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Launched in 2016 by Iain Croucher, former brand ambassador for A.D. Rattray, North Star Spirits has unveiled some sensational single cask bottlings over the last year or so, while also finding time to introduce a Fortified Wine from Montilla, a 13 year old whiskey from Tennessee and a 23 year old blended malt by the name of Vega – a real beauty of a whisky that came at a very reasonable price.
November saw the release of yet another batch of interesting drams distilled at the likes of Bruichladdich, Glen Moray, Benrinnes, Glenturret and an undisclosed site in Orkney. Even lost grain distillery Cambus makes an appearance.
At least on paper, this latest crop promises to maintain the very high standards set by the previous output. Iain was kind enough to send me some samples and I thought it would be fun to review them all at once, so for this week only, you get six reviews instead of one…
North Star Bruichladdich 15 Year Old Single Malt
In 2000, Bruichladdich was rescued from a long period of closure by wine trader Mark Reynier. As part of Reynier’s grand plan, the legendary figure of Jim McEwan was tempted away from Bowmore to oversee production and help launch a new era for this forgotten Islay distillery.
This particular dram was distilled just two years after the distillery awoke from its slumber. A French wine cask from the Radoux cooperage was filled with new make spirit which then aged for 15 years before eventually being acquired by North Star and bottled at cask strength of 57.1%.
Smell: Wine comes through, along with Toffee and Orange Spice, Raisins and Prunes and a Mineral Coastal note that’s typical of Bruichladdich.
Taste: Oak Spice with Salted Caramel, Fruit Cake, Orange Peel and Brown Sugar.
Thoughts: This one stretches my mission statement of affordable whisky a little but there’s no doubt it’s a cracker of a dram. At £150 a bottle though, you’re going to have to pay for it.
To put it simply, Bruichladdich has produced some of the best drams I’ve ever come across, frequently hitting the correct balance between good raw ingredients, sympathetic distillation and maturation in top quality wood. This North Star release is no different and, like all good single malts, offers perfect harmony between the distillery character and wood influence. It’s not for everyone at that price (myself included, to be honest) but those willing to pay will not be disappointed in the dram they take home.
North Star Orkney 17 Year Old Single Malt
Here North Star have bottled a 17 year old malt from an undisclosed distillery on the island of Orkney.
It’s not uncommon for distillers to request their name be kept from the labels of independent bottlers but in the case of Orkney, there are only two possible points of origin – Highland Park and Scapa. Wherever it comes from, this dram was matured in a Bourbon Hogshead then finished in Sherry Wood for a combined 17 years, then bottled at 55.2%.
Smell: Malt, Vanilla and Heather Honey with some definite Sherry influence – Raisins and Prunes – and a soft hint of Peat Smoke in the background.
Taste: Cinnamon Spice with Treacle and Sherry notes, touch of Orange zest and a subtle undercurrent of Smoke.
Thoughts: A 17 year old spirit bottled at cask strength for £75 should receive few complaints.
A strange and unique dram with an unusual character that I found hard to pin down. It’s interesting rather than excellent upon first impression but I have a feeling that more time spent with it could prove rewarding – like an album that underwhelms at first listen but later becomes an essential part of your collection. One for the adventurous drinker, I think.
North Star Glen Moray 9 Year Old Single Malt
Glen Moray rests on the banks of the River Lossie in Elgin and was owned for many years by the Glenmorangie group. As of 2008 however, the distillery has been under the ownership of La Martiniquaise, owners of blended whisky brand Label 5.
Glen Moray is known for maturation in wine casks, with experimentation taking place as early as 1999. Here however, North Star have uncovered a single malt matured more traditionally in Bourbon Barrels for a total of 9 years.
Smell: Vanilla, Green Apples & Pears, Peach, Cream, Caramel, Lemon & Honey
Taste: Vanilla and Woody Spices, Biscuity Malt, Lemon & Toffee.
