Whisky Advocate

The Spice Tree by Compass Box returns!

September 24th, 2009

The U.S. launch will not be until October. Here are the details from Compass Box:

SpiceTreeThe Second Coming
First launched in 2005, we were forced to discontinue production under a legal threat by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) for our pioneering use of the highest quality French oak inner staves. This, despite rave reviews from consumers, trade and press. We agreed to disagree with the SWA and halted production (for the full story, see

Over the past three years we have developed a new maturation process which yields similar if not superior results to our previous method, and this new process is something the SWA can’t take any issue with.

The Whisky & The Method
As in the past, The Spice Tree is 100% malt whisky sourced from northern Highland distilleries, (notably and primarily malt whisky distilled at the Clynelish distillery). The primary maturation is in a mix of first-fill and refill American oak.

What is different is the secondary maturation. Rather than using inner stave inserts, as we did for the original Spice Tree, we rack the whisky into barrels with heavily toasted new French oak heads. We have created a method for getting a super heavy toast on the cask heads which imparts a flavour profile similar to the flat staves used for the original Spice Tree. We use oak with three different levels of toasting on the barrel heads, thus allowing us to blend the resultant whiskies to create additional layers of complexity. This secondary maturation lasts as long as two years.

The Spice Tree is a very rich malt whisky, suitable for after dinner sipping, as an accompaniment to certain cheeses, and especially, in cocktails.

Flavour Descriptors
Big, sweet aromas of clove, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. The palate is full, round and sweet, with the spice and vanilla complementing the core distillery characters and leaving a long finish.

Its rich, bold flavours make it most suitable for after-dinner sipping, as an accompaniment to certain cheeses, and ideal in cocktails.

Distillery Sourcing
Sourced entirely from northern Highland single malt distillieries, primarily the distillery in the village of Brora.

Primary maturation: first-fill and refill American oak. Secondary maturation: custom barrels with heavily toasted new French oak heads sourced from 195 year-old Vosges forests.

Bottling Details
Bottled at 46% alcohol by volume. Natural colour. Not chill filtered.

John Glaser, Whiskymaker

22 Responses to “The Spice Tree by Compass Box returns!”

  1. The leveller says:

    Great news – love Compass Box’s garagiste spirit of innovation and commitment to good wood and good spirit. There’s something to be said for putting the liquid, rather than the distillery/age ‘label’ first

  2. John M says:

    Look forward to tasting this. I have a question. Obviously the inside of the staves in contact with whisky (in general) is pretty smooth. What if they were to put ridges in these staves, increasting the surface area in contact with the whiskey? Would this be allowed?


  3. David Stirk says:

    Just goes to show how daft, ignorant, beligerent and bullish the SWA can be.

    I remember a similar fight they tried with ‘finishes’ resulting in a circular that claimed they would not challenge any finish if it was proven to be a ‘traditional’ vessel for maturation. Seeing as one of the newest types of oak maturation is ex-Bourbon oak, and this accounts for around 85% of all oak used in the Scotch Whisky Industry, the SWA could have quite a fight on their hands…

    Good to see the Spice Tree back again and I look forward to getting some.

    Well done John!

  4. Alex says:

    Never got to have the original Spice Tree, but I really like the Oak Cross and all of the other Compass Box Whisky I have had. I look forward to trying this. I just hope it comes to Virginia.

  5. Chap says:

    Oh now this is good news! Thanks for passing it along!

    Alex, I’ve mentioned these guys before because of Germain-Robin brandy, but their distributor has some Compass Box bottles worth getting before they sell out. They’ve got a couple of the old make Eluthera left, and it’s pretty tasty. The website says Clynelish and Caol Ila but the Compass Box guys say they also used 15yo Brora and “12-year-old malt from the village of Port Askaig” which probably means Caol Ila unpeated.

    I have an unopened bottle, and at some point will follow John’s wise advice to drink it, don’t just keep it for no reason. I’m going to miss it when it’s gone, but will like it when I have it! Anyone want to share?

  6. Alex says:

    Thanks for the link. I just finished my Eluthera, I certainly would love to find another bottle. I wonder what will happen to Oak Cross, since it was meant to replace the Spice Tree?

  7. David Stirk says:

    Since Brora Distillery closed in 1983 I’m guessing that Compass Box is playing on the fact that Clynelish is in Brora and not the old Brora Distillery (which used to be called Clynelish).

  8. Chap says:

    Oh yeah, I forgot about that little name confusion. Thanks.

