Although they have only been up to their tricks for one-and-a-half years, Glasgow’s North Star Spirits have made quite an impact in the whisky world with their well-chosen single cask bottlings and other limited editions. Quite recently they launched their fourth series of whiskies, consisting of half a dozen Scotch releases from Speyside, Islay and the Highlands. When I met North Star’s founder Iain in Glasgow last month, he slipped me a bag with samples of four of his most recent products. This is how I experienced them…
(Blended Malt Scotch Whisky • Spanish & American oak • 43.1% • 400 bottles)
The first 23-year-old Vega blend, which North Star released last year, completely blew me away. Consequently, I was really psyched for the follow-up bottling that upped the ante in terms of age by another 17 years. Yes, that is right. While the whiskies used in this vatting slept amidst wood, the Earth took 40+ cycles around the sun. Mind-boggling! Since a spirit with such a long maturation time does not need synthetic coloring, the Vega 40yo pleases our eyes with an untampered-with hazelnut brown tint. When sniffed, it ensnares us with perfectly balanced sherry aromas. I immediately got lots of ripe plums, mushy apples and stewed apricots. Underneath, I also found a somewhat perfumey or flowery note. Then there’s lush spices! Old wood! Dried tea leaves! Crumbled caramel cake! Wow, this is amazing. On the tongue and in the mouth, the liquid feels both creamy and elegant. Orange zest, strawberry jam and chocolate bonbons get accompanied by dark grapes… a lot of dark grapes! Furthermore, I also sensed a slight hint of ginger and a semblance of violet pastilles before I gulped the whisky down. The medium-long finish is refined, gentle and rich with oak bark, blood orange and black elder. It is hard to believe that a Scotch that old and that good was initially offered for less than 200 Euro. Sure, that is still a lot of money for a bottle of alcohol. But this one is worth every cent of it!
Royal Brackla 11yo
(Single Malt Scotch Whisky • Refill hogshead • 55.2% • 296 bottles)
A mere stone throw away from Inverness stands Royal Brackla Distillery. Originally founded in 1812, the time-honored unit had various owners before it passed into Bacardi’s possession in 1989. While the bulk of Royal Brackla’s output goes into blends as well as into their three-piece core range, they also sell whisky to independent bottlers… such as North Star. This 11-year-old expression was drawn from a refill hogshead and bottled at cask strength. Its most defining characteristic, at least to me, is a striking interplay of sweet and sour flavors and aromas. Scent-wise, I made out citrus sorbet with whipped cream and rhubarb cake with lemon icing. Taste-wise, I found the malt to be pretty strong and bold with lots of lemon and lime accompanied by passion fruits, mandarines and some very thin slices of perfumed ginger (the ones served as a side dish in a sushi menu). And finish-wise, I perceived a sweet aftertaste that reminded me of green berry compote with warm milk and a spoonful of sugar. Great stuff, especially if you are a fan of whiskies with citrusy flavor profiles.
(Single Malt Scotch Whisky • Refill hogshead • 44.4% • 140 bottles)
This oooold Bunna is not a single cask release, but a vatting of two casks: One is from the 70s and the other from 1980. As this marriage produced no more than 140 bottles in total, the angels must have been pretty greedy during the spirit’s long sleep. When I tried it, I was surprised by how shy and reserved this whisky was. I had to give it quite a bit of time before it fully revealed itself to me. But when it did, it was grand! In the nose, soft pears and dried lemon slices created a fruity base. Chewy licorice sticks added sweetness and cut fennel gave freshness, while distant notes of wood shavings and book covers hinted at the whisky’s age. In the mouth, the well-rounded liquid felt kinda waxy to me. Oaky notes stepped forth now, followed by toasted marshmallows and burnt cookies. The fennel made a return as well, but this time it appeared to be more sweetish than fresh. The finish was good and smooth with lots of licorice (shifting from sweet to salty) accompanied by a whiff of smoke and an ounce of lavender. North Star were 100% right when they described this Bunnahabhain 37yo on their Facebook page as “a bit different for your buds of taste”. But obviously, being somewhat peculiar is not the only quality it possesses. Cause this ancient Islay drop is as beautiful as it is unique and as delicious as it is special!
(Single Malt Scotch Whisky • Refill hogshead • 51.9% • 332 bottles)
Independently bottled Ardbegs are rare sights these days – especially those, which not only contain Ardbeg whisky in the bottle, but also say so directly on the label. Where North Star’s genius mastermind Iain found this cask from 2005 and how he got to sell it under the distillery’s actual name, I do not know. What I know, however, is that this 12-year-old Islay beast marks one helluva dram for all fans of coastal malts and peaty pours! It fills your nostrils with the piercing aromas of salty sea spray, sun-dried algae and weather-beaten wood planks. There is also a good dose of (herbal) smoke in it and something that reminds me of the often quoted “bonfire on the beach”. Buried under these thick fumes, there are lemonlike scents and other fresh fragrances that step forth a little when you give your glass a good swirl. Now on to the degustation. Dry and heavy on the tongue, this instant Kildalton classic bursts with the intense flavors of chimney soot and cigar butts. The aforementioned fruitiness does no make a reappearance in the mouth. Instead, we get to taste smoked eel and thick-crusted twist bread. The finish is very long. Towards the end, the whisky takes another turn into a lighter direction, replacing the heavy tar and ash relishes with less weighty flavors of lit matchsticks and puffed cigarettes. This is Ardbeg! This is Islay! This is AWESOME!
Vega 40yo (Blended Malt Scotch / Speyside / 40yo / 43.1% / ~170 Euro)
Royal Brackla 11yo (Single Malt Scotch / Highlands/ 11yo / 55.2% / ~60 Euro)
Bunnahabhain 37yo (Single Malt Scotch / Islay / 37yo / 44.4% / ~200 Euro)
Ardbeg 12yo (Single Malt Scotch / Islay / 12yo / 51.9% / ~220 Euro)
North Star @ Web: http://www.northstarspirits.com/
North Star @ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/northstarwhisky/
North Star @ Twitter: https://twitter.com/northstarwhisky/
North Star @ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/northstarwhisky/
Sansibar @ Web (German Importer): http://sansibar-whisky.com/
*** Whisky samples kindly provided by North Star ***