Compass Box Whisky Company is no stranger to controversy within the sometimes staid world of Scotch whisky. Whiskymaker John Glaser has been not only challenging popular attitudes toward blended whisky but his innovative approaches to maturation has also ruffled some feathers. In 2005, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) threatened legal action to halt the production of Compass Box's wildly successful "Spice Tree" blend. The whisky had undergone a secondary partial maturation stage in casks containing additional, flat French oak inserts (also known as 'inner staves') which violated the SWAs interpretation of the laws regarding traditional practice in the production of spirits in European Union countries. In response, Compass Box altered the production process for subsequent releases of "Spice Tree" wherein the secondary maturation stage takes place in casks containing toasted French oak heads instead of using the new inner staves.
But opportunity can appear at the strangest times, even in the depths of defeat. With the green light from the SWA on the use of new French oak heads, the conditions were set for the development of the Oak Cross blend. Made up of Highland single malts from Alness, Brora and Carron, the blend is subject to two maturation processes. The first occurs in a mix of first-fill and re-fill American oak ex-bourbon casks before a portion is selected for additional maturation in the Oak Cross marrying casks that contain new French oak heads on American casks. Adding new heads to a cask doesn't sound like a big deal, this type of maturation happens all the time in the wine industry, but for whisky - especially blended whisky - this remains an oddity. To date, Compass Box remains the only company to release a blended Scotch whisky matured in this fashion.
Bottled at 43% ABV, free from colouring additives and non chillfiltered, Oak Cross is billed as a food-friendly whisky capable of performing double duty as an aperitif with a splash of chilled water in the winter and "full enough" to act as a digestif in summer months.