Lately I’ve found myself enjoying young, cask strength single malt whisky. My previous two reviews were both of five-year-old cask strength whiskies from Islay (Bruichladdich Octomore 6.1 and Laphroaig Cairdeas 2017), both of which I like a lot. Today I’m taking a look at another cask strength five-year-old, this time from the Highlands—an independent bottling of Royal Brackla from Battlehill.
Younger whisky tends to be more popular when it is heavily peated, like Octomore and Laphroaig. The general thought in whisky circles is that peat works well when young, whereas other styles do not fair quite so well. I haven’t had very many young (under 10 years) whiskies from anywhere other than the peat bogs of Islay, so I’m not sure if this is really true or not—but I have always thought that this idea makes sense. Peat is more intense when it’s young, masking any off flavors you might normally find in a younger whisky. Plus, like many single malt fans, I do love a good and intense peat monster. Nonetheless, I’ve been wanting to try more young, unpeated whisky, so I was happy to find this bottle.
I stumbled upon this particular bottle during a recent trip to Atlanta, where I stopped into the local Total Wine (which is basically whisky heaven—they had the largest selection of scotch that I’ve ever seen). I’ve always wanted to try Royal Brackla whisky, and I was intrigued by the idea of a five year cask strength single malt from the Highlands. Plus it was very reasonably priced at $44, which is the cheapest cask strength whisky I can recall ever seeing.
The Brackla Distillery was founded in 1812 in the Northern Highlands of Scotland, just outside of Speyside (some actually consider it be a Speysider, rather than a Highlander). Brackla was the first distillery to be granted a royal warrant, which is granted to companies who supply goods to the royal household. In the case of Brackla, King William IV bestowed them the royal warrant, entitling them to attach “Royal” to their name. Two other distilleries later joined them in the “Royal” category, although only one of them is still in operation—Royal Lochnagar (still around) and Glenury Royal (closed in 1985, sadly).
Most of the whisky produced at Royal Brackla goes into blends, although the distillery does release official bottlings aged 12, 16, and 21 years. You can also occasionally find independent bottles of Brackla, such as this one from Battlehill. This is the first time I’ve had a bottle from Battlehill, which is one of Duncan Taylor’s brands. I’ve heard their bottlings are hit or miss, but for the price I paid for this bottle, I figured I can’t go wrong.
Royal Brackla 5 (Battlehill) Review
Type: Single Malt Scotch
Nose: Floral and fruity. Pears and hints of citrus. Sweet malt. Rock candy. Barley sugar. Cereal grains. Almost a beer-like aroma. Mint, bordering on menthol. Nothing all that spectacular, but nice.
Palate: More florals and fruits, this time mainly peach and nectarine. Peach gummies, to be specific, with just a hint of sour sugar. Fairly spicy. Red pepper skin. Menthol tobacco. Ginger. Turmeric. Spearmint. Coriander. Oriental spices. Curry powder. The mouthfeel is thick and luxurious.
Finish: Initially a touch of wood varnish, which disappears quickly. Ginger emerges, along with tobacco, peach, cereal grains, spices, and curry powder. Fairly lengthy—the ginger and curry powder in particular last for quite some time. A little hot and drying, but not overly so.
Overall: This is a fun whisky. It’s not particularly complex, and it’s not something connoisseurs and collectors are to going to go crazy over, but so what—it’s a fun and highly enjoyable drinking experience.
The label doesn’t provide any information about the type of barrels used to age this whisky, but I would assume it is mostly/entirely ex-bourbon wood. The color doesn’t really help either, because I suspect that this has been artificially colored, unfortunately. Even so, the color points more towards bourbon wood than any type of wine or sherry wood. The label does say that this was one of 1,200 bottles, so it was not from a single bourbon barrel (a typical bourbon barrel might yield around 250 bottles), but seems to be a small batch vatting of several casks. Regardless of the type of casks used, there is not a whole lot of wood/cask influence (which is not surprising due to the age of the whisky).
There is an odd, slightly off note that appears briefly during the transition from the palate to the finish (just as you swallow) that gives away its youthfulness, similar to wood varnish or turpentine (hence the wood varnish note I have listed on the finish). Other than that, I would not have guessed this was so young. It just goes to show that age doesn’t matter as much as the quality of spirit and the wood used to age it.
The combination of peach gummies and oriental spice on the palate may sound strange, but in practice it comes across as playful and engaging. Hell, everything about this whisky is playful and engaging. Yep, I really like this stuff. And at the price I paid, I wish I had bought two bottles.
Buy Again? Yes.
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