Thoughts: Bourbon-matured Speyside sometimes fails to float my boat but this is an exception. At £50 a bottle I’d be happy to take one home. There’s nothing fancy going on, no trendy wine or sherry cask finish, just a decent single malt matured for its full 9 years in good quality bourbon wood. Great stuff.
North Star Glenturret 8 Year Old Single Malt
Glenturret has a claim to being the oldest working distillery in Scotland. Although it was originally founded in 1775, there is evidence that distillation was taking place for many years prior.
In 2002, the distillery was bought by Edrington, who radically overhauled the site in order to create The Famous Grouse experience, a visitor attraction that pays tribute to Scotland’s biggest selling whisky.
In recent years, Glenturret has produced peated spirit for use in the Famous Grouse blend and that’s what North Star appear to have obtained here. It is a relatively young expression, bottled after 8 years in a refill bourbon cask.
Smell: Vanilla, Pineapple, Lemon, Cream, Malt, Spice, Malt Vinegar and Smoke.
Taste: A little unusual at first, Berries and Currants, Pepper and Oak Spice, Honey and Smoke.
Thoughts: It’s young, bold and worth every penny of its £45.
I confess that the prospect of this dram excited me less than the rest of the batch. A relatively young whisky matured in a refill cask didn’t seem likely to have developed much flavour in its eight years, I thought. Of course, at the time I didn’t realise I was dealing with a peated version of the Glenturret, which changes the equation somewhat. It’s often the case that age and cask influence tame a smoky character. What at first seemed perhaps the least interesting, ended up one of the standouts of the batch.
North Star Benrinnes 10 Year Old Single Malt
Benrinnes distillery was founded in Speyside in 1835 and is currently owned by Diageo. A 15 year old version has featured in the Flora & Fauna series since 1991 but beyond that, official bottlings are rare, leaving independents like North Star as the best chance to sample the product of this lesser known distillery.
Aged for 10 years in a combination of Bourbon Hogsheads and Pedro Ximenez sherry wood, this expression has been bottled at 49.1%.
Smell: Caramel, Fudge, Rum & Raisin, Dark Chocolate, Sherry, Scottish Tablet, Apple, Pear, Lemon and Pineapple.
Taste: Chocolate Gateau, Cinnamon and a touch of Pepper, Buttered Rum, Maple Syrup… Sherry more prominent than on the nose.
Thoughts: At £50, this is the bargain of the batch. Benrinnes is a spirit that has only occasionally crossed my path but if this offering is anything to go by, that situation will be changing in the very near future. The best whisky can seem like it was created specifically with you in mind and this felt very much like one of those occasions. A sublime dram at a sensible price and for me, the pick of the batch.
North Star Cambus 24 Year Old Single Grain
Cambus began life in 1804 as a malt distillery but was altered to produce grain spirit in 1836, making it one of the largest of its type in the country. Though production ceased in 1993, the distillery buildings remain in use today, housing Diageo’s main cooperage.
While the distillery has been gone for some 24 years, the spirit can still be found, both in Diageo’s annual special releases and in the output of the independents.
Matured in refill Pedro Ximenez sherry wood for 24 years, this single grain has been bottled at 52.7%.
Smell: Creme Brulee, Lemon Meringue and Vanilla Cream intermingle with rich Sherry notes.
Taste: Lots of Toffee & Fudge, Custard & Cream and a touch of Oak.
Thoughts: This one is a little pricier and should cost around £85 for the bottle, which, at the ripe old age of 24 years old, isn’t too bad, at all. Grain whisky is often viewed as inferior to malt but while there is some truth to that, the comparison isn’t really a fair one. Grain spirit tends to be matured in cheaper, well-used casks with little left to give and so fails to develop the depth of character shown by its cousin. When you introduce grain spirit to decent quality wood, however, the results can be quite different. Especially at advanced years, grain can be fantastic. North Star’s Cambus stops a little short of excellence, but makes for a very pleasant dram nonetheless.
My thanks once again to Iain for sending over the samples. If you would like to know more about North Star Spirits you can visit their website at… https://www.northstarspirits.com/