Compass Box makes a range of very popular scotch vatted malts and blends, with a careful attention to sourcing and blending.
Just a quick point of clarification – a vatted malt (now officially known as a blended malt) is a blend of pot-distilled malt whiskies from different distilleries. A single malt is blend of malt whiskies from a single distillery. And a blended scotch whisky is a blend of malt whisky and cheaper grain whisky distilled in a column still. See my Single Malts vs Blends page for more details. In practice, the only distinction between a blended malt and a single malt is the distillery source.
Compass Box has actually had five releases of Flaming Heart to date, commonly identified by year or by edition (release) number, beginning in 2006. In the case of two of these, they are also known as the Anniversary Editions, relative to the founding of Compass Box by John Glaser in 2000 (i.e., 10th Anniversary in 2010 and 15th in 2015). It can get a little confusing, as this differs from the numbering system of Peat Monster, which is similarly identified by Anniversary Editions every five years – but according to the initial release date in 2004.
When Flaming Heart was first launched, Compass Box provided the exact breakdown of what went into the malt blend on its website, which include aged malt from Caol Ila and Clynelish (among others), aged mainly in refill or “rejuvenated” ex-bourbon barrels with some French oak casks.
Eventually, a controversy erupted with the censure of Compass Box by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). The SWA is the trade organization that represents (and regulates) the Scotch whisky industry. This full composition disclosure by Compass Box fell afoul of the SWA regulation that requires only the youngest age of a whisky be publicly stated. As such, Compass Box was forced to relent from officially disclosing the composition of its whiskies these last few years.
There is actually a good reason for this SWA rule, as it prevents unscrupulous blenders from emphasizing a small contribution of a long-aged component to an otherwise youthful blend. But in this case, it is restricting Compass Box’s ability to be transparent on the full range of whiskies underlying their blended products. A number of distillers have joined with Compass Box in lobbying to get this regulation amended, but to no avail as yet.
So, all Compass Box says now for this 4th edition Flaming Heart is that the sourcing is single malt whiskies from distilleries located in the Northern Highlands (primary the village of Brora), Islay (primarily from the south shore of Islay), Speyside and Islands. The wood is a combination of refill American oak (ex-Bourbon), new French oak (heavily toasted) and sherry casks (which is a new twist for Flaming Heart). It is bottled at 48.9% ABV, and is non-chill-filtered with only natural colour.
Compass Box offerings typically get high ratings for their price points, and Flaming Heart is no different. Here is how it compares in my Meta-Critic Database to other peated Compass Box offerings, and similar lightly-peated Islay malts.
Big Peat: 8.80 ± 0.22 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 10yo Tempest: 8.82 ± 0.17 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.40 ± 0.28 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 18yo: 8.56 ± 0.46 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scottish Barley: 8.39 ± 0.44 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Islay Barley (all vintages): 8.58 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Ten: 8.83 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach: 8.81 ± 0.28 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain Toiteach: 8.59 ± 0.38 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Caol Ila 12yo: 8.72 ± 0.18 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Caol Ila 18yo: 8.66 ± 0.49 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Caol Ila 25yo: 8.88 ± 0.21 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Caol Ila 30yo: 9.30 ± 0.19 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition (all editions): 8.67 ± 0.38 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Clynelish 14yo: 8.81 ± 0.25 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Compass Box Eleuthera: 8.57 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2008 2nd Edition: 9.07 ± 0.27 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2010 3rd Edition – 10th Anniversary: 8.92 ± 0.36 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2012 4th Edition: 8.98 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 5th Edition – 15th Anniversary: 9.03 ± 0.32 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart (all editions): 8.99 ± 0.27 on 19 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Lady Luck: 8.71 ± 0.42 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Peat Monster (all editions): 8.77 ± 0.27 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Compass Box The Lost Blend: 8.96 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box This is Not a Luxury Whisky: 8.77 ± 0.46 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Port Charlotte An Turas Mor: 8.71 ± 0.28 10 reviews ($$$$)
Port Charlotte PC10 Tro Na Linntean: 8.96 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated: 8.75 ± 0.26 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Note that Flaming Heart just slips in at the low end of the $$$$$ price group, at ~$155 CAD (on average, world-wide).
My sample of the 4th edition comes from Redditor slackerdude.
Here is what I find in the glass:
Colour: Very light straw, slightly golden hue.
Nose: Classic peated whisky notes with sweet peat, wood smoke, soot/ash and a slightly briny presentation – but not overly medicinal. Dried red fruits, especially berries and red currants, and light apple juice. Definite sourness, like gooseberries (i.e. ground cherries). Tons of lemon oil. Vanilla with a bit of caramel. Old leather. Grassy, with a touch of hay. A bit of cinnamon and some sea salt. Finally, just a touch of old sweatsock funk and bandaid glue (as is common to many southern Islays). Great nose.
Palate: Not quite as bold as I was expecting from the nose – but the peat is certainly more evident here. It just seems like the smokey notes have become more subtle in comparison. Some meatiness now, like the fat droppings on an extinguished campfire. Apple and berries, and even more lemon (the zest has been added). Caramel. Some oaky spice (chili?). A bit of pepper joins the cinnamon and sea salt. Great mouthfeel, slightly oily. It has a bit of that liquefied smoked meat taste that I sometimes find on older Islay bottlings, but it stills feels younger and fresher for the most part.
Finish: Medium-long for a light smokey blend. Peat and smoke linger. A slight herbal bitterness comes through eventually, but it is mild. That lemony citrus feels very cleansing on the way out.
On first whiff, this really brought back memories of some older lightly-peated Islays I’ve had (like the Coal Ila 30yo official bottling). However, this is rapidly joined by a number of more youthful characteristics, ending up more like the peated Glen Garioch 1995 Vintage (the lemon notes in particular are distinctive). Still very evocative and pleasant, this seems a bit younger overall than the reported mixes for earlier Flaming Hearts. But this is still a good bargain for a such a quality presentation.
Water lightens the nose, and enhances the caramel sweetness in the mouth. I don’t think it needs any, but adjust as you prefer. My only minor complaint here is the finish – while nice, it could be a bit longer and more robust. After this, I’m curious to try some other editions.
The highest score I’ve seen for this 4th edition of Flaming Heart comes from Serge of Whisky Fun, with similarly very high scores from Jim Murray, Dominic of Whisky Advocate and the guys at Quebec Whisky (I am closest to this camp). Also fairly positive on this edition are Jan of Best Shot Whisky and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. The lowest rating I’ve seen is an overall average score from Thomas of Whisky Saga. To see additional reviews of the more recent 2015 5th Edition (15th Anniversary), check out Jason of In Search of Elegance, Ralfy, Nathan the Scotch Noob and Ruben of Whisky Notes. Honestly, there are no negative reviews of any edition of this whisky, it is a great buy.