The Return of the Spice Tree

by Oliver Klimek on October 14, 2009

spice

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I stated that in this blog I didn’t want to get into industry buzz. But here is a news that I just have to pass on and comment on because this is more than just another whisky relase.

Compass Box just announced that their award-winning Spice Tree is available again!

For those who don’t know the story behind that whisky: The Scotch Whisky association (SWA) disapproved of the Spice Tree because it was finished in casks with additional inner staves of toasted new oak. Although there are no legal regulations about how the inside of a whisky cask has to look like, the SWA regarded this practice as a deviation from the traditional way of making whisky and threatened to open a lawsuit. Compass Box decided to comply, even though there would have been a realistic chance to win the lawsuit. But David vs. Goliath situations are never guaranteed to end like in the Bible.

Compass Box did a lot of experimenting and now came up with a method of recreating this whisky that is compliant with the SWA’s view on making whisky. Instead of inserting additional staves into the cask, they now use heavily toasted cask heads that impart the same effect on the whisky as the staves. Re-charring and re-toasting used casks has always been done, so there is no way the SWA could be opposed to this practice.

At first glance, this sounds like a victory for the SWA, as they have forced a whisky maker to comply with their regulations. But this is just one side of the medal. All its worthwhile efforts in promoting Scotch whisky nonwithstanding, one has to take into account that the SWA is also a lobbyist organization of the big players in the whisky industry. It’s big money we’re talking about here, so the SWA has a keen eye on anyone who they think might disturb their circles. Their talking about how innovations in whisky making will destroy whisky tradition is at least partially a fig leaf to cover the fear that their member’s market shares might shrink.

In this light, Compass Box has managed to beat the SWA with their own weapons. This is great news for anyone interested in innovation in whisky making while retaining the authenticity of the product.

Read my tasting notes for the new spice Tree.

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