You're never supposed to ask a lady her age, but if she offers it don't be surprised if there's more than one answer.
The Scotch whisky innovator Compass Box does just that with a 15th anniversary celebration that honors its first release, Hedonism, a blended grain whisky. The limited-edition Hedonism Quindecimus (late-Latin for 15th) takes the unusual stance of revealing the source, percentage and age of each whisky that makes up the mix.
Grain whisky is the light and smoothing component of blended Scotch whisky that is married with malt whiskies to define that category. It is the product of several grains (often corn, wheat and rye) and is made in a column still rather than a pot still. Typically, grain whisky is a very young component in a malt and grain blend. In this pure grain product, however, the ages range from 20 to 32 years.
Compass Box, which also makes blended malt Scotch (Peat Monster) and blended Scotch whisky (Great King Street) was founded in 2000 by John Glaser, formerly of Johnnie Walker, to explore new whisky offerings through his relationships with Scotch distillers. The approach has occasionally gotten him in hot water with the Scotch Whisky Association, which forced him to temporarily take Spice Tree—another blended malt Scotch—off the market it and rejigger its production method. His original bottling, Hedonism, was the first-ever blended grain Scotch whisky. The category (typically presented as a single grain) has gained momentum recently, most notably with the release of Diageo's Haig Club.
Five whiskies from four distilleries make up the new Hedonism blend. Two come from Port Dundas. One was aged for 25 years in rejuvenated hogsheads (a wine vessel of about 79 gallons) and accounts for 36.6 percent of the whisky in the bottle. The other (20 years old) was matured in a first-fill American standard barrel (53 gallons), making up another 19.4 percent. An 8.4 percent portion was made at Dumbarton in barrels and aged for 28 years. Another first-fill barrel whisky comes from North British Distillery (20 years) and composes 17.6 percent. Glaser calls the last a "mystery" parcel: Sourced from Loch Lomond, it was pre-blended and aged in standard barrels for at least 32 years, and its contribution is 18 percent.
Quindecimus is technically a 20-year-old as the youngest component in a whisky legally defines its age. The dram can be described as delightfully sultry and mercurial as it jumps between the typical light flavors of a grain and weightier effects.
Hedonism Quindecimus (92 proof, or 46 percent alcohol by volume; age; $175 a 750-milliliter bottle, 5,689 bottles released).
APPEARANCE: Pale gold color, glacial movement on teardrop legs.
NOSE: Honey and raisins start the bouquet, followed by rich vanilla and hints of pear.
PALATE: What seemed mild bodied on the nose quickly becomes a richer treat in the mouth. Vanilla turns to caramel, and the fruit gets fuller, with tangerines. There's also a slight spice and a cocoa note.
FINISH: The body lightens a bit as the vanilla returns and the encore smacks of a delicate icing on angel food.
CIGAR PAIRING: E.P. Carrillo 5 Year Anniversary Double Robusto (Dominican Republic, 6 1/2 inches by 54 ring gauge, $8.50, 90 points, Cigar Aficionado August 2015). A bit of a lumpy toro, finished with a three-seam cap. It's a cedary, oaky smoke with sweet notes of toasted marshmallow and brown sugar that culminate in a slightly dry, cocoa-powder finish. The idea of pairing the cigar's marshmallow note with this ethereal whisky intrigued us. Interestly, however, it was the Carrillo's brown sugar that caught on, and both components gained body. The caramel, along with some previously undetected toffee, was enhanced in the Hedonism. Then the cocoa grew on the cigar, enlarging the like element in the whisky. The Hedonism brought more toast to the Carrillo as well as shining a light on its oakiness. A hand-in-glove pairing, made for after dinner.