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Independent bottler North Star Spirits has been releasing batch after batch of fine spirits since arriving on the scene in 2016. Showing a knack for uncovering interesting casks from across Scotland (and beyond), North Star have, to date, unleashed an exciting and varied selection of drams upon an eager market, and look set to continue in much the same vein with the release of batch 005.
Along with the latest incarnation of the well received Vega blended malt series, this latest out-turn features drams from Speyside, Campbeltown, Orkney and Islay, as well as introducing a new blended scotch brand entitled Spica (which you can read about here) and seeks to further establish the North Star label as one of the best new bottlers around.
Macduff 11 Year Old (55.2% abv)
Macduff distillery was built in 1960 by a group of Glasgow-based brokers who employed famed distillery architect William Delme-Evans to design the project. Originally housing a single pair of stills, the distillery expanded with the addition of a second pair in 1965, before a fifth was installed in 1990. Now part of the Dewar’s stable, official bottlings appear under the ‘Glen Deveron’ label with ‘Macduff’ used only by independent bottlers.
This particular expression has been matured for 11 years in a refill bourbon hogshead before being bottled at 55.2%.
Smell: Vanilla, Heather Honey, Pastry, Apple & Pear.
Taste: Lots of Toffee & Fudge, touch of Apple and bitter Oak with warming Spice.
Thoughts: £57 isn’t a lot to pay for an 11 year old dram when bottled at cask strength. So much flavour and mouthfeel is preserved when whisky is bottled in its most natural state. There’s nothing fancy going on, just well matured whisky that offers a good balance between cask influence and spirit character.
Glentauchers 11 Year Old
Glentauchers was founded in 1898 by James Buchanan & co., in order to supply malt for their ‘Black & White’ blends. Mothballed in 1985 during an industry wide slump, the distilleries story appeared to be at an end before it was snapped up by Allied Distillers in 1989, later to become part of Chivas Brothers. Official bottlings are extremely rare, while the most common expression is released by Gordon & MacPhail.
Here, North Star have bottled an 11 year old Glentauchers, matured in a bourbon hogshead before finishing in Pedro Ximenez sherry wood. Bottled at 58.9%.
Smell: Creamy Vanilla, Tablet, Exotic Spices, Fruit & Honey.
Taste: Tablet, Star Anise, Dried rather than Fresh Fruit – definite Sherry influence though not overpowering. Touch of Oak on the finish. Lovely Creamy feel on the palate.
Thoughts: Elevated by the PX Finish, this Glentauchers could prove to be a real bargain at £57. PX can be a powerful finisher but this one is working well with the original cask. It’s an interesting dram with potential to become a real favourite. Seems to improve and evolve with every sip, creating an altogether rewarding experience.
Campbeltown 4 Year Old
Campbeltown was once known as the whisky city, such was the abundance of distilleries in the area. Due to a combination of factors however, all but three distilleries have been lost to the mists of time with only Springbank, Glen Scotia and the recently reborn Glengyle still in production.
Though the exact origin of this dram remains a mystery, it has been matured for a surprisingly short 4 years in a bourbon hogshead before bottling at 57% abv.
Smell: Digestive Biscuits, Sea Salt & Seaweed, Cream, Honey & Lemon and light Bonfire Smoke.
Taste: Sea Salt and Pepper, Butter Pastry, subtle Spice which builds over time but never explodes, Vanilla Fudge and a Smokey finish.
Thoughts: This one is available in the UK for less than £40, which makes it a dram to snap up before it disappears.
Showing maturity and balance well beyond its years, this Campbeltown should be used as an example to anyone who scoffs at young whisky. It’s got a little of the famous Campbeltown funk, which might make it a little challenging for newbies but hey, you’ll encounter Campbeltown sooner or later, why not dive in. It’s a remarkable dram that comes at a really great price.
Orkney 12 Year Old
Another dram of unknown origin, arising this time from the Orkney islands…
A land steeped in history, these islands are home to Scotland’s most northerly distilleries, Highland Park and Scapa. Dating from 1798 and 1885 respectively, these two distilleries stand on the outskirts of Kirkwall, more than 10 miles north of the Scottish mainland.
Matured for 12 years in a bourbon hogshead, this Orkney distilled dram is bottled at 57.8%.
Smell: Vanilla, Heather Honey, Lemon and Lime, Sea Salt and Brine, subtle Smoke.
Taste: Lots of Toffee with Vanilla and lots of Pepper and a touch of Oak.
Thoughts: Another excellent release for around £55 – £60 a bottle. The bourbon influence is strong, creating a rich, chewy dram with enough spice to warm the cockles on even the darkest of nights.
Caol Ila 11 Year Old
The largest of Islay’s distilleries, Caol Ila produces in a week what Kilchoman turns out in a year. Founded in 1846 by one Hector Henderson, the distillery produces a malt of remarkable consistency, considering the vast quantity of it’s output.
Bottled at a cask strength of 54.6%, after maturing for 11 years in a refill bourbon hogshead.
Smell: Not for the faint hearted! Big Perfumed Peat Smoke, Vanilla, Cream, Straw and Liquorice.
Taste: Toffee, with strong hints of the coast… Sea Salt and Brine and a Peppery heat which floats on an undercurrent of Smoke, gradually coming to the fore over time.
Thoughts: This release sees a step up in price from other similarly aged expressions in the current series but unfortunately, this isn’t uncommon where single cask Islay whiskies are concerned. Even at £75 – £80, it remains an impressive dram and may well be worth a purchase for fans of the genre. Caol Ila rarely disappoints when bottled at cask strength, and this version is no different. It shows exactly what this Islay distillery can do when allowed to shine.
Vega 41 Year Old Blended Malt
Unlike blended Scotch, which contains both malt and grain whisky, a blended malt features a marriage of spirit from at least two malt distilleries, though the identity of the individual components are rarely revealed.
Named after the fifth brightest star in the night sky, this third, and oldest so far, of the Vega series has been aged for a whopping 41 years and bottled at 46.1% abv.
Smell: Dried Fruits, Old Leather, Oak, Winter Spices, Vanilla, Chocolate and Orange.
Taste: Salted Caramel, subtle Spice… Woody but not as much as you would expect for 41 years. Berries and Dark Chocolate.
Thoughts: Perhaps not exactly an every day sipper at £150 a bottle but a dram of fine quality none-the-less. Arrives in a flood of flavour that soon calms to leave a dram of subtle complexity, with a long yet gentle finish. The Vega series goes from strength to strength and while it may not come cheap, it is certainly not overpriced for a product 41 years in the making.
All in all another fine line-up from North Star Spirits who continue to demonstrate a belief in bottling well matured single cask spirits when they are deemed of a sufficient quality, rather than pandering to any particular trend. With the creation of Vega (and now Spica), they have one of the most talked about and fastest selling ‘small batch’ blends on the market and it seems likely now that the brand will go on to achieve great things.
Single casks have provided some of the highlights of my whisky journey but so too have they been responsible for some of the most bitter disappointments. In fact, many connoisseurs consider there to be an element of pot luck involved in purchasing just such a bottle. There are however, companies whom one grows to trust and for me, North Star Spirits deserve to be considered among the most reliable. Granted, good access to samples has allowed me to taste more of the range than I otherwise would have, but across each batch the quality has remained remarkably high.
North Star’s output may be relatively small when compared with other independents, but there is a level of consistency on show here which only a few can rival.