Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Decade of Compass Box

If you seen John Glaser, the owner and chief blender of the boutique Scotch house Compass Box, walking toward you at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic gala this Friday, hold out your glass.

Not to catch a dram of one of his prized, often pricey limited-release whiskeys—though that wouldn't be so bad. No, to get a taste of the pre-mixed Compass Box cocktails he'll have in each fist. One bottle will contain his version of a Rob Roy, made of equal portions of his Oak Cross malt whiskey and Carpano Antica Formula Italian vermouth, and orange bitters. The other will hold a White Manhattan, made of his Asyla blended scotch, a combination of dry and blanco vermouths, and orange bitters.

Pre-blended, bottle cocktails is a musty old concept. Such things were common in post-Prohibition days (ready-to-drink Sazeracs, Martinis, etc.), and most were God-awful. But Glaser's playing around with the idea of bringing them back. For now, though, it's all in the concept stage, and Glaser is happy merely to dish out some Compass Box cocktails to the MCC celebrants.

Compass Box is a decade old this year. It's been 10 years since Glaser, a marketing veteran from the wine world and Johnnie Walker (and yogurt!), decided Scotch could be done better and smaller. Since the day he came out with 690 bottles of his first experiment, a grain whiskey called Hedonism, he's been sourcing barrels from 20-plus distilleries owned by his old boss, Diageo, and blending them into choice liquid melanges of every stripe. The best known of these are the perennials Oak Cross, Asyla and Peat Monster. (Glaser has fun naming his creations.) But, by the end of 2010, Glaser will have created 39 separate bottlings. All along he's been preaching the gospel of oak: better oak, newer oak, livelier oak is the secret to better Scotch, he maintained.

He's done well. It took six months to sell out the first Hedonism. In contrast, the aptly named Optimism, his recent blending of three single malts, was gone in two days.

To celebrate Compass Box's 10th anniversary, Glaser will release two new whiskeys. The first, out in July, is the 10th anniversary Hedonism. As with the original Hedonism, there will be a blend of whiskies of different ages inside, except the 10th anniversary Hedonism will work with older whiskeys. Only 1,000 bottles will be released at about $150 each. Certainly the nose on this Scotch lived up to the name. It was an almost overwhelming mingling of herbal, spice and fruit notes.

The specs on the second release, Flaming Heart 10th Anniversary, which is due in fall, haven't been completely worked out yet. But there will be more of it. About 3,000 bottles.

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