I Paid: $39.99 for a 750-milliliter bottle (prices may vary by region)
Launched in 2000 by John Glaser, a former Johnnie Walker international marketing director, Compass Box is based on a remarkably sharp idea: The Edinburgh-based company blends whiskies from Scottish distilleries with nonwhisky flavorings, then rebrands and repackages them for, presumably, nonwhisky drinkers.
Thus: Orangerie by Compass Box. A mind-crushingly elegant art nouveau bottle touts “Scotch Whisky Infused with Orange Zest, Cassia, and Clove.” The font and design are elegant enough to appeal to female drinkers (not whisky’s normal target audience) but sufficiently cool to avoid putting off dudes.
As a passionate Scotch drinker with a modest but heartfelt Scotch library of my own, I felt three things when I saw Orangerie. First: Sacrilege! Why would you want to dump additional flavors into a beverage that’s already perfect? Second: Well, at least those flavors seem tasteful—it’s not just orange whisky, which sounds ghastly—and they’re moderated by more mature flavors. Third: I absolutely need to taste this stuff to see how it is.
Here’s how it is: really, really pleasant. Poured straight from the bottle, Orangerie tastes like a sophisticated whisky cocktail. The cinnamon and orange notes are the first to register but are balanced such that they support each other and underpin the dominant flavor of smooth, relatively neutral blended whisky. There’s not much peat or smoke in this blend, which allows the fruit and spices to come out and play. The clove follows on the heels of the other flavors, lending a welcome warmth and earthiness to the affair.
Orangerie won’t supplant Highland Park 18 as my favorite spirit, but it may well become an instrument in my master plan to convert more friends into Scotch drinkers. And when Christmas cookies start to fill the house and the snow starts to blanket Minnesota, Orangerie will be among the spirits offered to guests—like a classic mulled cider, there’s something hibernal and festive about this stuff.