Booze Review

Whisky Review – Compass Box Oak Cross

The Oak Cross is Compass Box whisky #2 from that five whisky sampler set that I purchased just after Christmas. Whisky #1 was the Asyla (click here to read my review).

Here is what Compass Box has to say about the Oak Cross:

We call this malt whisky Oak Cross because it offers the best characteristics of both American and French oak aging. A rich, medium-bodied malt whisky, Oak Cross combines vanilla characters from American oak and spicy, clove-like characters from French oak.

We work with a small mill in France that produces some of the highest quality cooperage oak in the world. It was our work with this mill that led us to experimenting with secondary maturation of malt whiskies in casks fitted with new French oak heads. This is something no one else in Scotland does. The result is malt whisky with more character and complexity. We use this technique on about 50% of the malt whisky in Oak Cross and it results in a superior finished product.

Let’s get on with the review…

  • Appearance: Golden yellow.
  • Aroma: Very fresh smelling with hints of vanilla and cinnamon. Also picked up some toffee or butterscotch creaminess.
  • Taste: There was a heavy hit of alcohol when I first tasted it that took me by surprise. Much more cinnamon spiciness than the nose would suggest (reminds me of a cinnamon Altoid). There is a somewhat smokey and spicy finish that lingers for about a minute. Adding some water cuts back on that initial alcohol bite, but does very little to tone down the cinnamon heat.
  • ABV: 43%

I first had the Compass Box Oak Cross about two years ago during a whisky tasting at The ROK’s house (I believe Miracle Max brought this whisky to the tasting). During this tasting, I also had their Asyla and the Peat Monster (I will be revisiting this whisky for a future review). At the time, I remember preferring the Oak Cross over the Asyla. For whatever reason, my current feelings for these two whiskies have completely reversed, i.e. I now prefer the Asyla to the Oak Cross.

During this tasting, I found that first sip of the Oak Cross to be quite harsh. I am no stranger to high test spirits, and I rarely add water to my whisk(e)y (regardless of the ABV), but for whatever reason, I was a bit overwhelmed by the alcohol this time around and actually coughed after swallowing. Once I stepped back and slowed down my drinking, I adjusted to the intensity and started to enjoy this whisk(e)y a bit. But I didn’t love it. So what went wrong? Why are my feelings for this whisky so different from my experience two years ago?

Here are my thoughts…

I usually start the review process immediately after the kids go to bed (about 9PM). This time around, I didn’t fill my glass until after 10:30PM. By the time I finished fussing with the photo (cause that’s what I do), it was getting close to 10:45PM. Since my days usually begin at around 6:30AM, I think I started the review process a bit too late in the evening. Experts recommend nosing and tasting whisk(e)y before noon so that your nose and taste buds are in peak condition. Looks like I missed the mark by about 11 hours!

Given all that I did wrong, I think I need to try this whisky again before I can reach a final verdict. As it stands right now, I thought it was just ok.

I will leave you with some nosing and tasting advice from David Stewart, The Balvenie Malt Master…

23 replies »

  1. That is a pretty impressive photo, G-LO. Thanks for being honest about the testing conditions. I get up at 6:30 every day and if I’m not in bed by 10:30 I feel like hell, so I definitely can’t imagine giving a good review at that time! Please don’t start nosing and tasting before noon… I think that’s taking the whole thing a bit too seriously 😉


    • Thanks Ryan! As far as nosing and tasting before noon goes, that will only happen under the following conditions:

      (a) I am on vacation without kids and/or spouse.
      (b) I hit the lottery and have nothing better to do with my time.
      (c) Some distiller out there thinks I know what I’m talking about and offers me a job.

      In short, have no fear! I’ll keep the drinking to after Noon. Then again…. it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere.


  2. Superb and honest review – and the photograph is superb – the packaging is clearly wonderful too, but you’ve done that bad boy justice! I’ve not had the chance to try any of the compass box releases, but a friend of mine went to the IWD tasting in London recently, and echoed similar sentiments to yours – i’ll be intrigued to see what you make of the peat monster – she wasn’t a fan…


    • Thanks Dr. Ben! You’ve set the bar super high with regards to photography, so I’m just trying to keep up. Your writing is pretty good too. Heh.

      I didn’t hate the Oak Cross. It was ok. But when there are other whiskies out there at the same price point that are better (err… that I prefer), why settle for just ok?


  3. Someone is having way to much fun with his camera.

    Regarding the your first tasting of this at the ROK’s house, we need to get another Booze Dancer’s Whiskey Invitational on the schedule ASAP!!


  4. Thanks for the detailed tasting notes G-LO. “cinnamon Altoid” – yowch! That sounds AWESOME! I’m clearly going to have to try it. I got to taste most of the Compass Box offerings at one of the impromptu vendor pours at Park Ave. Liquors, but the Oak Cross wasn’t one they were pouring. It was a mixed bag – some very impressive (Peat Monster; Hedonism), some weird (the orange flavored one) and some just Ok. None were really bad and it was an impressive showing for a bunch of vatted offerings.


    • Yo Josh!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I have three more Compass Box expressions to get through: Peat Monster, Spice Tree, and Hedonism. Looking forward to seeing how I like them.

      Overall, I have a soft spot for Compass Box and their spirit of innovation, so I’m hoping that I enjoy the last three.

      FYI, I took a brief look at your blog. Great stuff! I’ll have to take a closer look later today.



  5. I love this photograph! The whisky looks so rich, and frankly, makes me consider that perhaps most samples should be served in that fashion. And that video is simply fascinating…I never would have guessed that there is a “peak” time for nosing/tasting. And I learned what “nosing” was 🙂 So informative!


    • Thanks! Glad you liked the pic. So many talented photographers and writers out there. Keeps me motivated. I like it!

      I’m far from a pro at any of this, but I can definitely see Mr. Stewart’s perspective. By the end of the day, your tastebuds and nose are exposed to so many things, that I suppose a form of fatigue could set in. I know that the few times where I have been late to one of our panel tastings, I have pretty much given up on taking any tasting notes after 11PM. Especially when I’m late because I was eating and drinking somewhere else. Heh.


  6. My son reports that the Hero Factory character holding the Oak Cross sample is “Breeze”. This means you are a father. Based on the gender marketing profile of Legos bionicles I’d guess you have a son – somewhere in the age 6-12 range. Right?

    Or are you building bionicles and hero factory play sets for your own amusement?


    • Well done Josh! I have two boys. One is 7 and the other is 4. To say that I have a few toys in the house would be an understatement. Lego. Pokemon. Bakugan. Star Wars. Pixar. It’s all here!


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