Royal Brackla is never going to be a star of Scotch. The style of malt it produces—which these days is very sweet, like toffee pennies—whilst delightfully easy to drink, lacks the complexity of the truly great whiskies.
And the current owners, Bacardi, despite their supposed intention to raise the profile of their distilleries, seem to be somewhat indolent in their approach. They took over the "Last Five Great Malts" at least a decade ago, and the relaunch staggered on through 2015 and 2016, which pace is never going to set the heather on fire.
Despite these grumblings, I am a member of a small whisky club1 , the Royal Brackla Appreciation Society. The society was founded one night after we had a dram of the old 10 Year Old, and found in it a surprising—and surprisingly delicious—herbal/earthy/dirty note which we couldn't recall having encountered previously in a malt whisky. It was such an intriguing flavour that we were moved to try other Bracklas, but alas!, as yet we haven't found it again.
Last night's fine Bracklas did include one which hinted at the stink we are always looking for, and we also discovered a new whisky aroma note, as well as gaining a useful insight into how the Scotch Malt Whisky Society names its bottles.
We started off with a sample of 16 Year Old Brackla drawn in 2014 and intended for the US market, presumably in the run up to the launch of the range. This was pure toffee pennies, sweet, smooth, supremely easy to drink. If it were fruity too, then it's be easy to mistake it for VSOP Cognac, and I should think it's probably aimed at the same market; Christmas presents for clients, once a year whisky drinkers. For us, it was a nice wee palate warmer.
Next up was the most interesting dram of the night, a mini of whisky distilled in 1974 (and, according to the interwebs, bottled in 1990). It was much maltier than 90s/2000s distillate; maltier in a very toasty, flapjack, roasted malt fashion. And after a while, a hint of the elusive stink started to emerge - if only we'd had a bigger sample.
(We did a quick search, and full bottles are going for £200-£300, which is rather more than we care to spend. We like Brackla, but come on, it's not worth that money. And that's why we don't just purchase endless bottles of the old 10 Year Old at auction. Prices are silly.)
Whisky number four was a Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottling, numbered 55.22 and named Backstage at a Burlesque. It had the toffee pennies—half a crown's worth at least—but it also had a distinct hairspray note, and an equally distinct note of sweat. And as I say, after trying this one we went back to the 1997 only to discover that it too was sweaty.
You do have to applaud the SMWS for their cunning. Finding hairspray and sweat and accurately, if slightly disingenuously, reporting it as Backstage at a Burlesque.
We finished off with another SMWS bottling, In the Shade of the Fruit Tree. Which certainly lived up to its name, but was somehow unexciting.
All told, an interesting and varied set of Bracklas. I suspect that the reason I liked the last one least was down to it being the cleanest. It's generally the case that I like my whiskies slightly dirty, and I'd say that counts double for Royal Brackla. The search continues.
1. When I say, "a small whisky club", I mean that I comprise a third of the membership.