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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Berlin’s Union Jack Tasting Adventures

Back in the day when we blithely took travel for granted, I popped over to Berlin for a weekend. A highlight was an evening at The Union Jack Pub with a Sharing Angel – Germany’s whisky women network.

I was completely distracted by the thick menu of options – until I discovered the real menu was displayed in a captivating way all around the room and in the head of the very knowledgable staff. High up in one corner, I couldn’t help but spy a collection of North Star. Then a set of Spirit Shop bottles… peak around the corner and even more independent goodies. It was like being a kid in a candy store!

Where did we start?

With a very green Berliner Kindl Weisse beer… cold, slightly tart and extremely refreshing, at a low alcohol level with a hint of woodruff, it was a perfect way to kick off our evening.

After many many different suggestions, we settled on our 1st dram:

We had high expectations of the Speyside – My companion thought it may be an old Edrigdon which dipped a bit 40 and was topped up by Glenfarclas, marrying together to mature even longer. She had tried it (or something similar) before and found it quite fabulous!
However this bottle? The nose was initially shy, we still had hopes but even after giving time to open up, it simply didn’t deliver. Unfortunately it was also thin and flat on palate. We began to speculate that perhaps it oxidated too long? We set it aside and returned to a sour nose, a bit of spice on palate and not much more. Tragedy, I confess I didn’t even finish it…
By contrast my companion’s Royal Brackla was a delight! All sunshine and happiness apples and apricots loads of sweet fruits, that carried through beautifully on the palate. I enjoyed it so much that I later picked up a bottle to enjoy it properly!
He really tried… Last effort began with SMWS Bunnahabhain – no peat, light fruit but not quite there. Then brought out Glenmorangie Bacalta… And Mannochmore – choice was clear.

Mannochmore 25 year (1990/2015) Bottle 0251, 53.4% (Gordon & Macphail)

It was like coming home – full fruity, complex, rewarding in every way. No need of water. Simply marvelous and such a perfect way to close our evening!

It was wonderful meeting a fellow whisky explorer, connecting and discussing malty matters over a dram or two.

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North Star – Royal Brackla 11 year 55.2%

I first sampled this North Star bottling of Royal Brackla in Berlin over a year ago at The Union Jack Pub. It left a positive impression of a pleasant, cheerful summery dram and I was curious to give it another go…

Royal Brackla 11 year (Oct 2006 /Feb 2018) 55.2%

  • Colour – Amber
  • Nose – Candied lemon peel, maple sugar, sweet spices, some herbs – particularly basil, give it a bit more time and apples, apricots, loads of sweet fruits, waxy and lightly perfumed
  • Palate – A bright spice, then the fruitiness carries through on the palate with substance, it is a bit oily with a slightly bitter hint that lends a bit of substance to all the orchard fruits
  • Finish – Nicely there… not long and lingering but quite pleasant

And with water? Much more approachable with the cheerful apple quality even more pronounced.

What I remember from our tasting a year ago was this whisky was sunshine and happiness, apples and apricots which carried through on the palate.

What I found most in this revisit? And when I returned a few times to sip again? Frankly I stopped even thinking about dissecting and distinguishing every element and instead just enjoyed – certainly a sign of a rather good dram – particularly in the summer!

Bottled in Feb 2018, North Star’s Single Cask Series 004, refill hogshead, one of 272 bottles. I purchased this bottle in May 2020 during our COVID ‘shut-in’ from Sansibar for EUR 49.58 plus 19% tax. In my books, this makes it affordable for an affable quality cask strength whisky.

And here are the fabulous North Star tasting notes:

  • Nose – Cooked apricots, muscovado sugar and flaked almonds
  • Palate – Strong fruit jam, pain au chocolate with bitter chocolate
  • Finish – Patisseries character, with fruits and spice

Any other Royal Brackla encounters?

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Royal Brackla 21 year 40%

Royal favour has its benefits… including in the world of whisky.

The distillery was founded in 1812 by Captain William Fraser of Brackla House on the estate of Cawdor Castle and by 1833 was selected by King William the IV to be the royal court whisky. The distillery changed hands, had its ups and downs – including closing for some time in 1943-45 and 1964-66 then 1985-91.

