North Star European Chapter – Royal Brackla, Fettercairn, Ichgower

Twas the night before Diwali… also Friday the 13th November… and as dusk fell in Europe, we cracked open a trio of North Star drams.

Our bottles had traversed quite some distance before we could sip together!  Originally from Scotland, they first made their way to me in Nurnberg, Germany… Then re-packaged into small samples, the whiskies continued their journey to Paris, Bretagne and rural Sweden… For one, it was then back to the UK – London to be more precise. For another, it was an even further adventure, flying to Mumbai for quarantine consumption.

So what did we try virtually together?

I had previously sampled all three, but was curious to see how they evolved and the impressions of my merry malty tasting companions!

Royal Brackla 11 year (2018) 55.2%

I will openly admit to being partial about this one! And wasn’t surprised when it was pronounced a ‘yummy’ whisky.

  • Nose – Apples, pears, all those lovely orchard fruits which shifted into spiced pineapple, toffee, nuts, then candied apple, cider, a herbal grassy quality, brioche
  • Palate – Again – quite tasty. A nice spice – think chilli chocolate, some salty caramel
  • Finish – Long and pleasant, a hint of anise

There was a debate on whether to add water or not… those who did were rewarded with maple syrup aromas with the palate rounding out with oils coming forward. The herbal quality took on a vegetal dimension – one mentioned brussle sprouts!

Without water, with water and even after airing for some time, what we appreciated most is how the base notes remained consistent. An enjoyable dram and terrific start to our evening.

Fettercairn 12 year (2019) 57.4% 

Quite a contrast to the earlier dram!

  • Nose – We were greeted by an inviting cognac, then clear shift into grapes, some mint and moss, lots of lovely dark berries – like black current or a blackberry jam, bit of nuts, over time it opened up further rewarding with a lightly floral perfume… after even more time, the caramel of coca cola came out too
  • Palate – Full strength, it packs a punch! From the fruity aromas, the spice initially came on strong! But then as it settled in, juicy grapes with a bit camomile and dandelion tea
  • Finish – Salty spice

And with water?

There were a few different comments – from soap to flowers to almond paste on the nose…. the real change was the palate. Early spring by the seaside.

We had a laugh at Ian’s tasting notes and quipped – less Disco & Funk, more Jazz & Blues in character.

Inchgower 11 year (2019) 52.5%

Our last brought a delicious Speyside peat to the mix.

  • Nose – Petrol and peat, sweet and salty, then also a bit peppery with a hint of licorice, increasingly caramel sweet as it opened up further
  • Palate – Shortbread biscuit, lemon zest, incredibly silky, black forrest
  • Finish – Cinnamon spice

Our peaty lady pronounced this a sweat hairy mechanic… who rises horses! And yet that was only the initial whiff… it mellowed and shifted to something infinitely more complex and subtle. This was clearly no Islay peat.

The kind of dram you would love to have in your hand to sip in a jazz club or coming back from skiing.

Remarkably, one lady was able to guess the exact distillery – long before the reveal – from her days with Diageo.

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Dunkerton Drams – Fettercairn 12 years 40%

These days we don’t often try official bottles. By choice I tend to gravitate towards something just a little more specialized that comes with… say… a single cask from an independent bottlers. However when first learning about a distillery, when there are official bottlings available, such offerings can say a lot about what the distillery is trying to achieve.

Looking back on the Fettercairn’s I’ve tried til date…. One from North Star featuring a cask strength 12 year old from 2019 and another from That Boutique-y Whisky Company with a 21 Year from 2018) 48.6%, I can be forgiven for a little curiosity about what the distillery choses to put out as an “official bottling.”

This one came as part of the 2019 Drinks by the Drams Whisky Advent Calendar… and I’m reasonably sure it is the official Fettercairn 12 year 40%. So what did we find?

Fettercairn 12 years 40%

  • Nose – Lemon varnish, bananas, cereals, cappuccino, lemon mirange, floral and a bit woodsy
  • Palate – Soft on the tongue, a gentle curl of peat, bitter herbs, feels a bit peppery, not a lot of depth
  • Finish – Bitter tobacco and dry

My tasting companion and I had tried the 21 year old together and enjoyed the ‘oomph’ and character we found. This one? A bit of a disappointment.. nothing was wrong and it isn’t a bit dram, I had just hoped for a bit more ‘je ne sai quoi’!

