Compass Box Oak Cross Review

Compass Box Oak Cross107

43% abv

Score:  88.5/100


Let’s repeat the idiom we’ve trumpeted here since day one.  We love Compass Box.  We love John Glaser.  We love his maverick style and damn-the-torpedoes approach.  Most importantly though…we love his whiskies.

So many of the expressions he’s created over the years have really great stories behind them, built on evocative imagery, esoteric naming conventions and revolutionary displays of non-conformity.  These controversies have been well articulated through the whisky ‘media’, and have only served to make the SWA look stupid and outmoded.  The organization itself, and its adherence to tradition in most matters, only make sense when industry-vested interests are removed and a liberal dose of logic is applied.  Otherwise, every innovation is a perceived threat.  It’s this butting up against logic that has been the thorn in the side of someone like John Glaser, who is merely trying to stretch the canon, not overtly bend the rules.

The name of this vatted malt (again…I refuse to bow to the idiocy of the unnecessarily confusing SWA-enforced ‘blended malt’ nomenclature) is a reference to the juxtaposition of malts matured in both both American and French oak.  The whisky that results from this crossing of the more effusive American oak and the tighter-grained, refined French oak brings a profile that, while not necessarily instantly unique, is immediately charming.

Strip away all of the adornment of cask (and cask head) play, clever name, and snazzy packaging, however, and you’re apt to find a little bit of a surprise.  So often when we pull back the curtain, what we find is that we’ve been awed by nothing more substantial than so much smoke and mirrors.  In the case of Oak Cross (and Compass Box as a whole, really), behind that curtain we actually do find a real modern day wizard.  One who is making things happen as promised, and not simply talking the talk.  Glaser set out to make great whisky.  And once again, he has.

I read the company’s spec sheet on this one and started doing my own sleuthing to find out which distilleries from the regions disclosed therein were actually included in this three malt vatting, before finding a shortcut in simply Googling the answer.  As it turns out: Dailuaine, Clynelish and Teaninich.  An odd threesome, but a menage that certainly equates to more than just the sum of its parts.  The integrated whole here is spectacular, and the suggestion of this being a blending of any sort (even one comprised entirely of malts) seems almost preposterous.  Try it if you doubt me.

I should note…I have tasted this whisky many times over the years, and this is not the same dram I remember from earlier releases.  This is a malt that seems to get better as the years go on.

Oak Cross seems to fly under the radar a bit compared to some of the other Compass Box releases.  Not sure why.  I can only imagine that will change soon.

Nose:  Gawdayum!  Is this ever clean.  Orange and lemon zest.  Some polish.  Buckets of spice (mild cinnamon, clove and nutmeg).  Oily vanilla.  Apple and a hint of peach.  Pepper and just the faintest earthy peatiness (almost like good clean soil).  Spiced cake.  Salty home made play dough.  LOVE the balanced profile.

Palate:  More oak and vanilla notes here than the nose hinted at, but not overwhelming at all.  That pithy citrus zest again with some ginger and other spices.  Some clean, farmy barley flavours now.  A touch of peat.  A little drying.  Red apple skin.  It’s the Clynelish that really shows through the most here.  A few notes that remind of ’70s peated Glen Keith (Glenisla).

Thoughts:  Far too drinkable.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

18 thoughts on “Compass Box Oak Cross Review

  1. Collegiate

    I have been eyeing this bottle for about a month. Based on your review, I picked one up. I got to say a big thanks to you. This is a great one, especially considering the relatively low price. Fantastic nose. Frankly, I don’t tend to spend too long nosing whiskies, but this one forces me to do so. A real fruit bomb of flavour on tha palette.
    On the same day I bought the Oak Cross, I sampled another blend – JW Blue Label. The Blue was very decent, but Oak Cross beats it – hands down.

    1. ATW Post author

      Nice! Appreciate your having trusted me that much, but, man…that’s a lot of stress and responsibility to levy on a guy.

      Now you have me really curious though. I have this and the Blue Label open. I think I should try them side-by-side and see which I prefer. Maybe this eve, if all goes well.


      1. Collegiate

        Compass Box is a safe bet. No pressure bud!
        My collection is getting too bogged down with peat and/or sherry bottles, so this one is a refreshing change. It reminds me a little of Nadurra, although not quite as good obviously.

  2. Robert

    Finally opened a bottle I had of this. I had waited because I didn’t really care for the Spice Box bottle I had already opened, but now I wonder why I waited. This is very good whisky! So much so I went out and picked up another, along with a double pack (2 350ml bottles) of GKS and GKS-Glasgow Blend. This is very pleasing whisky which is a similar style to Nadurra 16, but different. At only $40!!!!

    The Glasgow Blend is also very good, maybe even excellent, for a blend. Definitely different profile from regular GKS.

    While I’m at it, I found the Lost Blend good, but not worth the price ($85?). However, I did crack open one of my remaining bottles of Peat Monster 10th Anniversery and it is as wonderful as I remember. Glaser does great work!

