Compass Box was founded in 2000 by John Glaser and has premises in London and Edinburgh. Their ethos is to buy whisky from a small number of distilleries and then craft them together into a unique product. All are produced and released in small batches, often using only two or three whiskies to create a new product, and all are then given a catchy name. By doing their own blending and vatting, Compass Box have less restrictions than traditional independent bottlers and they are a widely regarded as one of the most innovative whisky makers in the industry.
The General is the result of blending these two original whiskies. Essentially, it is a blend of two blends, and has been bottled at the natural strength of 53.4% ABV. There are just 1,698 individually numbered bottles, which were only filled back in November. It is non chill-filtered and natural colour. The price should be around the £185 mark from specialist whisky retailers.
John Glaser, the founder of Compass Box, describes the idea behind The General: "As blenders, each represented distinct and complementary flavour profiles. And this is where things got interesting for us. Each was compelling in its own right, however we had the feeling that by combining them in the right proportions, we could make something even more interesting. We experimented for many weeks, blending the two together at different proportions before landing on the recipe in this bottle."
Our tasting notes
The colour is golden yellow and the nose is powerful, vibrant and instantly grabs your attention. There are initial aromas of toffee and honey, which are followed up by those of apricots, sultanas, freshly baked bread and cinnamon. Then come waves of sandalwood and oak, which give a very woody edge, some malty cereals and hints of nutmeg, ginger and eucalyptus.
On the palate, this whisky is very complex. It begins with some sugary sweet notes - think of honey, apricot jam, brown sugar and sultanas - before becoming more savoury and woody. The savoury notes are difficult to describe. The best we can offer are that they are slightly meaty and have a malt extract edge to them. The woody elements threaten to overpower everything but are kept in check well by the sweet/savoury combination. There is plenty of oak along with some sandalwood, cinnamon and old furniture polish. There is also a lovely bitter orange note, reminiscent of candied peel, some gingerbread and late cereal grains.
The finish is long and enjoyable. It begins sweetly with the honey and toffee prominent, before the woody notes and the bitter orange take over. The result is an increasing oaky and cinnamon-like dryness that flirts with citrus peel and gingerbread.
What's the verdict?
This is an incredibly complex whisky that offers There are clear signs that there is some very old whisky involved in the blend such as the intense sandalwood-like notes and the savoury edge. Some may find these slightly challenging, but it is worth working through any such thoughts.
The addition of water is recommended, partly due to the high ABV, but also because it dampens these elements and allows the sweeter and fruitier note (especially the peachy/apricot ones) to shine. Is it better than each of the two constituent blends? We will never know, but what we do know is that The General is very good in its own right.