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North Star Spirits is an independent bottling company founded by Iain Croucher in 2016. In the few short years since its creation, the brand has grown to become one of the most exciting bottlers on the scene, with a fine back catalogue of exceptional casks, sourced from all over the world. Both Spanish Fortified Wine and Tennessee Whiskey have taken their place alongside the finest single malts and blends that Scotland has to offer.
Late 2018 saw the release of Batch 006, the latest selection of single casks to have the (seriously on-point) North Star label put on them. Among them is a 9 year old Bourbon produced at the Heaven Hill distillery, finished in a cask which previously held a peated Islay single malt. Those who like their dram well aged are catered for, with the choice of a 36 year old Miltonduff or 28 year old Bladnoch, whilst a Red Wine finished Glentauchers and a Sherry matured Tobermory tick the boxes for big, bold flavours.
At least on paper, this is perhaps one of the most interesting batches North Star have unleashed thus far.
*Full Disclosure: I was sent samples of Batch 006 for review purposes. As always, I will strive to remain as impartial as possible.
Heaven Hill 9 Year Old
Heaven Hill is the seventh largest supplier of alcohol in the United States, thanks largely to the success of their Evan Williams and Elijah Craig bourbon brands. The company was founded by a group of private investors shortly after the repeal of prohibition in 1935 and Joseph L. Beam, cousin of Jim Beam, was hired as their first Master Distiller. That title then passed down through his family to Parker Beam and his son Craig who co-ran the distillery until Parker’s death in 2017. Though the company is headquartered in Bardstown, Kentucky, their products are distilled in Louisville, following a devastating 1997 fire at their original premises.
Matured in a Bourbon barrel before being finished in an ex-islay whisky cask, this particular Heaven Hill dram is 9 years old and bottled at 66.1% abv. It retails in the UK for around £60.
Smell: Vanilla, Buttered Corn on the Cob, Honey and Orange, Caramel, Paprika, distinctive whiff of Islay blows in and out, disappearing almost as fast as it came.
Taste: Vanilla, Chewy Caramel, Chilli Peppers, Buttery Pastry and Oak. The Peat reek of Islay creeps up at you right on the finish.
Thoughts: 9 years old is a fair age for a Bourbon. Add a bottling strength of 66% and an interesting twist provided by that Islay cask and you have a bottle easily worth £60.
Bourbon is certainly not my speciality but I thoroughly enjoyed this dram. It took me a while to find the Islay influence at first but I put the sample away and came back to it the next day and there it was, drifting in and out of those chewy bourbon notes. Great stuff.
For more on Heaven Hill.
Glentauchers 9 Year Old
Founded in Speyside back in 1898 by James Buchanan & Co., Glentauchers distillery has been a supplier of blend fodder for much of its existence, regularly contributing to the likes of Buchanan’s, Black & White and Ballantine’s.
The distillery was mothballed in 1985 but was purchased just a few years later by Pernod Ricard to become part of their Chivas Brothers portfolio. Production resumed in 1992, though single malt bottlings remain almost non-existent, with Gordon & MacPhail offering the most regularly available expression.
Aged for a total of 9 years in first a bourbon barrel and then a bordeaux wine barrique, it is bottled at 59.2% abv and retails at around £60.
Smell: An explosion of Fruit on the nose. Strawberry, Raspberry, Plum, Apple, Pineapple, Lime… but also Vanilla Cream, Malt, Toffee and Pepper.
Taste: Forest Fruits, Blackcurrant, Plum, Raspberry Jam, Peppery Spice and Malty Bread, Vanilla and a wee touch of Oak.
Thoughts: A really delicious dram that I would have been more than happy to pay £60 for. Perhaps lacking in a little complexity, but more than makes up for it with a huge flavour. A big fruity delight of a dram.
For more on Glentauchers.
