By Richard Thomas
The Whiskey Reviewer first explored Compass Box’s interest in high quality French oak when we reviewed their acclaimed scotch, The Spice Tree. The Oak Cross scotch is another expression of that French oak connection.
One of the innovations at Compass Box was the notion that French oak had more applications than just aging French wine. Whereas the method used to incorporate that French oak into their barrels ran into trouble with The Spice Tree during its initial release, The Oak Cross has been nothing but smooth sailing. After primary maturation in a variety of American oak casks, the whiskey is married and put back into ex-bourbon casks with new French oak heads for a further 24 months of aging. The use of new French oak heads on the barrels is unique to Compass Box, while the two years of finishing used in the Oak Cross is unusually long by scotch-making standards, as a mere several months of finishing is more common.
The Oak Cross is the Compass Box scotch with the sky blue labeling. The whiskey is a vatted malt (blended, but all malt whiskey) drawn from Alness, Brora and Carron. The Oak Cross is bottled at 43% alcohol, is not chill filtered, and bears no aging statement.
In the glass, the scotch has the pale gold coloring of a rich white wine. The aroma is crisp, sweet, and only somewhat oaky. The whiskey’s apple-fruity, spicy scents stand in front of the wood, giving The Oak Cross a light, clear character.
On the palate, the first thing to come across is the vanilla and honey sweetness. Then the tart ginger spice and oaky flavors surface and come to the fore. The latter two flavors remain for the finish, which is short, but also somewhat silky.
I usually disapprove of drinking whiskey any way other than neat, and when I experiment with ice or water for the purpose of these reviews, the result is usually disappointing. In this instance, however, I found that ice suppressed the spicy aspect of the scotch, but left the rest of the flavor intact. This makes The Oak Cross a good candidate for summertime sipping whiskey.
Compass Box lists The Oak Cross at £39.50. In the United States, the scotch is priced at $55.