Phenomenology, one of the latest limited releases from merchant whisky bottler Compass Box, is a celebration of the idea that taste is subjective. Compass Box is well-known for sharing the details of their sourced whiskies in minute (and sometimes legally risky) detail, but for this special blend the goal was to keep things confidential in hopes of letting the drinker experience the whisky without preconceptions. Whiskymaker John Glaser explains:
Phenomenology is a way of thinking about ourselves and the very personal, subjective nature of experience. It’s a school of thought in psychology that focuses on phenomena, or, the experiences that we get from our senses – what we see, taste, smell, etc. Somehow we saw a link between phenomenology and whisky.
We’d long been working on a blend of single malts that combines seemingly dissonant flavour profiles, but together creates something compelling. We landed on a recipe that elicited a surprising range of reactions and descriptions, each person taking away something different from the whisky.
Rather than try to settle on whose perceptions were ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, we were inspired by the phenomenological school of thought to consider how different people experience the same phenomenon. In celebration of the subjectivity of whisky tasting, we released this whisky in September 2017 without any tasting notes or flavour descriptors to invite people to first experience the whisky without preconception.
Only some time after Phenomenology was released were details about the blend made public, and you can look them up for yourself at the link below. Suffice it to say, the recipe revolved mainly around two component whiskies (out of five total), but out of respect for John Glaser’s vision we reviewed our sample of Phenomenology without cheating. Thoughts follow.
On the nose, Phenomenology is incredibly fruity with a spun sugar sweetness. Bright and juicy green apple notes are balanced with caramelized banana, pineapple, and vanilla cream icing with subtle traces of cinnamon, nutmeg, and fresh sawdust lingering in the background. Like many Compass Box whiskies, the palate on Phenomenology is light but complex with a honeyed mouthfeel. There’s evidence of dark red fruits and a little melon, but the apple and tropical notes from the nose are found, too, all jumbled in a buttery, fruit tart concoction that lingers on the slightly spicy and generous finish. It’s honestly a bit hard to keep track of it all, but the flavors stay in harmony somehow, held together with just the slightest touch of smoke and salinity. True to its makers’ intentions, it’s a blend that has a little bit of something for every whisky palate. Nicely done.
A / $180 / compassboxwhisky.com