Royal Brackla 16 Year Old

Royal Brackla is one of five Scotch whisky distilleries controlled by John Dewar & Sons, a Bacardi subsidiary. Brackla – located in the Scottish Highlands – has been in operation for a long time, with a few brief periods of shuttered production (like many other Scottish distilleries over the centuries). It is one of only a handful of distilleries to ever earn a Royal Warrant from the King/Queen, thus allowing it to use the official “Royal” prefix.

Its current capacity is fairly large, but it is not well known among enthusiasts, as the vast majority of its production has typically found its way into Dewar’s blended products. Official bottlings have been rare over the years, and even independent bottlings are not common (usually small batches developed for specific events or groups).

Late in 2015, as part of their “last great malts” campaign, Bacardi announced they were diverting significant Brackla production into a new range of official bottlings – 12, 16 and 21 years old. Along with their recent Deveron re-branding, I suspect they are trying to capitalize on their successes with the dedicated Aultmore, Aberfeldy and Craigellachie OBs.

Initially, these Royal Brackla offerings are only being offered in established Scotch whisky markets – specifically, the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Sweden, and Taiwan. But they are also available through Global Travel Retail, which is how I managed to pick up a bottle of the Royal Brackla 16 year old earlier this year, while passing through an European duty-free. They have just recently arrived at the LCBO here in Ontario, Canada.

According to Dewar & Sons promotional material, Brackla whiskies produce above-average complexity and fruitiness, due to extended fermentation and distillation time. I could see how this would appeal to the blend-making Dewars.

The new OBs are bottled at the (unfortunately) minimum standard of 40% ABV. I don’t normally comment on colour, but my 16 yo looks slightly unnatural, making me think caramel colorant has been added (i.e., a little too medium gold). The bottles have an old-fashioned appearance (very “regal”, especially the labels), and come with an unusually large punt.

There are not a lot of reviews out there yet, but here is how they compare to each other, and some similar Scotch whiskies:

Aberfeldy 12yo: 8.16 ± 0.32 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Aberfeldy 18yo: 8.60 ± 0.18 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Aberfeldy 21yo: 8.78 ± 0.22 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
AnCnoc 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.34 on 17 reviews ($$$)
AnCnoc 18yo: 8.61 ± 0.48 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
AnCnoc 22yo: 8.73 ± 0.31 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.28 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan 18yo: 8.44 ± 0.29 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Auchentoshan Three Wood: 8.25 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Aultmore 12yo: 8.41 ± 0.27 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Aultmore 25yo: 8.91 ± 0.26 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
Dalmore 12yo: 8.44 ± 0.27 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore 15yo: 8.37 ± 0.52 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Craigellachie 13yo: 8.43 ± 0.40 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Craigellachie 14yo: 8.30 ± 0.27 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Craigellachie 17yo: 8.61 ± 0.32 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Royal Brackla 12yo: 8.24 ± 0.59 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Royal Brackla 16yo: 8.85 ± 0.17 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Royal Brackla 21yo: 8.82 ± 0.23 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)

Again, take the numbers on the 16 and 21 yo expressions with a grain of doubt, as there are relatively few reviews so far.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with obvious sherry influence (although more along the lines of light berries and sultanas than the typical dark, earthy fruits). Very fruity overall, with lots of apple, pear, and apricot. Pronounced vanilla. It’s a bit spicy too, with some cinnamon. Strong herbal component, but again mingled with sweetness (more woody and grassy than floral). No off notes. Surprisingly complex, but in a subtle way – actually a bit elusive. Well done, it is a pleasure to come back to the nose between sips, trying to tease out additional notes.

Palate: Very soft body, sweet, with confectionery sugar, vanilla and caramel. Less fruity than the nose, although I’m getting some citrus now (especially orange). The baking spices – cinnamon and nutmeg – are more prominent, especially after a few sips. I’m getting milled grains coming through. Reminds me of some sort of light dessert cake (orange-glazed sponge cake?). Some light chocolate shavings too. Consistent with the low ABV, there is not much burn. Relatively light, even a bit watery – I wish they had bottled this at higher proof. Adding further water lightens the body, and brings up even more sweetness – don’t do it.

Royal.Brackla.16Finish: Medium length, although longer than I expected honestly, given the light body. Lingers, with a somewhat indistinct, light sweet dessert cake taste. A bit like the younger An Cnocs, nothing specific really leaps out here. Certainly inoffensive, with no bitterness. Cinnamon continues to the end, which I like.

The nose is the most impressive thing about this dram – it displays great subtlety, and it is fun to try and tease out all the components. The mouthfeel is understandably light, given the 40% ABV, but with more baking/confectionery notes than I expected.  In the end, this really seems to me like the classic dessert whisky – something to be savoured and gently contemplated at the end of a satisfying meal.

There are not a lot of reviews for this relatively new expression yet. For consistently positive ones, I suggest you check out Serge of Whisky Fun and Ruben of Whisky Notes, and Gavin of Whisky Advocate.

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