There was the time that we raced around Kew Gardens in heavy rain searching for a specific oak tree (sessile in case you are interested), the lunch at The Sportsman in Whitstable where for some reason we decided against matching each course with a glass of wine and decided to try and do it with bottles instead. The office beneath a galley with baby doll heads stick to the wall. Dinners in Paris with like-minded souls and bottles of Whisky de Table as accompaniment. I could go on. My friendship with John Glaser has lasted as long as Compass Box has been alive. This, by the way isn’t an obituary. He is very much alive.

The first time – with the creepy dolls – was in 2000, to try his first whisky which he’d called Hedonism. 

It was a vatted grain (now a blended grain). Of course it was. At a time when single malt was on the move, here he was blending the most maligned type of whisky. Going against the grain with the grain. 

Compass Box’s perversity appealed to me. It spoke of winemakers who planted Rhone varietals instead of Chardonnay and Cabernet. Finding ways to bring out the forgotten or under-appreciated. Not another independent bottler, but a blending house. Even the whisky’s name was a term that other firms would reject under their responsible drinking guidelines as being too suggestive of the wilful pursuit of pleasure. La dolce vita in whisky form. 

What Hedonism said was ‘enjoy’, a feeling that had been missing from whisky as the industry recovered from the trauma of the 1980s and tried to understand the new landscape where single malt was the focus and whose early acolytes were fascinated by process, facts and numbers. Hedonism arrived and like one of Alice’s bottles just said ‘Drink Me!’

John Glaser

As Compass Box grew, inevitably there were clashes. You can’t challenge both sides of the system without there being some counter-reaction – to inner staves for example, or wanting to reveal the makeup of blends. At times you wondered whether John deliberately courted controversy, or was simply someone with a deep love of whisky who saw some of the perceived absurdities of the regulations.

But it was never easy. Bartenders might have loved the whiskies, but any growth was always restricted by the amount of whisky the firm could source. Reliance on others is always a precarious position in this game, no matter how highly regarded you might be. Whisky might be a community but at the business end there’s no altruism. Maybe Compass Box’s new owners will find a way around this. They do so without John. 

James Saxon

It seemed only appropriate that the last whisky released under his stewardship was another Hedonism, this time made by the preternaturally talented James Saxon, one one of a new generation of blenders who seem to be naturals at this bafflingly difficult art (see also Pete Allison at Woven and Gregg Glass, a CB alumnus, at Whyte & Mackay.  

The Compass Box whiskies have always had texture at their heart, they feel good in the mouth. In some ways (until Woven came along) they were the closest Scotch got to the balance between intensity and gentleness seen in Japanese blends. 

And this new one? It’s mature with an intriguing mix of cashew, Sugar Puffs, linden blossom, chypre to start, before it sinks into indulgent lusciousness: pastel de nata, honey, vanilla pod, brown butter. 

Is it slightly drier on the palate than in the past? There seems to be more structure, a light earthy back note, the upping of spices, but neither detract from the sweet epicurean extravagances: squished tayberry, kumquat, steamed syrup pudding and Caramac bars (RIP). Indulge yourselves. 


Hedonism is roughly £84 a bottle. Available from all good independent retailers