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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North Star Series 8 – Inchgower 11 year 52.5%

The minis can’t have all the fun in virtual tastings! It was time to also crack open one of the big boys! And that is exactly what happened one fine eve with the Bombay Malt &Cigar gentlemen. What did they have? It was a revisit of standard bar fare with Bowmore 12 year, Caol Ila 12 year with a Mortlach thrown in for good measure.

As for me? I let them decide… and here is what they picked!

Inchgower 11 year (July 2007 / Mar 2019) Refill Hogshead 52.5% (North Star 008)

  • Nose – It started with light peat, caramel and spice, leaves
  • Palate – First sip was bursting with lots of pepper, spice and fire… then it opened up to reveal treacle and maple syrup
  • Finish – The finish was like chomping down on a cigar with a leather chaser

Something about this one clearly called for some water… and no careful 2-3 drops but a generous dollop. What did this do? Transformed the Inchgower!

  • Nose – That caramel cola quality came through even more, sponge cake
  • Palate – Lots of cinnamon spice…. with a bit of tart kumquat
  • Finish – Retained the sweet spice

This was no easy drinking dram but one that demanded attention… a bit of an unruly beast… tamed slightly by diluting.

What else do we know? It was matured in a refill hogshead which produced 321 bottles. With shipping and tax, it came to approx GBP 60. Which frankly is quite reasonable for a  cask strength original!

As for Iain Croucher and his delightful tasting notes? Here is what he has to say:

  • Nose – Kola Cubes & pancakes with maple syrup
  • Palate – White pepper & caramel shavings
  • Finish – Tobacco (Montecristo not Marlboro)

Prior to this, my only brushes with Inchgower were 13 year olds bottled by G&MP from their Connoiseurs Choice range – one at cask strength and the other not.

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Gordon and Macphail’s Inchgower 13 year 55.1%

At Whisky Live 2018 in Singapore, I stopped by the Gordon & MacPhail booth with a simple goal – taste a few and decide if one made sense to bring it back home to Mumbai.

Of each, I had only a wee nip – mostly a sniff, swish and move on…

Inchgower 13 year (2005/2018) 55.1%

  • Nose – Coffee beans, toast and toffee, berries
  • Palate – Oak, a bit of spice, fruity jam and then the most fabulous toast, butter and kaya
  • Finish – Had a nice kick, salted nuts, creamy and delicious

Don’t laugh but I couldn’t help but define this whisky in my mind as a particularly yummy kaya toast – crisp perfectly dark golden toast, slathered in butter with that distinctive kaya coconut milk eggs and sugar combined to make an exceedingly tasty jam.

My sampling companion may be Singapore based but it seems this favourite SE Asian breakfast hasn’t made it into his culinary repertoire. Whereas for the young lady serving the whiskies? She immediately got the reference and completely agreed.

That is half the fun of sampling in Asia. Palate parallels are completely apt yet entirely different than what would find in Scotland.

As for this whisky, all through the next masterclass, I kept think of kaya toast whisky with a lovely nutty nougat finish…. so much so that I found myself at the whisky store, perusing the shelves to see if they still had a bottle remaining.

This whisky is part of their Connoisseurs Choice range matured in refill sherry hogshead. As for what it would set you back? At La Maison du Whisky in Singapore, that would be SGD 200.

And obviously, you can tell, this is the whisky that has made its way back to Bombay.

What do the folks at Gordon & Macphail have to say about this whisky?

  • Nose – Delicate Sherry aromas accompanied by floral violets and zesty Seville orange. Undertones of toasted malt evolve with subtle hints of butter candies and toffee. 
  • Taste – Honeyed summer berries made into a tangy strawberry and raspberry jam develop into a slightly drying oak. With time, flavours of creamy hazelnuts and silky dark chocolate emerge. 
  • Finish – Long and lingering fruit and nut chocolate.

Other whiskies sampled at the Gordon & MacPhail booth, Whisky Live 2018:

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Unchartered Territory – Talisker 57′ North, Laphroaig PX, Inchgower 13 year

As the mercury rises in Mumbai and we impatiently wait for monsoon to make its appearance, our merry malt gang made its way over to a members home for an evening of whisky sampling.

The ‘non-theme’ of the evening proved to be ‘Unchartered Territory’. Each of the whiskies our host had never sampled. He also tried a reverse approach of starting with the strongest in alcohol strength progressing to the least powerful. Furthermore everything we tried for dinner were all new experiments. As usual, all tastings were blind before the dramatic reveal!

May's trio - Talisker, Laphroaig, Inchgower

May’s trio – Talisker, Laphroaig, Inchgower

What whiskies did we sample?

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