Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by Compass Box. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Compass Box’s new limited edition release is straightforward with its name: Experimental Grain Whisky. From the get-go, you know that what you are about to try is different, and the whisky makers at Compass Box pride themselves on it.
Experimental Grain Whisky sources from whiskies made by The Loch Lomond Distillery, The Cameronbridge Distillery, The North British Distillery and its own Hedonism Blended Grain Whisky.
The parcel of whisky from Loch Lomond distillery, is, in large part, what makes this Scotch so experimental. According to Compass Box’s website, it is “only a pot still away from being a single malt.” They mean that all the grain used for this whisky was malted barley — the required grain for Scotch single malt — but was distilled in a column still, not a pot still. Only malted barley distilled in a pot still from a single distillery can be deemed a Scotch single malt.
Lead whisky maker James Saxon said in a press release that using this almost-but-not-quite-single-malt as part of a blended grain whiskey “feels like a spy traveling under a false passport,” he continues, “We love this tension that so often exists between the rules and a modern willingness to do things differently, in pursuit of flavor.”
The packaging nods to the spirit of experimentation behind the whisky. The box is covered in printed sticky notes with fragments of ideas behind the concept of the whisky and distilling process. The pops of color make it stand apart on the shelf against the more traditional monochrome packages of other whiskies.
Experimental Grain Whisky became available in the U.S. in April of 2022 and Compass Box disclosed that only 6,142 bottles will be released worldwide.
Tasting Notes: Experimental Grain Whisky
Vital Stats: No age statement, no coloring added, 46% ABV, not chill-filtered, SRP $150.
Appearance: The liquid is a clear, pale golden yellow.
Nose: The nose starts off with notes of honey, toffee, and malt. This sweet expands into pear and apple with just a hint of smoke. At the very end, strong, floral vanilla comes forward.
Palate: The palate is different than I was expecting from the nose. Bright granny smith apple and grass take the forefront, with milk chocolate behind it. There is some smoke but only a trace, like the nose. Some honey (less than the nose) remains, as does the cereal/malt quality — especially at the end. A long finish starts with spice and ends with spearmint.
Compass Box is famous for pushing the boundaries of traditional Scotch categories, and I admire them for that. Experimental Grain Whiskey was certainly a unique experience, with an unusual mix of notes I’d expect from a Scotch (like many of those on the nose) as well as ones that reminded me of different categories (the brightness and mint on the palate). Personally, I really enjoyed the nose and the finish. I appreciated the palate for being something new, but overall I don’t know that I would reach for this whisky regularly. It’s interesting and tried new some new things, but I can’t say it knocked my socks off.
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Larissa Banitt is a writer and nurse born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She's a foodie, whisk(e)y nerd, and animal lover. You'll often find her hiking with her dog, trail-riding with her horse, or crocheting with her cats.