North Star Spirits was founded in 2016 by Iain Croucher, a former brand ambassador for A.D. Rattray. Harbouring a desire for a more creative role within the industry, Iain left his job with Rattray and set out as an independent bottler in his own right.
Within two short years, North Star has already gained a reputation as a bottler of exceptional spirits and is made recognisable by an exquisite label design.
With each series of casks, North Star has managed to offer a mix of both affordable and premium expressions, while also finding time to release Fortified Wine from Montilla, Whiskey from Tennessee and a brand of Blended Malt named ‘Vega‘. Series 4 is no different, with six malts of varying ages that give an option for every budget.
My thanks to Iain for sending the samples for me to review and share with the readers of WhiskyReviews.net.
‘Vega’ 40 Year Old Blended Malt
Vega was introduced in Series 002 as North Star’s very own blended malt brand. Launching with an extremely affordable 23 year old version, Vega got off to a winner, receiving many plaudits and selling out within days. Following this early success could have been hard, but the release of a 40 year old sequel is certainly one way of going about it.
It’s entirely possible that Vega will already have sold out by the time this review goes online but if you should somehow come across it, I advise you to snap it up before someone else does.
Smell: Lots of Oak at first, Treacle, Dried Fruits, Toffee, Dark Chocolate, Orange, Apple Crumble, Vanilla Fudge, develops well with time in the glass, gradually revealing more aromas as time goes by.
Taste: Surprisingly light in weight but shows definite age with lots of Oak and Tannins. Notes of Salted Caramel, Dark Chocolate, Subtle Cinnamon. Underneath the wood some ‘Speysidey’ Fruit notes appear with Apple and Pear. Gets creamier over time with Vanilla and Fudge.
Value for Money: While £123 can’t really be described as cheap, the fact the liquid in this bottle was distilled in the 70’s and slept for at least 40 years should add a little perspective. Without a doubt, this is a bargain.
Scores: 48 / 50. About the Scores…
First impression is almost a little underwhelming but this is a dram which can’t be rushed. Those who show patience will be rewarded with a dram of layered complexities… showing it’s age one minute, then appearing fresh and vibrant the next. An excellent dram that should only further the reputation of the Vega brand.
Aultmore 11 Year Old Single Malt
Here, North Star have bottled an 11 year old single malt from Aultmore in Banffshire. Founded in 1895, the distillery is now part of the Bacardi owned Dewar’s group. Although a 12 year old official bottling is available, independents tend to be the most common place to find this lesser known Speyside.
Matured in a refill bourbon hogshead, it is bottled at cask strength of 53.2% and available for around £50.
Smell: Sweet Vanilla Bourbon, Cream and Butter Pastry, Lemon, Honey, Coconut, Almond Marzipan and Caramel.
Taste: Silky on the palate, with notes of Caramel, Vanilla, Orange Zest and Lemon. Touch of Oak and Warming Spice.
Value for Money: There can be few complaints for a cask strength whisky of this quality at just £50 a bottle.
Scores: 43 / 50.
Royal Brackla 11 Year Old Single Malt
Another dram matured for 11 years in refill bourbon hogshead, this time coming from the Brackla distillery near Nairn in the Highlands of Scotland. The distillery was the first to gain a Royal Warrant after King William IV chose Brackla to be his whisky at the Royal court in 1833.
Bottled at 55.2%, it is available in the UK for around £50.
Smell: Creamy Vanilla, Apple and Lemon, Fresh Bread, Salt and Pepper – touch of the Coast.
Taste: Salty Fudge, Toffee, Sea Salt, Vanilla, Orange Cream and Pepper. Touch of Oak and decent Spice.
Value for Money: A very pleasant dram at a good strength and priced well. A great buy.
Scores: 44 / 50.
For me, the surprise of the bunch. A real character of a single malt with a pleasant coastal element complementing the sweet bourbon influence of the cask.
Islay 10 Year Old Single Malt
Single malt from an undisclosed distillery on Islay is becoming a common sight on the shelves of whisky shops these days but this is something a little different. Aged in a refill Bourbon Hogshead before finishing in a Bordeaux Wine cask, there is a distinctive pink hue to the liquid.
Bottled at 57.6%, it is available in the UK for around £60.
Smell: Peat Smoke, Creamy Vanilla, Earthy Smoke and Charcoal with Cranberry and Raspberry.
Taste: Sea Salt, Butter, Vanilla, Biscuit, Cranberry and Oak Spice with Ash & Smoke in the background.
Value for Money: Priced around £60, it’s an excellent buy for the Islay fan looking to try something a little different.
Scores: 44 / 50.
Without the Bordeaux finish this would still have been a pleasant dram albeit a little predictable, but the extra finish has created something completely different. A dram that is both intriguing and deeply satisfying.
Ardbeg 12 Year Old Single Malt
Single casks of Ardbeg don’t come along very often and tend to be rather expensive when they do so any bottler looking to release one will have to price it on the steep side to cover their costs. This 12 year old expression is no exception, coming in at a whopping £180 per bottle. It won’t be for everyone at that price, myself included, but I don’t doubt that there are enough Ardbeg lovers out there to cover it.
Smell: Smoke, Ash and Coastal notes, with Lemon Meringue, Sea Salt, Vanilla and Cream. Youthful and Powerful for it’s 12 years
Taste: Salty and Coastal, Vanilla Cream, Fudge, Pastry, Pepper, ever-present Smoke, though less prominent on the palate than official bottlings.
Value for Money: Priced well beyond the means of the average whisky drinker but alas, such is the scarcity of, and desire for, single cask bottlings of Ardbeg.
Scores: 42 / 50.
You would need to be a very dedicated fan to spend £185 on a 12 year old malt but there is something about the Ardbeg dram that inspires quite fanatical devotion all around the world. Any who do make the purchase will be rewarded with an interesting alternative to the official core range. A little different, but a satisfying slice of Islay nonetheless.
Bunnahabhain 37 Year Old Single Malt
It’s not often you get to taste a dram from your birth year. Even less often it comes from one of your favourite distilleries so I’m rather grateful for this little drop of heaven from Bunnahabhain, a distillery which seems to perch at the end of the world, overlooking the murky waters of the sound of Islay.
Distilled in 1989 and bottled at 44.4% abv, it is available in the UK for £175 per bottle.
Smell: Coastal Breeze, Sea Salt, Honey, Vanilla, Creamy Malt, Fresh, Tropical Fruits… Apple, Pineapple… White Wine.
Taste: Vanilla, Oak (though not overwhelming considering the age), Honey, Apple, Pineapple, Salt and Pepper, Caramel.
Value for Money: Another release which comes very much in the premium category, but much like the 40 year old Vega, the price is certainly not excessive given the significant age of the liquid.
Scores: 45 / 50.
Reminds me of another Bunnahabhain, bottled by the Good Spirits Co. Here too, the abv had dropped and left a surprisingly light, tropical version of Bunnahabhain, though there remains more of an air of the coast about the North Star version. A fine old malt from a distillery that is, in my opinion, one of the best in the world.