(Royal) Brackla (Pronounced: BRACK-la)
Northern Highlands (but some argue 'Speyside')
57°32'15.216 N, 3°54'19.7856 W
Millburn, Tomatin, Dallas Dhu, Benromach
2 Wash stills, 2 Spirit stills
4,000,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Bacardi > John Dewar & Sons (since 1998)
Cawdor, Nairn, Inverness-shire, IV12 5QY, Scotland
A 10yo OB and Flora & Fauna and UDRM bottlings
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
2004 - A 10yo official bottling
is released. As far as I know, that was the first official bottling of Royal Brackla that was available internationally, although some official bottlings (NAS, 12yo and 16yo) had been available in Italy.
Royal Brackla was founded in 1812 by Captain Willian Fraser of Brackla.
After operating under the name 'Brackla' for more than twenty years the
distillery earned the right to carry the 'Royal' prefix in 1835 when they
became suppliers to the court of King William IV. Obviously, the king didn't
consume enough whisky, because he died of pneumonia two years later
in 1837, leaving the throne of Great Britain to queen Victoria.
The Royal Brackla distillery is located in the Speyside area of Scotland, at
least according to legendary whisky writer (not infamous child molester)
Michael Jackson. However, most other whisky writers place Brackla (the
'Royal' part is optional) in the Northern Highlands region and according to
a little survey I did it seems that most certified malt maniacs agree.
Royal Brackla may be a fairly 'low profile' distillery,
but it is linked to one of the biggest 'inventions' in
the whisky world: blended whisky. An Edinburgh
merchant by the name of Andrew Usher joined the company in the 1860's and just started blending.
Royal Brackla remained in the hands of the Fraser family until it was sold to John Mitchell & James Leict of Aberdeen in 1898 who rebuilt the distillery. John Bisset & Co Ltd. from Aberdeen bought Royal Brackla in 1926 and sold it to SMD in 1943. The distillery was rebuilt again in 1965/1966, at which point they switched from direct firing of the stills to internal heating. In 1970 the number of stills was expanded from two to four. Fifteen years later, in 1985, Brackla was closed.
The distillery reopened again in 1991 and was licensed to John Bisset & Co Ltd. in 1992. In 1993 a semi-official 10yo 'Fauna & Flora' bottling (see label below) was released by United Distillers and in 1998 a 'UD Rare Malts' whisky at 20 years old became available. In the same year the Royal Brackla distillery was sold to John Dewar & Sons - subsidiary of the Bacardi. John Dewar & Sons have released a ten years old official bottling of Royal Brackla in 2004, but apart from that I haven't seen a lot of 'action' on the shelves of liquorists.
Andrew used the Brackla malt whisky for the very first blends. These days, most of the
malt whisky produced at Royal Brackla is still used for blended whiskies like Johnnie
Walker Gold Label and the various Dewar's blends. However, apart from OB's released
by UD the occasional bottle from independent bottlers becomes available as well.
If you happen to be in the area for a distillery visit,
the nearby 'Cawdor Castle' (made famous by one
William Shakespeare as the place where Macbeth
allegedly killed King Duncan) might be worth a
detour. It dates from the late 14th century but
most buildings were added later.
I've only tried half a dozen expressions of Royal Brackla.
Almost all expressions I've 'seriously' tried myself (so far) scored around 80 points or higher, so it seems like they know what they are doing there in Cawdor...
1) In 1835, William IV granted Brackla distillery the right to carry the name 'Royal' Brackla. It was the first of three distilleries to earn that distinction, the others being Glenury Royal and Royal Lochnagar...
2) Royal Brackla is the largest dfistillery owned by John Dewar & Sons - a subsidiary of Bacardi.
3) The oldest whisky stocks owned by John Dewar & Sons are from 1998; when Diageo sold the Dewar's group to Bacardi the deal did not involve any casks of maturing whisky.
4) The Royal Brackla malt whisky is used in blends like Dewar's (of course), Bisset's and Johnnie Walker Gold.
5) The production capacity of Royal Brackla has been expanded significantly in recent years, from 2,500,000 litres of pure alcohol per year a few years ago to 4,000,000 litres of pure alcohol per year around 2011...
Royal Brackla is a fairly obscure distillery, but its malt whisky is available to the public thanks to independent bottlers like Gordon & MacPhail, Douglas Laing and Murray McDavid. Apparently, a 10 years old official bottling has been released as well around 2004, but according to my track record that particular expression has eluded me so far.
