Over the course of the centuries, people’s experience of whiskies has been shaped by its ups and downs. By the eras that define its history, its story, its journey. And throughout this history, various hate groups have sprouted: those that hate blended, those that hate Islay whiskies, those that hate cask strength, to name a few. Hate is probably too strong a word, but it’s the only one that comes to mind when I try to reconcile the faces of these people I’ve met while engaging in discussion while enjoying a dram. I could go on with the hate clubs roll call but there is one that’s so pervasive it included me in its roster once upon a time – because of ignorance and perception, of course! If I had a penny for each and every time I meet someone from the “I hate young whiskies” clique, I would have enough to buy a case of those absurdly overpriced Macallans.
It took me quite a while to understand how these seemingly intelligent folks can have such skewed attitudes to young whiskies. I remember buying a 200th Anniversary Lagavulin 8 and excitedly proclaiming to my friends that it was so much better than the classic Lagavulin 16. They were dumbfounded. Don’t get me wrong, I like Lagavulin 16 but the 8 was better in every way. “How can it be better when it’s only 8-years-old?”. So, I brought the bottle to share and get their thoughts. Some liked it, some a lot, and for others it was just ok. That’s fine and we all enjoyed the experience because everyone was open to the idea. Granted these were my friends and my generation; I didn’t have the same luck with those older than me – another generation, if you will. They thought I was taking the piss. Then it hit me. We simply belonged to different eras, different realities; and this profoundly shaped our experiences – and consequently – our views and enjoyment of whisky.
I began to fall seriously in love with whisky only in the past 5 years or so. The market then was so much different 15-20 years back. Prices weren’t as ridiculous, and you can buy a really good bottles aged 20 years old or more without taking a second mortgage on your house. As the single malt market boomed and stocks dwindled, the price of sought-after bottles skyrocketed. Aficionados who were into the game back in the 90s until early 2000s saw an abundance of stocks from the so-called “whisky loch” – the industry-wide euphemism for excess inventory – of the late 1970s through to the mid-80s, when it all came crashing down. DCL (before it became Diageo) closed two of, probably, the most famous and collectible distilleries – Port Ellen and Brora. The roster of distilleries lost during that period would make a grown man weep. But that’s a story for another time. We’re lucky though that today’s market still offer great value through various independent bottlers.
North Star Spirits burst into the whisky scene in 2016. Founded by Iain Croucher, it’s a Glasgow-based independent bottling company and one of Scotland’s newest. They specialise in Scotch whisky along with American bourbon, gins and rums. Iain, formerly of AD Rattray, wasted no time in establishing the North Star brand by launching six expressions that included the 8-year-old Ardmore and the 27-year-old Tormore on opposite ends of the age spectrum. From then on, North Star has matured from the new-kid-on-the-block to a respected and formidable independent bottler. Their whisky releases are all small batch, un-chillfiltered (their own word) and cask strength as in their Single Cask range, which is on its 9th edition. Other releases are under the regional single cask series (Islay, Island, Highland, Speyside, etc) and the blended malts of Spica, Sirius and Vega that has a 41-year-old launched in 2018.
Now on to this fine young specimen. Bottled by North Star Spirits as part of their Single Cask Series 005 back in 2018. It’s a 4-year-old blended malt, distilled from undisclosed distilleries in Campbeltown on April 2014 and bottled at a lovely 57% abv. The spirit was matured in refill bourbon hogsheads and two casks were blended to produce 726 bottles of 70cl each. This bottle was purchased through an online retailer.
North Star Spirits Campbeltown Blended Malt Whisky – review
Colour: pale marigold
On the nose: alcohol greets you immediately, fresh, young, vibrant, citrus, mandarin oranges and some hint of pineapple, lemony sweet candied pastilles, unmistakable solvent/glue, vanilla, marshmallow, paint and wood varnish.
In the mouth: thick, oily, intense flavours as it hits your tongue, citrus, sweet-sour lemon candy, there’s that sweet-salty duel that’s oh-so-interesting like salted caramel, vanilla, marshmallow, a short but satisfying sweet-salty, bitter varnish finish that you want to last just a little longer.
We all live in alternate realities. Our own experiences and perspectives with each whisky we savour are defined by the by the particular conditions of the market and our own personal tastes and biases. Some will always prefer old and gold, but most whisky-philes I know would be more open and take a serious punt on bottles such as these.
To say this is an interesting bottle is an understatement. For a 4-year-old, there’s a lot going on. It’s an in-your-face explosion of flavours while remaining true to its Campbeltown roots. Campbeltown used to be a prolific whisky region that was home to more than 30 distilleries during its heyday. By 2010, only 3 remained: Glengyle, Glen Scotia and Springbank. North Star didn’t – or probably couldn’t – mention the distillery so this bottle is anyone’s guess. Mine would be Glen Scotia.
I love young whiskies – they are dynamic, fresh, bursting with flavour. They are fireworks dancing in your palate. Short-lived but very memorable. And this is also its weakness. But, would 2-3 more years in the cask produce a much more compelling product? Alas, we’ll never know. I took a punt and I enjoyed it. And that’s what’s most important.