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Compass Box Oak Cross

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Compass Box Oak Cross

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Compass Box Oak Cross

Compass Box only makes blended malts, blended grains and blends. They are whisky makers, so to speak. The Oak Cross one of those blended malts that has become part of the core range – or the Signature Range as they call it themselves. It consists of 60% Clynelish, 20% Dailuaine and 20% Teaninich. It matured on casks with American oak staves and French oak heads – hence the name Oak Cross.

The Clynelish is immediately recognizable on the nose with its typical waxy and fruity character. Then a big floral hit (not soapy!). Stewed stone fruit, freshly cut grass and soft honey. Some vanilla and cinnamon and soft notes of oak. Very light and accessible, almost delicate.

Very fruity and floral – almost perfume-y – on the palate. Nicely waxy on Seville oranges, almonds and walnuts. Again stewed yellow fruit and some vanilla. Nice balance, by the way.

It could have done with a slightly longer finish, but it’s nice nonetheless. Some lavender at the death.

This is actually quite nice. And the prominence of the Clynelish is a big plus. Great aperitif style whisky.


This is an abbreviated version of a post I'll publish tomorrow

For those who don't know, Compass Box buys casks of whisky from other distilleries, blends them in precise ratios, ages them further in different casks (different cask sizes, char levels, different wood types etc.) and blends them again to create a unique flavour profile.

They never use E150A (caramel colouring) and they never chill-filter their whiskies. They also provide infographics on their website so you know almost everything about what's in your bottle. They don't disclose the age of the various components because the Scotch Whisky Regulations only permit the disclosure of the youngest component whisky. Allegedly. It's kind of complicated. Compass Box isn't perfect, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a company that discloses more information to their consumers. I've even heard that if you email them, they'll disclose the age of every cask that went into your bottle. They'll kindly ask you to keep that information to yourself, though.

Tasting Notes

So what's in Oak Cross? According to the fact sheet, its volume is malt whisky from Clynelish (60% of total volume), malt whisky from Dailuaine (20% of total volume) and malt whisky from Teaninich (20% of total volume). How does it taste?

  • Nose (undiluted): very floral at first (honeysuckle?), vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, citrus.
  • Palate (undiluted): medium-bodied, poached pears, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, toasted oak
  • Finish: Oak tannins, more vanilla, waxy - almost like melted candle, but in a pleasant way, a hint of ginger, cayenne pepper.

Adding water or ice brings forth more floral notes and tones down a bit of the Oak “bite”. This whisky is pleasant either way. In fact, I think I prefered it in this order:

  • Neat
  • With ice
  • With water

I contacted Compass Box for more information on my bottle of whisky, and they answered all my questions. I won't re-post their answers here, per their request, but they were more open and accomodating than any other whisky company with whom I've communicated. They also answered my questions in less than 24 hours. I'm very impressed with this company. Oak Cross Blended Malt is good, but like my 1989 Montreal Canadiens, it isn't championship level. Would I buy this again? Absolutely. The price is very reasonable and the whisky is pleasant, refreshing and original if somewhat one-dimensional. It's almost all vanilla and oak spices, albeit pleasant ones. Your mileage may vary. I've had people tell me there was a note reminiscent of "baby throw-up" in here. I didn't taste that at all, but you may want to try before you buy.

@MadSingleMalt My mother insisted there was a baby-sick note in there that dissipated quickly. I didn't get that at all. I think the originality comes from the hybrid barrels. And from disclosing the ages to the inquiring customer. Also, I've never experienced that melted birthday candle note before. It was different, and pleasant.

@MadSingleMalt Sorry, I missed that. I’m on my mobile, no CTRL button. But I’ll stick with the “melted candle” aspect of it being “original”. I’m told that’s a contribution from Clynelish. I wouldn’t know as I’ve never had a Clynelish single malt.


I've gotta admit, this is my kind of Scotch. The nose is bursting with tropical fruit: first banana, then watermelon and pineapple. I get hints of bubblegum at times. Very sweet, very approachable. As the glass breathes I notice a bit of tartness and the aroma of fragrant wood shavings.

On the palate concentrated malt and rich oak are the main components. The whisky has good body and texture but the flavours are what you would expect to find in a lighter Highland malt: crisp, sweet, with tropical notes. It seems that all the work they put into maturation pays off, as the oak arrives to add spicy accents.

The whisky finishes on oak notes, with bitter chocolate and coffee flavours which buzz gently on the tongue. The overall experience is enjoyable in the extreme: Oak Cross manages to strike a balance between lightness and richness, drinkability and depth. This smells and tastes like an extraordinarily well-made malt and in many ways is the ideal Scotch for me.