  9. Hi, I’m the CB Brand Ambassador so I thought I’d help clear up a few questions on some of John Glaser’s whiskies:
    As to naming, John has an agreement with the distilleries not to mention in print the actual distillery names used in each blend (the only exceptions being Cameron Brig). So a tiny bit of geography will tell you who’s located in Port Askaig, Kennethmont, Alness, Brora, etc.
    Oak Cross will continue to delight fans world wide. You will taste the difference due to the different French Oak toasting levels in Spice Tree, and it will be an identifiably different dram. After that, it’s all “secret sauce” where we’d have to kill you first, then give you the secret ;).
    The SWA’s main argument (although not a very strong one) was their objection to “non-traditional” oak barrels. The inserts, whether they be ridged, straight or other, would have seemingly violated this rather arbitrary pronouncement. Remember, when John argued back that he was using top quality wood, primarily 1st fill and not 4th fill barrel and no butts, their response was “quality is irrelevant”. Go figure.
    The custom barreling is where’s Glaser’s innovative excellence.
    There’s a few bottles of both Eleuthera (my introduction) and Spice Tree out on the shelves, mostly in the New York area, who got most of the allocation. Its a treasure hunt to find them, but the hint is: they’re not all in Manhattan. Get ’em before they end up on eBay.
    We’re planning a world wide social networking launch later in October. Keep your eyes peeled for it.

  10. Red_Arremer says:

    It’s always great to hear about a new Compass Box bottling!

    I tasted the original Spice Tree. There was more than a little bit of cloves there too. It’ll be a lot of fun to compare the two.

    I’ve still got a couple of bottles of Eleuthera stashed away, myself. Hard to believe that something that good used to sel for 50$ or less. When are we going to see a new release of that one, Robin?

  11. DavidG says:

    Accprding to the Compass Box website, and I further confirmed it with John Glaser at Whiskyfest Chicago, Eleuthera was discontinued because they couldn’t source the Clynelish [whisky from the Village of Brora] in the barrels John wanted. Personally I’m guessing the barrel specifications are first fill bourbon at an attractive price point.
    @ Robin Robinson
    Any chance the US can get something similar to the Magic Cask bottling Ontario got?

  12. Magic Cask is amazing…still have about half a bottle left. Can’t wait for the new Spice Tree!

  13. Rick Duff says:

    What about aging in smaller casks? Glenglassaugh is selling “octave” casks. I bought a barrel of Tuthilltown’s “baby” bourbon that was in a 3 gallon (new american charred oak) barrel. Even though it was likely only 120 days aged.. I would put it up against any 12-15 year old bourbon. (I’d be happy to send you a sample John.) Because of the SWA Tuthilltown has to label their whiskey as grain spirit since it hasn’t been in a barrel for more than 3 years. These smaller barrels are great to play with and really help age the spirit faster.

  14. John Hansell says:

    Great comments everyone. And it’s always refreshing to hear of something new from Compass Box.

  15. H.Diaz says:

    Compass Box, marching to the beat of their own drum, is the kind of artisanal brand I can easily get behind. It’s a no brainer.

  16. […] Tree: This controversial whisky is a blend of two highland whiskies. As the name implies, lots and lots of spice. Some subtle […]

  17. mike sajecki says:

    have been following compass box for a long time..have enjoyed many of their one of the lucky few to have 15 bottles of the orig spice tree put away..opened one at new years,a treat…keep the whisky coming!

  18. DavidG says:

    Now that two WhiskyFests have pased with John pouring the new Spice Tree, have you tried it and have impressions – formal or informal and a comparison between this version and its predecessor?

  19. DavidG says:

    Sorry for the spelling mistake(s) in the previous post, and I wanted to clarify – the john I referred to is John Glaser

  20. John Hansell says:

    DavidG, I will be posting up my review of this whisky (and comparing it to the original bottling) shortly.

  21. DavidG says:

    Much appreciated, sorry to prompt – I’ve seen it on store shelves and wanted your take. Overall I have been rather impressed with the Compass Box portfolio.

  22. I currently tasting the latest Spice Tree and let me assure you it is very good.

    Palate (undiluted)
    Round, sweet flavors of almonds, After Eight mint/milk chocolate and poppy seeds, which intensify with a drying sensation upon the palate.

    Finish (undiluted)
    Rich/subdued oak transitioning into ginger, lime, lemon grass and gorgeous spices, finishing with toned down pepper steak spices. Oh, this is very, very good!

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