SMWS 55 Leaving on a high note

Here on Malt, we cover everything whisky related to the best of our ability. Whether it is a bottom shelf supermarket cheapie to the bling bottles that you see rarely opened, or those unicorn whiskies.

Yes, that term unicorn whisky has been creeping into everyday usage with increasing frequency. But have we ever stopped to consider what is meant by the term, or if we can actually measure when it truly applies? Like most vague terminology, I guess the definition is truly in the eyes of the beholder as to whether it warrants such a classification.

Recently, I reviewed the Bruichladdich Super Heavily Peated 2003, which a reader suggested was such a whisky. I countered that cost wise this was sub £200 and not applicable in my own eyes. A bottle that does come up on the secondary market now and again. However, this discussion set the gears in motion as to what is a unicorn whisky?

You could take it purely from a financial standpoint. We all have a ceiling monetary wise unless we have very rich parents or have circled the right numbers on the National Lottery. Eventually, we will all hit that barrier where we deliberate whether a bottle is actually worth the asking price? The market is flooded nowadays with overpriced whiskies from poor casks or hidden behind marketing or ridiculous proclamations.

Then there are the whiskies that are purely limited to a point in time. You could have all the money in the world yet if you’re not at the distillery, quick online or in a queue at the right time, then the bottle will slip through your fingers. That’s the sort of whisky we have further down in this piece. A whisky that only cost £35 for a half-size bottle; well within all of our budgets but access is the key consideration. Finding yourself in Edinburgh during its cask lifespan and having the Scotch Malt Whisky Society membership combine to limit access. But is this truly unicorn?

In my humble opinion, what truly is a unicorn whisky is one you just won’t see in the flesh or even opened. A ghostly apparition from the void, a legend discussed in hushed tones, or the long departed. These are the true unicorns that warrant the title. Even with our relentless ethic for daily posts here at Malt, I would suggest that you could probably count such bottles annually on a single hand that appear online here. That’s how rare they truly are and the difficulty to review. Unicorns are elusive for a reason.

Moving on we’re dealing with a Royal Brackla. A distillery we rarely review here due to the overpriced official range that Mark reviewed in 2015. You also don’t see huge amounts of Brackla independently bottled. Even though the distillery has a sizable output most of it is destined for the blending market. The current owners of Royal Brackla, John Dewar & Sons, or in reality Bacardi, have tried in recent times to prise away some of the maturing stock from blenders. The aforementioned review releases were a flawed attempt although we appreciated the effort.

Nicely presented and drinkable. The trio lacked a higher strength to really demonstrate the flavours that Brackla can deliver thanks to the use of reflux during its distillation. I quite enjoyed the 16 year old that I purchased and reviewed myself. Subtle and a little shy, it needed work to truly appreciate the delicate characteristics within. I only bought it because it was on special and I was intrigued. Whilst I did eventually enjoy its pillow talk, I sadly wouldn’t return for another bottle.

This Royal Brackla was botted on 22nd November 2018, it was filled into a 2nd fill ruby port cask on 14th September 2018, prior to that it resided in a 2006 bourbon cask. Bottled at 57.2% and 12 years of age, it is exclusive to members at the Vaults in Edinburgh.

SMWS 55 Leaving on a high note – review

Colour: Honeycomb.

On the nose: Nutty with gingerbread and orange sherbet. This really needs time in the glass to open up. It feels constrained and suffocated. Given the necessary treatment, coconut, gorse and lemongrass appear. More freshness with lemon icing, vanilla marshmallows and syrup. This is underpinned by a sourdough, dried cranberries and a floral waft.

With water there’s a suggestion of sickness, no sulphur this moves into a UHT glue in the background. Digestive biscuits and a summer tea round off an interesting assortment.

In the mouth: Toffee and toast, a rich buttery caramel. Pleasant, but like the nose more effort is required to open this up. Water brings about that transformation. Now it’s malty, with almonds, hazelnuts and honey. Chocolate and then the realisation that there’s a Dime bar in here!


An interesting dram, given the added twist in quarter casks. What would have been really intriguing to me would have been the ability to bottle the before and after. Instead, we have this very exclusive Royal Brackla expression to take home and deliberate. Like the official range, its nature is one of restraint. You need to probe and peel away the outer shell to find the joys within.

For £35 for a half bottle, this represents a worthwhile exchange. The whisky itself is fairly average and the ruby port finish won’t be to everyone’s taste. A fun piece, a talking point and a memento to sit amongst friends with. Prices can vary depending on what’s in the living cask so don’t take the £35 as gospel, but if you do make it down to the Vaults then check out what’s on offer.

Score: 5/10

CategoriesSingle Malt

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *