This post is about two things: 1) a whisky, and 2) the brilliance of independent bottling. We’ll come to the whisky in a moment, but for me, one of the most beautiful things about independent bottling is that you can capture, sample or explore a rare cask or expression which may otherwise be kept behind for vatting at a distillery or sent off for blending elsewhere.
The Whisky Cellar is a relatively new brand of independent bottlings of scotch whiskies, set up by founder by Keith Bonnington. The brand has been created with the moniker “Purveyors Of Precious Whisky” and is based in Edinburgh. Keith’s name may be familiar to you, as he has been within the industry for some 20 years, has worked within the Edrington group, was awarded the title “Keeper Of The Quaich”, and is also behind the The Scalasaig whisky reviewed last year, with his Colonsay Beverages‘ hat on. This venture however is Keith’s own brainchild, and through his contacts, creativity and craft has launched an initial series of 10 scotch whiskies for the Whisky Cellar brand: The Private Cellars Selection.
This Royal Brackla is the youngest of that initial release, at just 7 years old – but don’t let that fool you! [ed: This is one of the darkest whiskies I have ever seen!] The Royal Brackla spirit was distilled in March 2013 and spent its first 6+ years in a refill sherry butt, before then being separated into different portions and this batch was then transferred into a fresh first fill dry oloroso sherry quarter cask for its final 11 months. The quarter cask yielded 160 bottles in August 2020, which have captured at the spirit at its natural cask strength of 56.8% ABV for Series 1 of the Private Cellars Selection.
The colour of the whisky doesn’t play tricks on you, because the initial flavours here are all dark and rich too. There’s dark bitter chocolate, treacle, and California raisins to begin with. That fruity note is added to with prunes, figs, blackcurrants and red grapes. There’s a real nutty quality to it too like, roasted hazelnuts and strong almonds. With a little bit of time that sweetness and nuttiness resembles marzipan, and is joined by a whole load of baking spices.
Not surprisingly, the first taste sensation is that of Dry Oloroso Sherry. It has a real jammy sweetness. All those flavours from the nose just carry on: dark chocolate packed with fruit and nut. Raisins, figs, winter berries and cherries. (With water you can add strawberries and raspberries to that roster too). It really is all just packed in there, with a cloying sweetness and slightly waxy texture – not unlike a cola cube. The spices really heat up too: nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and ginger. The awesome foursome of festive spices.
This has a really pronounced, long and drying finish. Standing out of the list of baking spices I get a strong cinnamon flavour – and that’s both the hot and sweet characteristics of cinnamon, with some final strong woody flavours. There’s a lingering boozy plum flavour too, that reminds me of Titanic Plum Porter, and that final sweet fizzle really draws you back towards the glass.
Just look at the colour of it! Madness. The intensity of that maturation from the initial sherry housing to that final Oloroso sherry quarter cask is reflected in the whisky’s flavour profile too. It is so intense in terms of its colour, its flavours and its finish, that it is worth the purchase alone, never mind considering the fact that it is just 7 years old. My only worry would be that I could not actually discern the original distillery’s character for all the oomph that the sherry casks have thrown at it, but when it is this good, I’ll wait to try another Royal Brackla another time.
I first tasted this whisky as part of a Tweet Tasting event as part of the launch of the Private Cellar Selection, along with 4 other scotch whiskies of considerably greater age, and this pipped them all, for me. Having learned that night about the limited number of bottles available, I went to find one out straight away – as I’m sure some of my fellow Tweet Tasters did, giving that not one, but two of the sellers announced that they had sold out as I was searching their sites. Third time is a charm though.
The colour of this dram is very much a talking point, which is not usually the case for a whisky. It reminded me however of the tasting room in Highland Park, where there is a shelf which contained dozens of samples bottles all ranging in colour from basically clear to rich mahogany, and the wonderful guy leading the tasting revealed that they were all the same age. That blew my mind at the time, and suggested just another area of whisky which I thought I knew about, but again discovered that the more I find out, the less I know. Such is the rule of whisky.
This whisky also gave me food for thought on another topic or quandry that I have: reviewing independent bottlings. Who is it for, really? Especially if they’re sold out. Yes, at its most basic level it’s a record for me to actually remember what something tastes like and how much I enjoyed it [ed: and I’m not going to lie to you, I sometimes do forget and find it really handy to jump on here and remind myself!]. But for the reader, if they’re gone, then why write about it? For this one, it’s writing about something special. With such a very heavily saturated Sherry bomb for such a young age, for all its flavours and intensity, this is worth writing home about. I guess that I also wanted to give some kudos and gravitas to the bottlings being picked by Keith Bonnington for this Whisky Cellar brand. I’m not being paid or asked to promote anything here, it’s off my own back, and I think it is worth shouting about. As I mentioned, I first tasted this as part of a Tweet Tasting where we sampled 5 of the 10 releases, and they were all pretty stand out drams. This one however. Wow. This is something else. A real prize and a total conversation piece… for as long as it lasts in my cabinet… which may not be very long.
Sample disclosure: I purchased this bottle myself following a sample received as part of. Tweet Tasting event coordinated by Steve Rush @TheWhiskyWire. All notes are intended as an honest, fair and independent review of the whisky and not as a promotion. Please drink responsibly. Please drink wisely.