Hot Blends, Royal Malts and Awards Banquets

Various bits of whisky news this month but I’ll concentrate on the new Yula blend from Douglas Laing & Co. and a tasting sample of Royal Brackla 12 Year Old from Dewar’s. I think the latter has been in my tasting “pile” for a little while.

First off, I just want to boast that I saw “Spectre” on Monday night (26th) at Pinewood Studios where the Bond films are made. Bond is known in the books for favouring vodka martinis, Bollinger RD champagne and Laphroaig. He does seem to drink the occasional spirit in this film but it’s hard to see any brand names. See if you can do better at spotting any than I did. Great movie too.

On to this month’s tastings. First up is the Royal Brackla 12 Year Old. I tasted the single malt before the blended malt as it’s younger and the blend contains some Islay whiskies so the Speyside single really needed to be tried first.

Royal Brackla 12 Year Old is one that very few will be familiar with as it was released by Dewar’s only from September this year. People argue whether it is Speyside (it’s near Nairn) or Northern Highland. I found it really enjoyable and a bit more unctuous than expected. It has tall stills so you might also expect a lighter character but its fermentation time before it hits the stills is longer than most at 80 hours. The stills run very slowly and it is matured in first-fill sherry casks. That latter would account for the little note of sulphur I detected. It had a slight wisp of smoke and a bit of toffee; some herb and woodland greenery as well as wood notes. With water, I could get more of the caramel, some candied fruit sweetness and some nuttiness with a bit of ginger and clove.

On the palate there’s oak; spices – cloves and pepper – with a bit of vanilla and rearguard sweetness. The finish is long and quite dry. And it’s a very pretty distillery, called Royal Brackla as William IV gave it a Royal Warrant in 1835, he was so taken with its whisky.

The Yula 20 Year Old Blended Malt is a quite different beastie. The Douglas Laing crew are fond of Islay and, indeed, the family has origins there. This is the first of a range of three featuring several of the Islands’ peaty malts. Just 900 bottles of this first expression are available for global sale. Probably not one for the Santa list then.

The name Yula is that of a Norse goddess who went searching for a lost lover, dropping stones from her apron en route. Islay is said to be the last of the stones she dropped. Alas unsuccessful in finding her heart’s desire, it is told she perished in the seas round Islay. She’s very beautifully represented on the packaging. Douglas Laing do go in for some innovative label and carton designs.

Douglas Laing Yula

On the nose there was clean sea air at first, then slightly medicinal or disinfectant/liniment notes with some smoke and fresh tar. With water, a bit more smoke is released with some soft fudge and sweet cereal notes. To taste it shows smoke, oak, tar and char with some liquorice, toasted cereal. Residual sweetness on the edge of the tongue and a salty touch too. The finish is long and dry with smoke and char and some saltiness. A malt to sip by the briny waters on a dry, windy day.

My birthday is imminent and I asked for a bottle of This Is Not A Luxury Whisky from Compass Box which I wrote about last month. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Early November sees me at the Scottish Licensed Trade News Awards banquet as they kindly asked me to judge Whisky Bar of the Year and two categories of Restaurant of the Year this year. It was both a pleasure and a privilege to do that with my fellow judges. We find out who the winners are of those and all the other awards on Bonfire Night. Should be a blast. Having been sworn to secrecy on the winners I judged, I’ll be able to tell you in November who won what.

Till then, slainte mhath,



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