for £92.45 as of writing.
Nose: Sweet berries and a rich fruit note, I am getting raspberry, to be precise. You can smell the presence of sherry, however, it is not overpowering. Smells creamy, like roasted brown sugar but slightly burnt.
Taste: Rich dark roasted brown sugar as the nose initially suggested. And, of course, it is rather spicy. Oakiness is also really prominent, to a point where it tastes somewhat bitter. A strong but not overly dark fruit note. There’s an oily mouthfeel, with a saturated taste and a heavier barrel note which is more intense when compared to the classic Spice Tree.
Finish: Nice finish, the aforementioned oily mouthfeel is long-lasting. The dram doesn't burn at all, it spreads evenly in the mouth as it does not concentrate on any part, in particular. The fruitiness and the oaky-bitterness are well balanced, nothing is overpowering, and every note is expressed in harmony.
I feel like the Spice Tree Extravaganza is more oaky than spicy, despite its name. Nevertheless, I really like it, it’s a celebratory dram! It is welcoming and makes you feel warm and happy. Another win for Compass Box.