North Star Blair Athol 14 Mezcal Finish

Mezcal – A spirit made in Mexico from the Agave plant, and known for its smoky taste. A simplistic take, but the entire knowledge I had of the drink prior to buying this bottle. So why buy it? For one, I was lucky to be able to with such limited numbers, and secondly, it was something different that I hadn’t seen before.

Before I tasted it, I wanted to try and understand the effect the Mezcal finish would have on the whisky. Therefore, I felt the need to find out what Mezcal tasted like. I purchased a sample from Master Of Malt of one which wasn’t too expensive, but not the cheapest either. It seemed a reasonable way to go. I also discovered that a Mezcal labelled as Joven meant it was a young and un-aged version. I went with that in order to try the spirit in its rawest form.

The Mezcal in question

Of course, trying one of any spirit isn’t going to make anybody an expert, but I hoped it would give a basic idea of what the main flavours are. My only experience of anything similar is Tequila shots on a messy night out, with the main sensation being horrible burning alcohol on the back of the throat. There was also the thought in my head that all clear spirits which haven’t been matured will be pretty rough, but the Mezcal I tried was not harsh in any way, and really drinkable. I enjoyed it more than I expected. It had a sweetness on the nose, with a medicinal bonfire aroma, and some earthiness, along with sour citrus lime. On the palate there was even more smoke, and the earthiness was bigger and reminiscent of soil or compost. There was a good dose of creamy vanilla too. Basic notes, but a few pointers for me to look out for.

Now onto the whisky that is the subject of this review. A 14 year old single cask, cask strength, Blair Athol from North Star, which has been matured in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead, before being finished for 14 months in a Mezcal cask. Only 72 bottles were produced, which suggests to me it was either a small cask, or a leaky one. From what I can tell, it was the first Mezcal finished single malt scotch to be released when it hit the shelves back in April. There have been one or two since, and more will be coming in the future from other independent bottlers and distillers. The first scotch of any kind with a Mezcal finish was Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth blend, released last year. Mezcal finishing is very new, due to the Scotch Whisky Association only allowing it as part of an amendment to their regulations in 2019. Time will tell whether it becomes a popular way of finishing whisky, with much depending on how they are received by the consumer.

Blair Athol is another one of Diageo’s blend workhorses that doesn’t appear as a single malt, apart from as a 12 year old in the Flora and Fauna range, as well as the odd special release. The whisky has been part of Bell’s blended whisky since the brand was established at the end of the 19th century. A beautiful distillery in the Perthshire countryside, it is one of the oldest, and most visited distilleries in Scotland.

Now onto the review;

Nose : Sweet vanilla fudge with sour orchard fruits (apple and pear). Strawberries and cream, marshmallow, floral violets, a dirty earthiness, and a hint of sawdust.

Palate : Its quite spirity for its age, and a teaspoon of water improves things. Sweet orange, followed by sour and bitter lime citrus, and a fair dose of pepperiness. It remains sour/bitter in the development, with creamy vanilla panna cotta and a nuttiness which is typical of Blair Athol. I’m also getting a flavour which reminds me of gas, which is a rather unusual one. The kind of gas that is piped into your home. The finish is grassy, with green apple, chopped nuts, cream and oak spice.

Conclusions : I pick up an earthiness on the nose that has similarities with the earthiness of the Mezcal, and the sour citrus on the palate too. Perhaps I found myself looking for the notes from the Mezcal in the whisky, but I would like to think over a number of tastings I was honest with myself. I am not getting any of the smokiness that I expected to get.

Judging the whisky as a whole, the nose is certainly outperforming the palate for me, something which I find with a lot of whiskies. It is surprisingly spirity on the palate for a 14 year old, but that soon subsides and there are some good flavours. If I take one thing away from this tasting, then it would be a desire to explore more Mezcal in the future.

Score : 6/10

(Score descriptions can be found in the About page)

Vital statistics

ABV : 51.1%
Non-chill filtered : Yes
Natural Colour : Yes
Maturation : Refill Hogshead with a Mezcal finish
Region : Highland
Colour : Gold

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