And yet the “Royal” title remained, even as it changed hands eventually ending up as part of the Dewar & Sons portfolio.

We sampled this 21 year old whisky blind, with a reveal at the end. Here is what we thought…

Royal Brackla 21 year 40%

  • Nose – We were greeted with varnish, lime, sharp and direct, link control, medicinal soap, started to shift and become very sweet, cinnamon spice candy, bananas, hallowe’en corn candy, marshmallows, wood sap, toffee, burnt caramel, a puff of smoke, resin, white pear, leafy basil, curry leaf
  • Palate – Soft, a nice coating and well balanced, raisins and resin, a bit of chocolate, loads of wood, honey, with the 2nd sip was much spicier
  • Finish – Cinnamon spice – delicious!
  • Water – I never would have thought to try but others prompted – the whisky takes water quite well, opening up a complete fruit basket of aromas, butterscotch, rounds it out even more, with a lovely sweetness, revealing a nice fresh grassy element on the palate, surprisingly it also improved the mouthfeel

It was a rather nice way to finish up our Scottish traditional trio. Again it had the sense of being a combination of ex-bourbon with some ex-sherry too.

And the reveal?

A recognition this is a distillery we rarely encountered. Yet were pleased to do so that evening.

So what do the folks at Dewar (aka Barcardi) have to say? They have quite succinct tasting notes:

Richly fragrant with summer berries, dark chocolate, star anise, and a sherried sweetness.

Our original tasting group explored two other whiskies in our classic Scottish trio evening:

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Scottish Trio – Linkwood, Old Pulteney, Royal Brackla

Sometimes you just want to enjoy classic styled whiskies… with a flight that has a straight forward age progression from younger to older… no experimentation, just a standard combination of ex-bourbon cask and ex-sherry maturation.

That is exactly what we did this month, sampling each malt blind… And yet it wasn’t entirely as “traditional” an experience as one would think…

Our original tasting group went “traditional” with a Scottish trio:

Curious to know more about what we found? Just click on the whisky links above and get all the juicy details!

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Royal Brackla 16 year 40%

After our miniatures trio, we decided to change things a little… and moved our attention to a Royal Brackla 16 year – simply as it was open and I’d never tried. Reason enough!

Royal Brackla is better known as a component in Dewar’s or Johnnie Walker… however like many whiskies is now stepping out of the blend shadows to show off its single malt avatar to the world.

This was my 1st encounter… and what did we find?

Royal Brackla 16 year 40%

  • Nose – Balsa wood, a bit dry, then shifts into wet forest, mushrooms, whiff of being on an old boat with a bit salty mouldy moisture. After time takes on a light banana cream pie,
  • Palate – Smooth, ginger spice, almost like a tic tac freshness
  • Finish – Not much to speak of…

Overall? It was initially difficult to get past the ‘watered down’ sense that comes with many 40% whiskies. There also is certainly nothing particularly ‘regal’ about this whisky….

However when the tantalizing aromas of food wafted our way and we could resist no longer… we made a terrific discovery. This was a food whisky – something easy to drink that goes well with nibbles.

Our conclusion? Put it in the category of “bar and food whisky.”

And there is certainly space enough out there for such dramsl!

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Minis – Glenglassaugh Evolution + Torfa, Inchmurrin

After a few months hiatus, our miniatures sessions are back!

This time we decided to explore a revived discontinued distillery (Glenglassaugh) and a whisky my cohort couldn’t resist… having grown up with Tintin tales of Loch Lomond whisky (Inchmurrin)…

For my part, I was keen to revisit a freshly opened bottle of the Torfa, having had a rather negative 1st experience a few years ago at Quaich in Singapore. And was equally curious what else Glenglassaugh had to offer. As for Inchmurrin? I had no pre-conceived notions… however found our tryst with Pendryn’s Madeira sufficiently interesting to be curious to compare.

The minis were followed by Royal Brackla 16 year 40%… just because it was already open and I hadn’t tried it yet… a most acceptable justification! Turned out to be a great food accompaniment.

Other miniatures sessions:

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