Royal Brackla is a beautiful highland distillery specifically geared at making light and fruity malt, with a very clear wort, long fermentation (70 hours) and stills designed to create massive reflux. It was established in 1812 by Captain William Fraser. In 1835, King William IV – a third son of King George III and one who was never meant to sit the throne and actually had a a career as a naval officer – liked the whisky so much that he granted it a royal warrant and it became known as “the king’s own whisky”. In the same year, Glenury distillery also became “royal” whereas Lochnagar had to wait for King William’s niece, Queen Victoria, to grant it royal status in 1848.
I did a little further research oh the 1998 deal between Diageo and Bacardi for the sale of John Dewar and Sons, and found that, indeed, the company was sold with no maturing stock, and whisky for the expressions older than 16-17 (released 2014 or 2015) had to be procured from other sources. I’ve been very harsh in my criticism of Bacardi’s pricing policies on this “Last Great Malts” range, but could this fact have made putting out the range far more expensive than it would normally be? I don’t know, as companies are loath to share such information, and given that Royal Brackla malt (alongside other Dewar whiskies) is part of Diageo blends (with Royal Brackla being the signature malt of Johnnie Walker Gold Lable’s formula) I’m sure casks get traded regularly, but if were the case, saying so would somewhat diffuse some of the criticism, rage and cynicism brought on by said pricing.
Royal Brackla also has the distinction of having been used in the first blends made by Andrew Usher in the 1860s, and has been a part of Dewar’s and Johnnie Walker blends for over a century and a half. It’s also the lagrest of the “Dewar’s five” in terms of production capacity, reaching 4 million liters per year.
The Royal Brackla 21 is a decent offering, which would feel right at home alongside the Glenfiddich 21 and the Glenlivet 21, although of that particular trio, the Glenlivet would be a clear winner. But priced at £150, it again suffers the malaise of pricing hubris: The Glenfarclas 21 (43%), GlenDronach 21 (48%), Old Pultneny 21 (46%) are all priced at under £90, and if you add £30 more, you’ll still get change, and own The Balvenie 21 (40%), Glenfiddich (40%) and Glenlivet 21 (43%) year olds, and Highland Park 21 (47.5%). Six of the seven whiskies I just mentioned, are positively better than the Royal Brackla 21. Of course, Bacardi could cite the deep discount they’re giving compared to the Dalmore 21, so reduculoulsy priced at £267. But to justify that price, I guess you need a lot more E-150 😛
Royal Brackla 21 Years Old (40% ABV)
Appearance: Amber, slow but thick legs come off the necklace.
Nose: This has sherry matured whisky in the vatting, and its presence is felt on the nose. Heather honey mixed with dried fruit notes, with cinnamon and nutmeg. Milk chocolate and a hint of honey roasting nuts. Behind the sweetness, however, lurks that vegetal note which was present in the 12 year old (and come through in the 16 year old as a perfumey note). Some chalky dryness comes through after a bit, with the nose overall not expressing the age.
Palate: After an initial sweet wave, some serious spice asserts itself, but runs it’s course and doesn’t stay. The spice gives way to pralined nuts and a hint of citrus, but something there doesn’t quite come together.
Linger: Spicy pepper mixing with milk chocolate and some artificial sweetener. The spice remains in the mouth for a long time, with some dryness inside the cheeks, yet it’s not a sweet dram nor a dry dram.
In some ways, this dram has character and personality, yet in others, it’s flat and falls short. For instance, the mouth feel. It’s more substantial than the watery 12 and 16, but it’s nowhere enough to be described as ‘viscous’ or ‘chewy’. I guess this whisky will have to be described by what it isn’t: Not a sweet dram, nor a dry dram. Neither a sherry bomb nor a spice bomb, yet removed enough from a bourbon matured whisky not to be one of those.
Is it drinkable? Yes. Is it better than the 16 year old? I think not. Is it worth £150? No way!
I wish to thank Håkan Wanke at www.FISKEoFOTO.se for his kind permission to use his photos of a visit to Royal Brackla in this review.
I’ve felt the pricing point on a lot of these Last Great Malts has missed the mark completely. They’re priced far too high for the older whiskies – so I very much agree with you on this. I think RB could do with being dialled up to 43% ABV as well. It feels too delicate otherwise.
Yes, Mark, I think that in general 40% ABV puts you in the “Blends and Intro Malts” category. That’s fine, if that’s where you want to be, but don’t try pricing yourself in the super premium category.
When you do that, you’re just pathetic….