Royal Brackla 10yo 1998/2009 (56.8%, Douglas Laing for TWWWK 2009, Refill Hog c ref DL4528, 317 Bts.)
Nose: Sweet and quite alcoholic. Faint organics in the background. Not very expressive initially. Perfumy?
Taste: Strong and sweet. It starts off very smooth, but grows grittier in the centre. Medium dry finish.
A few drops of water seems to increase the sweetness in the start and the drought of the finish. TOO dry.
Score: 77 points - interesting, but it has too many rough edges for me to actively recommend it.
Royal Brackla 1976/2003 (57.1%, Scott's Selection)
Nose: Grainy. Paint. Light and slightly flowery. Nuttier with water. Organics and a hint of pepper.
Taste: Solid start at C/S. Hint of peat? Dry finish. Harsh. Still hot with water, but sweet & satisfying.
Score: 84 points - a good, solid malt, but maybe slightly to hot & bothered for my tastes.
Royal Brackla 27yo 1975/2003 (46%, Murray McDavid Mission II, Refill Sherry Cask)
Nose: Very lemony at first, growing noticably farmier with more organics over time.
Taste: Solid. Apart from some apple flavours I couldn't get a lot of distinct characteristics.
It feels very good on the palate though; I had to keep myself from pouring another dram.
Score: 85 points - but the location (Claggan House on Islay) and the company (PLOWED people) helped.
Royal Brackla 27yo 1975/2002 'Green Brackla' (59.7%, The Whisky Exchange, C#5471, 204 bottles)
Nose: Ooeaah! A serious malt with a lot of complexity, but at first everything is happening below the surface.
Sweet, sherried - but not extremely so. A little muddy and 'boggy'. Dentist. Developing spices and organics.
Balsamico vinegar. Farmy. Hey, is that a hint of peat? Might be the 'shadow' of the previous malt as well...
Taste: Sweet and sherried, crawls up the back of your nose. Lovely fruits. fresh, sweet spices. 'Peperkoek'?
Sucade. Smoke becomes more prominent over time. Sourish notes take over after a while. Good stuff.
Score: 92 points - the nose develops into something brilliant, but the palate keeps it from the upper 90's.
Still, this is by far the best Royal Brackla I've ever tried.
Royal Brackla 16yo 1984/2001 (43%, Coopers Choice)
Nose: Polished. Fruity and nutty. Melon. Sweetish. Very pleasant, but a little nondescript.
Sweetish. Fruity elements grow stronger over time, but the overall impression isn't very intense.
Taste: Not very strong in the start. Coffee in the centre? Hint of sherry.
After some breathing, the burn seems to grow stronger. Long finish.
Score: 79 points - a decent single malt in the 'classic' style, but not a lot of personality.
Brackla 6yo 1994/2000 (43%, McGibbon's Provenance, D. winter 1994, B. winter 2000)
Nose: Phew! Oily and grainy. Clean. Hint of peat? Nice enough, but not a lot of character.
Taste: Flat and mostly devoid of character. Hint of peat in the finish - I didn't expect that.
Score: 70 points - not bad at all for such a young malt, but it's no high flyer either.
They should have left this cask of Royal Brackla whisky alone for a while longer.
Royal Brackla 20yo 1978/1998 (59.8%, UD Rare Malts, Bottle #3887)
Nose: Quite grainy and spicy. It seems remarkably flat for its strength. After a minute more power.
Given enough time, the nose blossoms. More fruits and more sherried with an enticing hint of smoke.
After diluting it to +/- 40%, it showed more fruity notes - light, fresh fruits.
Taste: it starts very bitter, but gradually became sweeter and smoother.
A bit like choco-rum. Oak and tannin in the finish.
Score: 79 points - which makes it slightly disappointing at this age and price.
Royal Brackla 1983 (57.5%, The Whisky Connoisseur, no age statement, Bottled +/- 1995)
Nose: Hey, there's an unexpected surprise: peat! And lots of it. I like it a lot.
That's really odd - I didn't know they produced peat monsters at Royal Brackla...
A very, very nice whisky; meaty and salty with organics and some smoke.
Taste: Very 'phenolic' on the palate as well - especially in the start.
Not quite as well crafted as the nose, but still a very pleasant whisky.
Score: 86 points - but I wondered if this could be a mis-labeled - or even fake? - bottling.
Some Highland distilleries (like Brora for example) produced peated malts, but a.f.a.i.k. not Brackla.
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Royal Brackla Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Royal Brackla page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the dozens of Royal Brackla expressions that were released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
Is the distillery or