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As its name suggests, Oak Cross is all about the wood. Compass Box’s Master Blender and agent provocateur John Glaser has again concocted a blended malt that exemplifies his creativity in all things vatted. For Oak Cross, Glaser merges 10–12 year old malts from Clynelish, Teaninich, and Dalliuane and gives them an extra two years of maturation in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, as well as American oak casks fitted with French oak heads. The result is a flavor profile dominated by wood, with some pome fruits and peppery spices in support.
Notes based on a bottle (with the newer blue label) less than two weeks old, already at the halfway mark. I may have some problems with this whisky, but none serious enough to spoil my enjoyment as I discover them. I prefer Oak Cross neat, although a drop or two of water helps bring out a few sweet elements and tone down some spicy heat.
Nose: A thick, woodsy forest after a rainstorm. The air is also full of some floral scents, honey, apples, and maybe a tiny trace of earthy peat, but the wood is upstaging everything else. It’s a soft-and-savory wood, neither bitter nor acrid as in some other “woody” whiskies, so it hogs the show without being annoyingly intrusive.
Palate: A soft arrival of vanilla and honey lasts for about six seconds (yeah, I timed it) before a sudden and dramatic shift into hot-and-spicy territory. Pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and a touch of mint command the most attention. These flavors retain their dominance as some sweetness emerges from the shadows: sherry, apples, malt, not-very-tart hard candy, and one of those fru-fru foamy coffee things that my wife likes. The wood is less assertive now, but still present. It’s a challenging and confusing whisky on the tongue. I like the surprising twists and turns, but they don’t always take me where I want to go. And it’s awfully crowded and noisy once I get there.
Finish: Oak and nutmeg immediately after swallowing, followed by nothing but oak for about 20 seconds (yeah, I timed it) before a chalky dryness brings everything to an abrupt halt. Pleasant, if one-dimensional, while it lasts.
Although I like this whisky, it seems a bit unnaturally concocted, much more so than other Compass Box whiskies I own (Great King Street, Spice Tree) or have tried (Peat Monster, Hedonism). The woody elements herein are pleasing, but other flavors—some complementary, some less so—have been left to languish without fully integrating themselves into the overall profile. You won’t find a more creatively crafted blended malt at this price (about $50 US), but I’m wondering if some extra time in those Franco-American barrels might result in greater coherency.