Who has a distillery in their back garden? OK, neither do I, but a few years ago this statement was almost true.
I live on the Cawdor estate in the Highlands. My dad, my grandfather, my great grandfather, and so on all lived (and often worked) on the Cawdor estate. My family have lived and worked here for longer than the distillery I’m talking about has been in existence. Now, if you know your whisky labels, you will know that only one carries the name “Cawdor” upon it: Royal Brackla.
Royal Brackla and I have had a strange relationship for many years. As I intimated above: at one time I lived within the grounds of the distillery. Our cottage was so close that if looking out our kitchen window, the distillery walls were less that 20 meters away. For someone like me the height of summer was heaven; the shutters would open and the aromas of distilling whisky would waft across our patio. I would walk my dog around the warehouses and she would chase rabbits around the grass by the offices.
It was a great wee place to live; my oldest son was born whilst we lived there. The staff were great and Carol, the manager, got Amy lovely flowers when Oscar was born. But, as families grow, we decided to move on. After several moves we missed Cawdor and headed back, and today we still live there… though not at the distillery anymore. It’s about half a mile away, but it is still visible from our driveway.
Now I don’t want to rant on too much about Brackla the distillery. I had a look and there was a pretty decent articlewritten about it several years ago, when they covered the previous core range. So, perhaps if you’re after a history lesson on the brand, pop over to that one. But, I will throw my two cents in on an old argument that pops up about Royal Brackla, the question of “Is it a Speyside malt?”
You will find contrasting answers to this if you search; you will find retailers listing it as Speyside, others as a Highland. Today I believe on official lists its a Highland, and I will stand by that as being correct; no one that lives here has ever considered this area to be in Speyside. In fact, the closest Speyside distillery is Benromach and that is 13 miles away… and I know people who argue that’s not Speyside either! The closest point of the River Spey to Brackla is approx 26 miles… OK, so I did rant a wee bit about the distillery, sorry.
As for the whisky: as a rule of thumb we don’t often see too much of Brackla rocking about on the shelves. It has perhaps become a bit of a premium whisky. Around six years ago their parent owners – Dewar’s/Bacardi – released what could be considered a core range range from the distillery: a 12, a 16 and a 21 year old. They seemed a little high on the price for what they were and, to be honest they were far too safe as far as whisky goes. They were not bad drams, but just too steady, almost lacking something; low ABV, chill filtered and colour added… but something almost unheard of happened.
I’m not too sure if it’s real, the way we (the whisky geeks) tell the story, or if it was just the stars and the moon aligning, but someone at Dewar’s either listened, or they sat one night with a dram and thought “this could be better…” because this relatively new core range was revamped. After only several years on the market it was grasped and shaken up; out came a new 12, the 16 was replaced with an 18, and again a 21 year old, all non chill filtered and with natural colour.
The ABV has not changed dramatically, but at 46% across the range it’s an improvement. A look at the maturation casks has helped. I’m lucky to have tried all three of the new expressions (and had previously tried the old range) so would generally say the change is good, but I though I’d look a little closer at the 12 year old.
If I’m honest one thing that is still a put-off about the Royal Brackla range is the price; it’s still on the edge of the premium side, with the 12 pulling in at around £60, the 18 over the line at around £130, and the 21 breaking my bank at over £200… so yeah lets stick to my roots and stay cheap at £60.
Royal Brackla Aged 12 Years – Review
Colour: A light amber gold
On the nose: Bright and fruity, with and element of pepper or spice. This has had Oloroso sherry maturation and it’s evident on the nose; prunes, plums, cherries all pull into place, with a malty back story.
In the mouth: The palate is a wee bit drier than the nose portrays, but the sherry influence is not hiden for long. There is that often used “Christmas cake” feeling as you sip, but also I’m drawn to thoughts of a Cadburys Fruit and Nut bar. For me, there is that melted silky creaminess of a chocolate that you’ve allowed to melt in your mouth; it coats and leaves a sweetness. A long experience of melting sweetness balanced out with oak and a nutty coffee toward the end… nice!
I will still have my turbulent relationship with Brackla; it is doing what it should now in that its producing a darn decent whisky, but I still want it to be more available. It is the only distillery in the area, and it should be found on the shelf of the local retailers, but with the price it commands that is not going to happen.
I’m also frustrated with the distillery; have you ever visited? No, and I bet you never will, as it’s not open to the public. Missing a trick, I think; Cawdor has a castle (you may have heard of a chap called Shakespeare? He wrote a wee play called MacBeth) with thousands of visitors every month from all round the world. Brackla distillery is visible from the castle, yet has no visitors center, not even a shop! I bet a great percentage of those tourists would be at the distillery shop if it had one… Dewars, are you listening?
Love this new 12, will replace it.
I can’t see your wishes coming true until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane.
Haha someone has been reading their Shakespeare, yes I’m afraid it may just be a pipe dream, but we can dream
Great review! Really like the personal stories that you shared. Definitely going to try the 12 year…
Whisky is something that should be shared with friends, and like that I like to try and share a little bit of who I am in my reviews, I think knowing the person helps to understand their thoughts regarding the whisky
a shame that Bacardi lost their courage after the really good start of their Last Great Malts series with the Craigellachie and Aultmore expressions at 46% abv.
Falling back into old habits with the relauch of the Aberfeldy at the customary 40% abv only The Deveron and the Royal Brackla had to follow suit. Those were unfortunate decissions that have been remedied in the case of Royal Brackla now.
Let’s hope for the Deveron and poor old Aberfeldy as well. Perhaps somebody within the company will be able to see the true potential of the Bacardi malts. That all the Last Great Malts are way too expensive like many other standard OB bottlings nowadays is written on another sheet of paper.
Smashing write-up Garry, and nice to get a feel for the family background and area in which you have the pleasure of living and consuming whisky.
I enjoyed a sweet Christmassy PX Sherry Brackla from BBR last year but agree it does not appear often.