Scotch drinkers are a finicky bunch. We know this because Gear Patrol has its share of whisky aficionados on its staff. Drinking Scotch is an activity not to be taken lightly, and is done with a great deal of reverence. So, it’s no small feat to win over the die-hard Scotch crowd with an infused whisky from an upstart company whose owner is – gasp! – an American ex-pat living in London. So it was with a healthy dose of skepticism that I tried Compass Box Whisky’s Orangerie.
Boutique whisky company Compass Box, founded by a former Johnnie Walker exec, makes an extraordinary line of small-batch blended whiskies with malts sourced from some of Scotland’s leading distillers, like Cragganmore, Ardmorem, and Caol Ila. We whisky snobs often turn up our overdeveloped noses at blends. But Compass Box sent a sampler package of their best blends and, after an intimate evening with a row of bottles and glasses, I am a convert. Their Oak Cross and Peat Monster are exceptionally refined examples of what expert blending of top malts can yield, while the top shelf Hedonism blend of single grains (not malt) opens up a new world of taste. Compass Box knows what they’re doing and, given the chance, they’ll turn what most people think about Scotch upside down. The company has already won over 60 awards over the past few years, including “Innovator of the Year” from the respected Whisky magazine.
The latest release from Compass Box, Orangerie, cannot technically be called a Scotch but rather a Scotch whisky infusion. It is named after the citrus greenhouses that became the rage in 16th century England, introducing oranges to the aristocracy for the first time. To make Orangerie, Compass Box starts with Fife-sourced highland single malt and single grain whiskies. Then they infuse zest of Navalino orange peel, cloves, cassia bark and cinnamon, yielding a flavor combination that seems new but obvious at the same time. Why didn’t I think of that? Orangerie has a spicy, citrus nose that you expect to taste like a heavy liqueur. But the smooth, light body of the Scotch makes it actually quite refreshing. At first you don’t taste the whisky but after the citrus and spices subside, the pleasant tickle and slight burn of the Scotch comes through. I found the distinctive Scotch flavor makes itself known better when drunk at room temperature, as opposed to chilled, where the orange flavor tends to dominate.
I heeded Compass Box’s advice and tried the Orangerie with a piece of dark chocolate (in the name of conducting a thorough review, dear readers) and it was a spot-on recommendation. Orangerie is really well-suited as an after-dinner drink, an alternative to a liqueur or port. Its release this fall comes at a perfect time – a unique holiday party drink or gift for the Scotch drinker who has had everything. And is willing to try something new.
Cost: $40 (750mL bottle)