@Megawatt, thanks for your nice review. Oak Cross is very pleasant indeed. "...lighter Highland malt..."? John Glaser puts Clynelish into just about everything he makes. It is prominent in Oak Cross.

I really enjoy this CB bottling, but I'm a big Clynelish fan. It's a great break from the peated and sherried whiskies, with the components all quality spirits.


John Glaser has been busy doing his best to "up" the game of blended Scotch whisky and blended Malt Scotch whisky. Oak Cross, referring to marrying Highland malt whiskies, especially his favourite, Clynelish, and showing influence of both French and American Oak, is one of his earlier and continuing standard-line products featuring vatted/pure/blended malt whiskies. He has more recently announced his intention to work primarily on concocting additional products in the world of blended Scotch, i.e. blends of barley-malt and "grain" whiskies, notably for the Great King Street series of blended whiskies. Mr. Glaser still keeps this "blended malt" Oak Cross as part of his standard line, even though he is directing most of his attentions toward developing more "blended Scotch whiskies". The reviewed bottle has been open 2 1/2 years, is 95% full, and has been gassed with inert gas for the past 15 months. N.B. the malts used in Compass Box Oak Cross blended malt whisky and Compass Box Spice Tree blended malt whisky are the same, but the wood used is in different proportion

Nose: mellow, almost delicate, with understated malt and with a good oak presence. You can pick up a little spice from the oak. On the nose the citrus is present but not strong. Clean and likeable

Taste: malt, wood, and spice flavours are stronger on the palate than in the nose. Wonderfully clean and mellow flavours, with significant citrus. You can really taste the Clynelish here

Finish: medium to medium-long, ending on sharp grain citrus and a little sweetness around the edges

Balance: there is a decent balance of sweet and dry in this whisky, and it is certainly easy-drinking. This is pretty gentle stuff

Preservation comment: this bottle of whisky hasn't changed a great deal in 2 1/2 years. 95% full after 2 1/2 years is not a comment that I don't like Oak Cross. It merely is a product of my having 150 opoen bottles vying for my attention


from a purchased sample

Nose: Light, crisp, and very malty. Honey opens, but quickly yields to dominant malt and sugar-coated barley. A touch of wax with lemon, and a slightly funky fruit note. Vanilla, cake frosting, and more of those candied notes. Very enjoyable. Does this stand up on the palate at 43%? The nose is no wallflower.

Palate: Big on honey, bitter wax, the white bitter flesh under lemon zest, and soft-yet bitter- wood. There's a brief note of the barley and vanilla, but the bitterness is the most apparent element. Not as rich as the nose suggested.

Finish: Lightens up a bit as the bitterness subsides, and it comes out to a more pleasant and enjoyable end. A good, well-made dram that surprised me a bit; it's just a little off on the palate, but seems to be a decent buy for this sort of thing.


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.


Recently, John Hansell of Whisky Advocate, gave a very favorable rating to the latest bottlings of Oak Cross. I quite enjoyed the bottle that I had open, so I thought I would give a new bottling a try.

So, what is the difference? How can you tell which one you are buying? The bottle pictured here is the older bottling. The newer version comes in a baby blue box with "fancy nancy" gold and black lettering. I confirmed this with Compass Box. Both are bottled at 43%.

I am tasting these side by side. I am down to about a 1/4 bottle of the old, and 3/4 left in the new.

Aroma is the same. Birthday cake...No, pound cake. Ginger ale, specifically, Ale-8. The Ale-8 note is stronger in the older bottle.

Some real woodiness in the taste. Rather like sucking on an old Popsicle stick. Custard. OK, here is where the difference seems most obvious. There is more of a spice kick on the newer bottling. Nutmeg. Seems "sharper" on the tongue than the older. Of course, the older bottle has been open longer, so that may be the cause of it.

Finish. Wood and custard - Long. Spice - Short.

I am going to say that the difference here is really just a matter of how much spice and "zing" you prefer. I find the older bottle a bit more subdued, more about the pound cake, less about the spice. I think that makes it the smoother of the two, and makes it my preference.

Never heard of Ale-8. Interesting review. I've heard the Oak Cross has ginger and cloves with quite a bit of citrus flavors as well. Never tasted it, myself.

I have a bottle of the Peat Monster open at the moment. Compass Box can make some interesting stuff. I'm not crazy about the Monster, but it's okay. The three smokers I've got open are that, Uigeadail and Ardmore peated traditional cask. The Ardmore got very got when it was down to one quarter of the bottle left. Of course I have other bottles open but they are not so heavily peated.

Ale-8 ( a late one) is a ginger ale produced in KY and not widely distributed outside of KY. Not as harsh as some "real" ginger ales, with a nice custardy / vanilla sweetness.

