It’s great to see Dewar’s upping the presentation of Royal Brackla. The entire range is now 46%, unchill filtered and natural colour. They’ve also introduced a new, and I think rather attractive design for their bottles.
I tried these recently, from samples I purchased as part of a Dewar’s tasting. Keep an eye out for these tastings, at £10 delivered for all three of these, it was cracking value. Although the 21 year old was a complete surprise, with the original purchase being for a sample of the 12 and 18 only.
The new range includes a 12 year old, finished in Oloroso sherry casks, an 18 year old finished in Palo Cortado sherry, and a 21 year old old finished in a combination of Oloroso, Palo Cortado and PX, then married together. At the tasting, Master Blender Stephanie MacLeod gave a rough estimate of 6 months for the finish, but that’s not a hard and fast rule, and it is ready when they deem it to be so using their experience. What type of wood they spent their previous years in is not so clear.
Having spent a couple of hours with the samples, I have put together my thoughts and tasting notes below.
Royal Brackla 12
Colour : Mahogony
Nose : Rich, sweet and fruity. Black cherry, raisin and apricot are the fruits that jump out at me. There’s plenty of buttery toffee on the nose too, along with treacle, brown sugar, dark chocolate, coffee and toasted nuts.
Palate : Again sweet, but also rather spicy. More of those toffee notes, bitter coffee, ginger, black pepper, blackcurrant and a creamy nuttiness. The spice remains in the finish, with drying bitter oak, coffee, brown sugar and cream.
Conclusions : Very good. Sherry lovers will adore this i’m sure. It is plenty of money for a 12 year old at around £60 (more on that later), but we have seen something similar with Glenturret and their excellent 12 year old recently. If the quality is there, we can sometimes stretch our usual budget a little.
Score : 7.5/10
Royal Brackla 18
Colour : Gold
Nose : Buttery, sweet toffee and mint. It reminds me of Murray mints. Sour, sharp grapefruit, along with mango, honey and floral summer evening air. Fresh coffee from the pot, vanilla, and an earthy dunnage note at the back.
Palate : Sharp citrus. Lemon and Seville orange, with some peach coming through too. Black pepper and salt. Creamy vanilla, chopped hazelnuts and almonds start to come through next, but the fruity notes aren’t shown the door and remain present. The creamy, nutty and fruity flavours linger in the finish, along with salt and oak.
Conclusions : An absolute treat. Buttery, floral, fruity deliciousness. One of the best whiskies I have tried this year. The Palo Cortado finish is much more subtle, and allows more of the spirit to come through in the glass.
Score : 8.5/10
Royal Brackla 21
Colour : Deep amber
Nose : Thick, dark, bitter caramel, maple syrup, vanilla and muscavado. Floral confectionary (parma violets) and nasturtium leaf, along with chocolate, dark espresso coffee, cinnamon and toffee apple.
Palate : Sweet and spicy, with cherry, blackcurrant and sour apple. The initial sweetness is overtaken by bitter oak, but not an unpleasant over-oaked note, it works well. Then there’s christmas pudding and thick cream with dark roast coffee. Spicy pepper notes linger on the mid tongue for some time. The finish is juicy raisin, chopped nuts, bitter oak and some salt.
Conclusions : In many ways it reminds me a fair bit of the 12, but with more punch. The flavours are amplified, and it’s thicker and more unctuous. A step up for sure.
Score : 8/10
Final thoughts : These are all very good whiskies. Dewar’s, and the people at the distillery should be applauded for what they have done with the range. The pricing is where things start to be an issue in my opinion, and it would be hard to argue that the range provides value for money. Whether its due to a lack of stock, or they think it’s what the market will pay, I am not sure. At £60, the 12 year old is a little pricey for it’s age, but perhaps not too excessive. The 18 and 21 take a big jump from there. The 18 comes in at around £130, and the 21 at an eye watering £215. I have docked both those half a point in my scoring as a result. If you look at the pricing from the likes of Arran, Glencadam, Deanston, AnCnoc, Tobermory, Loch Lomond etc, then Royal Brackla may struggle to compete at the current pricing levels. It is the same story with their other brands, Craigellachie, Aultmore, Glen Deveron and Aberfeldy, where the price jumps markedly for older expressions.
The Palo Cortado finished 18 year old is the pick of the bunch for me, but price has to be a factor with all purchases, and it means I unfortunately won’t be buying. If it were to drop below the £100 mark then I would have to think again. If you are in the fortunate position to have deeper pockets than I, then by all means go for it, as these are excellent whiskies. Sherry finishes can often mask over the spirit completely, which is one of the reasons I am more likely to gravitate towards ex-bourbon, but we are definitely getting some of that signature Brackla fruity, floral perfume notes through the sherry with this range.
Image provided by Dewar’s and used with permission