John Glaser of Compass Box

We all know what happens when you insert Scots-Irish folks into American whiskey production. Great American whiskey, of course. But what would happen if you insert an American into Scotch production? John Glaser, of course.

John Glaser is a bit of a maverick in the whiskey world. He’s not bound to the tradition-based ways of doing things that scotch production has been. Maybe it’s his inner, rebellious American spirit. (Glaser is from Minnesota) After attending college at Miami of Ohio, he began pursuing a career in wine making. After stints with wineries in Burgundy and the Napa Valley, he ended up on the business side of the wine industry, which ultimately led him to Scotch and Johnnie Walker’s global marketing department. He moved to London and started spending a lot of time in Scotland working with blenders and distillers on new product development.

In 2000,he started Compass Box in his home kitchen blending boutique whiskies. Glaser, as is done in blending houses all over Europe, purchases single malt and single grain whiskies from distillers in different regions of Scotland and creates high-end blends from them. Those artisan blends are then aged further to his specifications. He and his team are fanatical about the oak barrels in which they age their spirits, using new charred oak barrels for some and high-quality French cooperage oak for others. Each has a different effect on the taste of the end product.

Glaser’s experimentation has raised a lot of eyebrows in Scotland. In 2005, Compass Box released the first version of its Spice Tree whisky. Glaser inserted new oak staves into used whisky barrels in a technique borrowed from French winemakers (from his time in that industry) to add extra flavor components to the distillate. The Scotch Whisky Association had never seen this done before and threatened to take Compass Box to court over the technique. Glaser, in response, switched to using heavily toasted French oak cask heads for the current Spice Tree version. The Scotch Whiskey Association was fine with that, I guess, because the charges were dropped. The new Spice Tree bottlings are all aged in this new way.

Seems like his ideas aren’t nearly as controversial in the U.S. Makers Mark 46 is aged by adding additional oak staves to the aging process. The head of a regularly aging Maker’s Mark barrel is removed, 10 new staves are added into the barrel, and it is resealed and left to rest for an additional three to four months. I think anyone that has tasted Maker’s next to Maker’s 46 can agree that the taste profile is altered by this technique.

The walls of John Glaser’s London offices for Compass Box have an inscription- “Above all, share and enjoy.” His intentions are always to make good whisky. Drink whisky the way you like it with folks whose company you enjoy, and don’t be stuffy about it. I’ll drink to that!!!spice tree