How did they get the spice in my whiskey?

Photo courtesy of tienvijftien on Flickr

First, it was spiced schnapps, and then spiced rum. Now, I’m seeing a handful of spiced whiskeys trickling on to the market. I blogged about one of them, Fireball Whiskey, a few weeks back…and it’s turned out to be one of the most popular search terms on this site recently. (who knew?) And lately, I’ve been hearing rumblings about Revelstoke spiced whiskey, though I’ve not yet sampled it.

But guess what? Not every spirit needs to rely on artificial flavorings for spice. Recently, I attended an event hosted by Compass Box, a brand noted for its blended Scotches and stylish packaging. Although the party was to celebrate the rollout of the smoky/sweet Flaming Heart product, the newest addition to the family, it was the other brothers & sisters that captured my attention. The Spice Tree, as the name suggests, has bold cardamom, ginger and vanilla notes, while the rich Hedonism whiskey won me over with its lingering cinnamon and toffee finish.

(I think I shocked the U.S. Brand Ambassador, the charmingly named Robin Robinson, when I was able to accurately pick out the exact spices for each bottling. “Good palate,” he said approvingly.  He didn’t know that I have bags of spices in my desk drawer.)

So if nothing is added to the Scotch, how do they get the spices in there?  Robinson says it’s all about choosing barrels with the right wood (the Spice Tree blend is first aged in American oak, followed by a rest in heavy-toasted new French oak barrels), and aging it for the right period of time (for Spice Tree, that’s somewhere betwen 10 and 12 years). 

I don’t consider myself a whiskey expert, although I’m learning fast. And one of the things I’ve learned is I prefer delicate and spicy whiskies to smoky/”peaty” versions. But I seem to be in the minority:  smoky Scotches in particular seem to be all the rage now. I asked John Glaser, the Compass Box whiskymake, why people love the smoky stuff.

“It hits you over the head with flavor,” he explained. “But it’s an acquired taste. I use the analogy of hot sauce — once you get used to it, everything else will be boring forever more. Once you get there you don’t go back.”

1 thought on “How did they get the spice in my whiskey?

  1. Yo Kara!

    Mr. Glaser gave you the perfect analogy. Though I enjoy a subtle Highland or Speyside whisky, I am perpetually drawn to Islay. Did you get to sample Compass Box’s Peat Monster? It’s wickedly good! Oak Cross and Asyla are also excellent.


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