  3. Robert

    Just opened my third bottle of this in seven months. As Curt says “Far too drinkable.” I did a HTH with Clynelish 14 a few months ago and found it to be similar quality (and age?) with a bit more complexity and spice in the Oak Cross. This is a great buy at $45 w/ tax. I wish Glaser would be able to list details on this one, along with the others, but I’ll keep buying as long as it stays this good.

    1. Jeff

      I have no doubt that it’s good and a good value. I’d buy it if Glaser would put a minimum age statement on it but, failing that, I find his “I want to tell you all I can” philosophy disingenuous because, evidently, he doesn’t want to tell me all he can.

      1. Robert

        Glaser doesn’t put any age on any of his products so I don’t have a problem personally as all his products I’ve had are good to great and consistent. I understand you do have a problem and support your freedom to do as you wish. I do have a problem with criticizing him and others for their choices. He gives out much more info than any other blender and should be commended for pushing the restrictive SWA rules.

        I do have a real problem with Glenlivet, Balvenie, Ardmore and others for going from AS to NAS (and charging more), lowering the ages (and charging more) or neutering their NAS (and charging more). That’s a real crime, not selling NAS whiskies that have always been NAS, consistently taste great and are reasonably priced.

        1. Skeptic

          You have a point there. The whole trend toward age statements, even single malts, is relatively new in the whisky history.

          But times are changing. In this day and age consumers are able to be more discriminating and many want more information.

          It’s the tug of war between “take it as it is or leave it” and “it’s my money so I want to know what I’m getting”

          Ultimately the dust will settle and the winner will do things his or her way.

          1. Jeff

            I think there’s a couple of issues. First, from what I see, Glaser doesn’t HAVE an ethical viewpoint on the validity of production information so much as he has a marketing viewpoint on it – if what information he CAN provide (minimum age) gives him no market advantage, he’s not interested in providing it – and that is a choice and it’s worthy of criticism. He wants the image of standing up for whisky without the drawbacks. As for taking on the SWA, I’ve yet to see it – it’s more a case of them taking him on and cramping his style when he folds.

            Secondly, I think it’s a real mistake to think that “whiskies that have always been NAS” are in any way consistent in what they are in terms of composition. Rising prices are a given, but a lack of an age statement is no guarantee against falling/changing ages. Criticism of whisky going NAS on the basis of reducing product information while praising other NAS products on their quality/value seems like a bit of the double standard – or at least apples and oranges.

          2. Veritas

            I don’t think Skeptic is arguing against you there Jeff, I think he’s identifying two opposing forces, the consumer and the producer.

  4. Robert

    But it’s not apples and oranges. I did a HTH between Oak Cross and Clynelish 14 and didn’t notice a discernible difference in age and a similar taste. I also did a HTH between Nadurra 16 and the new NAS and found the NAS Nadurra to be much younger tasting (10 YO maybe). I look for quality, not AS, in whisky, so I’ll continue buying Oak Cross as long as the quality is there (BTW it is cheaper than the Clynelish 14). I will not buy the NAS Nadurra again (BTW it costs more than the 16 YO).

    1. Jeff

      Apples and oranges referred to criticising one whisky for the loss of an age statement while praising another whisky that never had one on its quality and bold choices – either the lack of information alone is an issue or it’s not, and any perceived quality found in NAS products is not “maintained” by the lack of an age statement. Doing HTH taste tests and then speculating about age is pointless on this score. I once poured a glass of Glenlivet 12 and then ripped off the label and poured another from my new, now NAS, version. In terms of quality, I found it to be a dead heat but, as it was the same whisky anyway, I preferred the first version with the added product information – and never believed that the character of the whisky in either glass to be independent of its age, strength, distillery, casks or any other aspect of its production in any case. In order to believe in NAS marketing, you really have to believe that the influence of age not only is, but can be, label dependent, which is nonsense.

      1. Robert

        Geez, I understand the fruit analogy, but I prefer to ignore it. You aren’t an engineer, are you? Your comments remind me of what one of them would say. Anyway, I’m not changing my mind and neither are you. Let’s agree to disagree and move on down the road. After all, what do I know? I’m currently drinking Ardmore TC with ice out of my coffee cup stained with Starbucks coffee. Tastes great!

          1. Robert

            Hey! I’m sensitive to people having issues with red paper coffee cups. That’s why I use an official Route 66 ceramic cup I bought in Oklahoma City. Great for freshly ground Guatemalan coffee and NAS whisky on the rocks.

  5. Robert

    Still loving this CB offering. Lately I’ve been having a dram of Glenmorangie 10 ($30) then a dram of Oak Cross ($42) followed by a half dram of Peat Monster($48) or Laphroaig 15 ($70). Makes a nice sequence of tastes. It also makes for a less expensive session. I’d substitute Lagavulin 12 for the last half-dram, but I’m put off by the $94 cost. And I tend to want to drink too much of it too fast, as I find it awesome whisky.

    Im also moving into bourbon season (hotter weather), so bourbon is replacing scotch about half the time, which makes for an even cheaper session.


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