This is NOT a peater. Do not buy this if you are hoping for smoke. This is on the sweeter / spicier side. In fact, I am envisioning this as a summer drink with one big ice cube slowly melting.


One of my friend, she is oenologist, recommend to picture a wine when tasting it. It's easier to remember and that's a great way to describe it to someone else. She use that for Whisky also, so let's picture this one. Before picturing it in mind, let's describe it physically. It's a nice bottle, with a sky blue label.

Nose: like walking in an apple orchard in a warm evening late in september.

Taste: like a modern art exposition, it's sometimes shocking and not understandable by everybody, but at the end you meet people you like... or not.


I was recently sent a few samples by a friend and fellow Connosr member (Stu_R), some of those being the Compass Box range. So I sat down the other week and compared them, first up is Oak Cross.

It had a very pale, light yellow colour, and when giving this a smell I picked up a light wood aroma, kind of like balsawood that I used to make things from back at school. Then I found apple crumble in there, a cooked apple scent with warm sugar. It sounds like a strange description even to myself!

The taste was very soft, very smooth, and the apple crumble theme seemed to carry over into build up of the whisky. As it finished though there seemed to be a bit more body to it, lingering for a while before coming to a pointed end.

I found this very easy to drink, the sample didnt last too long in all honesty! I found it to be a comfortable dram, one that i could probably enjoy far too much!


Nose: Closed. Vanilla bitter. Slight lemon grass. Perhaps leather? Coming back, the nose has a bit more of the sweet vanilla that I picked up on the palate. Maybe this is just my mind playing tricks on me, but it is a lot better than before. However, it is still a bit closed.

Palate: Sweet vanilla on the palate! That was unexpected! With such a closed nose, this is a really good palate taste! Nice tannins on the sides of the mouth. Quite a bit of oak. Honey.

Finish: Long finish. Pepper and brown sugar that lingered. Not a powerful finish, but there.

All in all this was a great whisky for someone who loves the vanilla/oak from both American and French Oak casks. I would enjoy a bottle of this whisky, but I will have to check the price. This would be something I would enjoy when I'm not in the mood for my "usual suspects." The finish and palate were the best parts. If the nose was as good as either, this whisky would get higher marks, indeed.


John Glaser created a special blended malt with his Oak Cross. The casks in which the spirit matured have a body of American oak and heads of French oak, creating a combination of light character (American oak) with spicy, dried-fruit character (French oak). All components of this malt are Highland whiskies, including Teaninich and Clynelish (Brora?), at least 10 years of age.

The nose is rife with butterscotch, toffee and stewed apples. I get cloves and wood shavings and a whole bouquet of herbs from mum’s kitchen greenhouse. Ricola cough bonbons, maple syrup. Somewhat light but very complex.

This one has quite the body! Big fat tears in the glass. It’s the tannins as scream for attention, immediately followed by malt and kitchen herbs and the bitterness of walnut skins. Red apples with honey. A touch of ginger and nutmeg to complete the picture. You can almost chew this one. It tasts… well… luxurious.

The finish is slighty oaky and of medium length.

This is the sort of whisky I like to pour for good friends. It’s about 35 EUR and well worth it.


The second instalment in the series of Compass Box whiskies is the Oak Cross. The name of this dram comes from the unusual kind of wooden casks used for maturing the spirit here. Essentially the Oak Cross is a vatting of whisky aged in both American and French Oak casks. In addition Compass Box works with a small mill in France who produces some of the highest cooperage work in the world.

Their work with this mill led to experiences of secondary maturation of malt whiskies in casks fitted with new French oak heads, and is unique since no other whisky company in Scotland is using this technique. up to 50% of the malt whisky that goes into the Oak Cross vat is matured using this method. Actually, those special fitted casks (in addition to first-fill Bourbon casks) are used for the marrying of the whiskies.

In terms of whisky sources, Compass Box indicates that only Highland whiskies are used here, led by Teaninich, and some malts from the villages of Brora (for fruitiness) and Carron (for weight) are used. All those are 10-12 years old.

ose: Sweet, vanilla up front, some candy and hints of Turkish delight , wood spice, honey and oatmeal. very lively and appetizing. That's a good start!

Palate : Palate continues on the spicy side , oats and vanilla flavours complemented by some fruit,nuts and almonds. wee dried fruit elements are there also In addition, some chocolate coated nuts. all nicely integrated.

Finish : vanilla sweetness followed by drier notes and spices on the end with touches of dark chocolate and cocoa. Good length too.

Bottom line:

A very enjoyable dram, at a good pricing point. I would suggest this one as an entry point to people making their first steps in the whisky world. Quality / Price ratio is also good. Another good example of good vatting / marrying and aging.

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