What else do we know? Only that it was aged in American oak ex-bourbon casks…

And the official tasting notes?

  • COLOUR – Sunlight and amber honey
  • TASTE – Vanilla and pear, with soft spices
  • FINISH – Refreshing nectarine and tropical fruit, with subtle roasted coffee, clove, and ginger. A memorable finish of sultanas and black toffee

So there you have it.

What else did we try that evening in Dunkerton?

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North Star – Fettercairn 12 year 57.4%

Back in 1829, Fettercairn Distillery was one of the 1st newly licensed distillery in the Highland thanks to Sir Alexander Ramsay. It was sold within the year to the Gladstone family who carried on making whisky along with getting into politics – including William Gladstone who became Prime Minister. Whyte & Mackay acquired the distillery in 1973 with several official bottling and, no surprise, it also became a core part of their blends.

My earlier experience with Fettercairn was a 21 year old bottled by That Boutique-y Whisky Company. It impressed us with its character and complexity so I was most curious to see what this much younger one bottled by North Star would bring!

Fettercairn 12 year (Oct 2006 / Feb 2019) Refill Barrel 57.4% (North Star 007)

  • Nose – Mash-melon, herbal tea, berries and cream, sweet spice, lemon cream, apples, light and fruity
  • Palate – Spice, betal leaf, citrus, more burn than expected from the nose, cinnamon spice and tobacco leaf, almost heavy and a little bit nutty
  • Finish – There with cinnamon spice

And with water?

  • Nose – Very nice! Apple crumble, cream, drizzle of honey, toffee ice cream, apple blossoms, the berries are back – a bit tart and sweet
  • Palate – Smooth out the burn but also loses a bit of its edge and substance
  • Finish – Back to cinnamon spice

Overall it was a character! I really enjoyed what water did to the aromas and once it settled in, was also an enjoyable way to sip and savour.

What do we know about this dram? It was matured in a refill barrel, un chill filtered, and was 1 of 180 bottles from North Star’s Series 007. I ordered it online directly from the wonderful folks at North Star which made its way from the UK to Nurnberg, Germany. With shipping and tax, it came to approx GBP 74.

And what did Iain Croucher have to say about this Fettercairn? Here are his official tasting notes:

  • Nose – Black tea & gooseberries
  • Palate – Crushed bobal grapes & barley sugars
  • Finish – Hints of disco & funk

What can I say? Another hit from North Star!

What else was part of my North Star latest score?

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That Boutique-y Whisky Co – Fettercairn 21 Year (2018) 48.6%

We closed our That Boutique-y Whisky Company samples quartet with a whisky from Speyside – Fettercairn distillery… While the others were from Diageo, this one was from White & Mackay.

It was my 1st encounter with a single malt from this distillery… and I have to admit up front, it impressed us.

Fettercairn 21 Year (May 2018) 48.6% Batch 3, 669 Bottles 

  • Nose – Greeted us with a sherry spice, sour plums, chilli chocolate, vanilla cream, an  indulgent desert, salty caramel… a bit savoury too, think peanut brittle, caramel custard
  • Palate – Dry hay, overripe fruits, tobacco leaf, well rounded, substance, well done toast
  • Finish – Burnt caramel, bitter roasted almond… lovely and long

This was no light dram, instead we found this one had terrific “oomph!” and character…

We returned after some time and discovered a sharp cheese, grassy and distinctive.

And what do the folks over at That Boutique-y Whisky Company have to say?

Fettercairn (the town) is home to Fettercairn (the distillery), and it has been since 1824. They use an inventive method of making a lighter style of spirit – when they’re collecting the middle cut, the run cool water (not the fragrance) along the outside of the still’s neck, which increases reflux, resulting in a lighter spirit. Science in action. The chaps on the label of our Fettercairn appear to be judging cairns. Looks like one of them likes the larger one.

Tasting notes:

  • Nose: Yellow plum, pear, warm gingerbread, honeyed barley, a little cut grass underneath
  • Palate: Bramley apple, sweet custard and fresh oranges. Winter spice, hazelnuts and a little toffee.
  • Finish: A hint of raspberries is present in a good-length finish.

Depending on where you acquire it (if still available), a 50 cl bottle would set you back approximately £58.

I was very amused when saw their label – we definitely concurred with pronouncing this our favourite for the evening!

Fettercairn B3.jpg

Photo: That Boutique-y Whisky Company

What other That Boutique-y Whisky Company samples did we try?

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