Drink whisky and support a worthy cause? Point the way, no need to twist my arm.
On the morning of 24 February 2022, Russia – under a nonsensically trumped-up pretence – invaded Ukraine in a conflict which ebbs and flows to this day. Though it has left the front pages and drifted in and out of the news cycle, in Ukraine the struggles continue in a fashion which is unimaginable to me, and likely to most readers of Malt.
There is a whisky scene in the Ukraine. You may not know that Ukraine itself has its own independent bottlers: Scyfion, the Bookinist (created by one of the founders of Scyfion, Anatoliy Berezovskiy), and the Ukrainian Whisky Connoisseurs Club. What state each of these bottlers are currently in I can’t say, but they can be forgiven for any uncertainty given the situation.
I can’t remember too many bottles of whisky I’ve wanted to get my hands on more so than this one: North Star’s For The People of Ukraine 7 Year Old Blended Malt Scotch Whisky. North Star have dedicated all profits from the sale of this bottle to charities benefitting Ukrainian causes. Also producing releases to benefit Ukraine have been Teeling, Glenfiddich, Springbank (safe assumption that this was a hot ticket item), Wolfburn, Douglas Laing, and Plantation Rum. My hat is off to all of them.
Bacardi, Suntory, and Diageo have made sizeable charitable donations to Ukrainian causes. However tangentially and tenuously I am connected to the whisky community, I am proud to see this outpouring of benevolence and support. The easy thing would be to do nothing, but sometimes doing nothing is intolerable.
This release sold out across various Australian retailers instantly, repeatedly thwarting my determined efforts to buy. And then, grumbling to myself as I looked forlornly on Google one last time to see if any more bottles might have become available, there it was, for sale from Whisky Galore in New Zealand. Just sitting there on the website! Not sold out! Do Kiwis have different priorities in life than us Aussies? Do they have “friends” and “social lives” and not sit in darkened rooms browsing whisky websites for special releases? What a world.
Checking Whisky Galore’s website today: the bottle is still available, along with a reasonable selection of other North Star releases. I guess North Star fever hasn’t caught on in New Zealand as it has this side of the Tasman.
“For The People of Ukraine” is a 7-year-old blended malt at a hyper-strength ABV. I don’t know for sure, but I’d reasonably assume that the people of Ukraine would want us to drink heartily of this release in their honour, and not stash the bottles away on a dusty shelf as a “collectible” or “investment.” This is one whisky meant to be enjoyed. There are only 500 bottles; let’s open them all.
An interesting footnote: this was actually bottled in 2021, indicating to me that the North Star team had this destined for a regular release in early 2022 under a different label (Vega? Mach?) before changing tack and dedicating this release to this cause. Kudos all round.
This retailed for around $180 AUD in Australia, a good $20-$30 more than I’d expect given the age and other specifications. But one can hardly accuse North Star of over-charging when the profits aren’t being retained. Every dollar counts.
North Star “For The People of Ukraine” 7 Year Old Blended Malt Scotch Whisky – Review
500 bottles produced from a sherry butt at a combative 65.6% ABV.
Colour: Deep gold.
On the nose: Heavy going, wood dominant. A rich bolognese sauce, beef stock, and more woody notes. Fertile and moist churned soil, orange rind and sultanas. Decadent Christmas cake, stewed strawberries and a pervasive oiliness. My wife – not a whisky drinker at all – had a smell and detected “chocolate and raisins”.
In the mouth: The alcohol burn from the ABV and youth is apparent on first sip, and not much else. So, I let this coat my mouth for a wee while before continuing. Then, some meaty notes of cured meats and brisket, honey, and aniseed. Some sweet spices such as cinnamon then cocoa powder. Pretty quicky I am reaching for the water to balance this ABV out. This pays dividends and is recommended, as I now am getting rich gravy notes, dark mint chocolate, cappuccino, and rum balls. The finish is long with more coffee notes and chocolate coated almonds.
A classic North Star blended malt experience, bringing to mind the heavily sherried Mach releases. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if these were all teaspooned single malts from the same distillery.
In all honesty, this whisky is perhaps a 6 or 7. In the usual course of business I would’ve enjoyed a few more drams and in the fullness of time landed on one score or the other. But in this instance, the score is a mere footnote. For the altruistic intentions, for the international sense of community and belonging, heck, for the people of Ukraine, I am rounding up.