It genuinely is a shame that among a certain, large segment of the American whiskey-drinking public, there still exists a perception that scotch whiskies—and malt whiskey by extension—all taste roughly the same. The irony is of course that most bourbon brands are quite closer to one another in flavor profile than one scotch whisky is to another, precisely because there are more variables in play—is this malt whisky dram peated, or unpeated? Has it been aged in ex-bourbon barrels, or a sherry hogshead? Has it absorbed the coastal air, or been kept far up in the hills? And the complexities only become more apparent when whiskies from many distilleries are blended together, which is likewise uncommon in American whiskey. And yet, sadly, there are still copious numbers of bourbon drinkers out there who hear “scotch” and simply think “oh, that smoky whisky?”
Regardless, a bottler such as Compass Box does make the distinctions between different styles of scotch whisky easier for the consumer to grasp, as their core range of brands, such as The Peat Monster, The Story of the Spaniard and The Spice Tree all highlight vastly different aspects of how scotch whisky can taste. To this lineup, Compass Box is now adding a new brand that highlights another common scotch flavor dimension: Fresh fruit. The newly debuted Compass Box Orchard House is a blend of Scottish malts specifically designed to highlight fresh fruit notes in a more oak-subtle presentation. Bottled at a sturdy 46% ABV (92 proof) and non-chill filtered, this non-age-stated dram has a reasonable MSRP of $50 and will be hitting U.S. store shelves in October. As the company puts it:
This whisky sets itself apart from the rest of the core range: not only does it use malt spirit sourced by Compass Box nearly a decade ago, but the lighter oak influence allows the fruit-forward style of these spirits to express themselves. “Orchard House is our first core range whisky produced almost entirely from whiskies we have aged since the day they were distilled. In a sense, it’s more ‘our whisky’ than anything we’ve made before,” says Compass Box Founder and Whiskymaker John Glaser. “We are so proud of this. Something new, something different for us. Something joyful. And delicious.”
So with that said, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, Orchard House certainly lives up to its tagline on first inspection, with fresh and assertive fruit notes of grape and spiced pear, along with vanilla bean and something that is more reminiscent of banana or plantain. This was a particularly interesting note to me, as it’s not one I often associate with malt whisky in general, but it makes particular sense in this context. The overall nose suggests a dram that is fruity, sweet and on the lighter side, with underlying florals and honey.
On the palate, Orchard House actually brings a bit more complexity to the table than the nose at first suggests, although it is most definitely sweet and fruity upfront. I’m getting tinned pears, vanilla, golden syrup and sultanas, along with hints of banana and something more tropical, like kiwi. It’s a bit hotter than I was expecting from the nose, but then you remember the not insignificant 92 proof, and it makes sense. Additional notes of fresh grassiness make sense, but a deeper earthiness is a nice addition—it doesn’t exactly evoke peat in a proper sense, but it’s trending in that direction, offering a tiny bit of structure to a malt blend that is otherwise pretty uncomplicated.
All in all, Orchard House is a celebration of bright, fresh fruit flavors rather than dark or dried ones. A detractor would describe it as somewhat one-dimensional, but it’s a good dimension, and it seems to offer exactly what it’s intended to offer. You can hardly fault a new brand for delivering precisely what it promises to deliver, and at a decent price point to boot. If the fresh fruitiness sounds intriguing, you’ll probably be happy to pick this one up.
Distillery: Compass Box (sourced blend)
City: Chiswick, England
Style: Blended malt whisky
ABV: 46% (92 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $50 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.