“The north star always guides me, when winter skies are gray”, Manowar proclaimed in the opening verse of the sing-a-long hymn “Carry On” from their 1987 masterpiece “Fighting The World”. And just like the band’s lead singer Eric Adams, I also hope that the North Star will forever light my way. Only, I am not referring to the heavenly body here, but to the Glasgow-based indie bottler of the same name. As chance would have it, said company just released its third selection of single cask bottlings called Series 003 not long ago. So, while gray winter skies wrapped the world outside in tristesse, I sat down in my warm living room and savored five exquisite Scotch whiskies from the aforementioned line of spirits. Here’s how I experienced them…
Bruichladdich 15yo 2002
(Single Malt Scotch Whisky • Radoux French oak cask • 57.1% • 264 bottles)
Considering what a powerhouse of innovation and quality they are, it is hard to believe that Bruichladdich were inactive throughout most of the 1990s. Deemed “surplus to requirements” by its former owner, the distillery was shut down in 1995 and kept in that state until 2001. Thus, this fifteen years old Laddie from 2002 got distilled no more than a year after Bruichladdich’s grand re-opening! Kept in French oak (which according to the North Star folks might have contained Bordeaux before) it is an elegant, sumptuous malt of considerable substance. Scent-wise it reminded me of bramble tart with vanilla sauce. In the mouth, I made out dark chocolate with sea salt and pistachios as well as yellow fruits and spices. The finish was long and fulfilling, tasting of violet pastilles and grapes garnished with a mint leaf. A small but quintessentially awesome piece of Islay history!
Orkney 17yo 2002
(Single Malt Scotch Whisky • PX sherry finish • 55.2% • 366 bottles)
Since there are only two distilleries on the Orkney islands – Highland Park and Scapa – chances are fifty fifty that I can allocate the origin of this mystery bottling to the right production unit. I will not give it a shot though, cause I am pretty sure that I will unerringly make the wrong pick. Anyway. In regard to its character and complexion, I found this light brown liquid extremely fascinating. In the nose, I discovered a wealth of seemingly contrasting aromas. A distinct sherry spiciness clashed with an almost flowery scent and something artificial like liquid adhesive. Further back, there were also hints of flake pastry, meat and smoke. While these notes might appear somewhat disharmonic on paper, they form a killer union in the glass! On the tongue, the malt felt really raw and untamed. “Salty” and “weather-beaten” where the first associatations that came to my mind. Later, they were accompanied by sensations that reminded me of baked fruits and grilled seafood. This out-of-the-ordinary drop ended on fiery notes of strong licorice and sweet tobacco. If you are looking for an island whisky with a truly unique character, here it is.
Glen Moray 9yo 2007
(Single Malt Scotch Whisky • Bourbon hogshead • 57.7% • 240 bottles)
The official tasting notes for this rather young Speysider sound like a visit to a candy shop. Since I only read them after I brought my own sensations to paper, I came up with a slightly different connotation. To me, drinking this Glen Moray 9yo felt like strolling up and down the weekly market. Full of pineapples, gooseberries, pears and lemons, the nosing was reminiscent to a stint at the fruit stand. Due to its richness of differing flavors such as crunchy apples, splintered hazelnuts, vanilla pods and sugar canes, the degustation then reminded me of dawdling away and stopping at various booths, all of which had delicious treats to offer. And ultimately, the sweet and chewy aftertaste moved me right in front of the baker’s stall, snacking on custard, marzipan and apple pie.
Benrinnes 10yo 2006
(Single Malt Scotch Whisky • PX sherry finish • 49.1% • 294 bottles)
Similar to the Glen Moray I introduced before, this 10-year-old Benrinnes is another very sweet Speyside whisky. It opens with treacle, apple sauce, carrot cake and lemon glaze accompanied by a somewhat grassy note. It has an almost syrup-like mouth feel and is full of relishing tastes: liquid honey, cookie dough, whipped cream, white chocolate and vanilla pudding. The pleasant finish emphasizes on the honey sweetness, but also adds a tad of spiciness from the PX finish. A real feast for whisky lovers with a sweet tooth!
Cambus 24yo 1993
(Single Grain Scotch Whisky • PX sherry cask • 52.7% • 210 bottles)
In my opinion, grain whiskies and PX casks are a match made in heaven! While grain-based spirit tends to be rather sweet and sumptuous anyway, the sherry-soaked wood – which previously encapsulated one of the sweetest wines out there – further amplifies this quality. Most of the time, this results in a mouth-watering pour that is best described as liquid dessert. Sure, every cask works a little different than the other and hence you can never say with certainty that the desired effect will really kick in. In the case of this 24-year-old Cambus, which was distilled in the same year in which the Diageo-owned Lowlands distillery was mothballed, the liquid and the barrel harmonized perfectly. Enticing aromas of candied pears, cocoa powder, molasses and red Scandinavian wine gums usher in a superb palate that is both spicy and sugary. The initial flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg and flor de sol later give way to thick, gooey chocolate sauce. This “ghost” bottling from a closed distillery ends with a medium-long finish characterized by more chocolate and also some hazelnuts. Deeeelicious!
Bruichladdich 15yo 2002 (Single Malt Scotch / Islay / 15yo / 57.1% / ~175 Euro)
Orkney 17yo 2000 (Single Malt Scotch / Islands / 17yo / 55.2% / ~80 Euro)
Glen Moray 9yo 2007 (Single Malt Scotch / Speyside/ 9yo / 57.7% / ~60 Euro)
Benrinnes 10yo 2006 (Single Malt Scotch / Speyside/ 10yo / 49.1% / ~55 Euro)
Cambus 24yo 1993 (Single Grain Scotch / Lowlands/ 24yo / 52.7% / ~100 Euro)
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*** Whisk(e)y samples kindly provided by North Star ***