The Royal Brackla distillery is located in the Speyside area of
Scotland, at least according to legendary whisky writer (so not the
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 would agree.
Obviously, the king didn't consume enough whisky, because he
died of pneumonia two years later in 1837. This left the throne
of Great Britain to queen Victoria - who grew quite attached to it.
She ruled the British empire until her timely death in 1901...
Royal Brackla may be a fairly 'low profile' distillery these days, but it plays a role in
one of the most profitable 'inventions' in the Scotch whisky world: blended whisky.
An Edinburgh merchant by the name of Andrew Usher joined the whisky company
of the Fraser family in the 1860's. Apparently they didn’t keep him busy enough,
because Andrew just started blending whiskies at some point.
Royal Brackla was founded Captain Willian Fraser of Brackla
in 1812 - when the line between legal and illegal was still fuzy.
After operating under the name 'Brackla' for more than 20 years
the distillery earned the right to carry the 'Royal' prefix in 1835,
when they became suppliers to the court of HRM King William IV.
(By this time, The Excise Act had made whisky production legal.)
Brackla reopened again in 1991 and was licensed to John Bisset & Co Ltd. in 1992.
In 1993 a semi-official 10yo 'Fauna & Flora' bottling 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 drinks conglomerate. John Dewar & Sons did release 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 that involved (Royal) Brackla recently.
Meanwhile, the Royal Brackla distillery remained in the hands of the Fraser family for most of Victoria’s reign,
until it was sold to John Mitchell & James Leict of Aberdeen in 1898. They rebuilt the distillery and then sold it
more than two decades later (in 1926) to another company from Aberdeen; John Bisset & Co Ltd.
In turn, Bisset & Co. passed on Royal Brackla to SMD in 1943.
The (Royal) Brackla 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 (1985) Brackla was closed.
Andrew Usher used the Brackla malt whisky for the very first blended whiskies.
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 the occasional official bottling released
by Diageo (UD’s successors), the occasional bottling from independent bottlers becomes available as well.
So far, I've only tried half a dozen expressions of Royal Brackla myself.
Almost all bottlings I've 'seriously' sampled myself (so far) scored around 80 points or higher, so based on my
preliminary experiments it seems that they knew what they were doing there in Cawdor...
Not everybody agrees about the location of the
(Royal) Brackla distillery; some classify it as a whisky
from the Northern Highlands while others insist it is
made in the central Speyside region of Scotland.
Its closest neighbours are Benromach, Dallas Dhu,
Millburn and Tomatin. The fact that owners Bacardi
don’t invest a lot of time or money in the brand is
illustrated by the fact that their first and last proper
official bottling was released in 2004.
The Brackla distillery offers no visitor tours, but if you happen to be in the area, the nearby 'Cawdor Castle'
(made famous by one William Shakespeare as the place where Macbeth allegedly killed King Duncan) might be
worth a detour. Part of it dates from the late 14th century - even though most buildings were added later.
1) In 1835, William IV granted Brackla distillery the right to carry the name
'Royal' Brackla. It was the first of only three distilleries to earn that distinction,
the others being Glenury Royal and Royal Lochnagar...
2) Royal Brackla is the largest Scotch malt whisky distillery owned by Bacardi.
Well, on paper it is owned by John Dewar & Sons - a subsidiary of Bacardi.
6) The ‘regime’ at Brackla is aimed at producing the best possible spirit for blending.
The fermentation time is unusually long (70 hours) and theyt also take their sweet time distilling it.
3) The oldest whisky stocks owned by John Dewar & Sons are from 1998.
That was the year Diageo sold the Dewar's group to Bacardi - and the deal
did not involve any casks of maturing whisky.
4) The Royal Brackla malt whisky is mainly used in blended whiskies like
Dewar's (of course), Bisset's and Johnnie Walker Gold Label.
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...
2004 - A 10yo official bottling is released.
As far as I know, that was the first OB that was
available internationally, although some OB’s
(NAS, 12yo & 16yo) had been available in Italy.
2014 - A semi-official 35 years old bottling
is released for Changi airport in Singapore.
2016 - I’ve heard reports about a 12yo ‘Distiller Edition’ - but this may be just the same as the regular 12yo.
2015 - Even after the malt whisky market
exploded in the early noughties, Brackla
kept churning out malt whisky for blending.
They finally introduced a proper portfolio
in 2015 - and to their credit they went for
age statements instead of fancy names.
The range includes a 12yo, a 16yo and a
25yo - priced from +/- 55 to 300 euro’s.
For a long time Royal Brackla has been a fairly obscure distillery. Before they introduced a proper range in 2015,
its malt whisky was only 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.
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Royal Brackla malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Brackla I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Brackla.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.