Miltonduff 36 Year Old
Founded by Robert Bain and Andrew Peary in 1824, Miltonduff stands in the Glen of Pluscarden, site of as many as 50 illicit stills at one time. Named Milton after one such still and Duff for the family who owned the land, the distillery has been part of the Pernod Ricard Chivas Brothers stable since 2005.
Distilled November 1981 before bottling in September 2018, this single cask Miltonduff is aged for a whopping 36 years in a refill hogshead before being bottled at the relatively high, for one so old, strength of 53.8% abv. It retails in the UK for around £220.
Smell: Lemongrass and Lime, Vanilla, Apple, soft Bourbon notes, touch of Pepper, Fudge and Caramel. Oak and old Leather in the background.
Taste: Zesty Fruits then Toffee, Caramel and Pepper, grows increasingly Woody over time but never unpleasantly so, fresh Green Fruits make a brief return at the finish.
Thoughts: A bottle of whisky at £220 is possibly not what one would think of as good value for money, but this Miltonduff has been 36 years in the making. It was distilled in November of 1981, placing its creation somewhere around my first birthday. This is no every day sipper! Should you be looking for a rare treat for a special occasion however, this is a dram which has held its character well through the decades and deserves some consideration as a result.
Surprisingly fresh and vibrant on the nose considering its advanced years. Starts off the same on the palate before it begins to show its age. Fortunately though, the oak falls short of total domination and enough the fruity spirit character remains to keep the dram interesting and alive.
For more on Miltonduff.
Bladnoch 28 Year Old
For many years Bladnoch was the most southerly distillery in all of Scotland. Situated close to the town of Wigtown in Dumfries & Galloway, it was founded in 1817 by John and Thomas McLelland. The distilleries recent history has been fraught with difficulty however. Mothballed by Diageo (United Distillers at the time) in 1993, the site appeared to have distilled for the last time until it was rescued in 1994 by Raymond Armstrong. After a few false starts, Bladnoch was back in production by late 2000 and began to release some interesting, if inconsistent, single malts. Alas, financial stability eluded the business and by 2014 the company was in liquidation.
Saved once again from extinction in 2015, this time by Australian Yoghurt entrepreneur David Prior, official releases have thus far been questionably priced, though it is worth noting that nothing has yet appeared from the new stills installed after the takeover.
Matured for 28 years in a refill barrel, this single cask Bladnoch was distilled January 1990, placing it towards the end of Diageo ownership. Bottled at 51.2% abv, it retailed at around £155.
Smell: Grassy and Herbal with Vanilla and Oak, Sawdust, Lemon, Red Apples and Buttery Shortbread.
Taste: Toffee, Fudge and Vanilla. More fresh Herbs with Spicy Oak, building to a lightly Woody finish.
Thoughts: Another which occupies the higher end of the price scale, coming in at around £155. To put that in perspective, however, an official distillery bottling of a 27 year old Bladnoch ‘Talia’, watered down to 43%, retails at around £305 a bottle. I know which one I would rather have.
Way back at the start of my whisky adventure, I was on a family holiday in Dumfries & Galloway and decided it would be fun to visit the local distillery. It was the very first time I had ever been in such a place. For that reason, Bladnoch will always hold a special place in my heart and tasting this well aged expression was a real treat.
When the new owner took over, the company began buying back as many casks of the Bladnoch spirit as they possibly could in order to help build their stocks. This bottling from North Star must have been one of the few to slip through the net and as such, it is something of a hidden gem.
For more on Bladnoch.
Tobermory 10 Year Old
One of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, Tobermory was founded in 1798 on the island of Mull off the countries western coast. Founded as Ledaig distillery by a Kelp merchant named John Sinclair, the name was later changed to Tobermory, though a heavily peated version of the spirit is still labelled ‘Ledaig’ today.
Aged for 10 years in a sherry butt, this single cask Tobermory has been bottled at 56.5% and retails at around £74.
Smell: Caramel, Raisins, Prunes, Lemon, Toffee, Dark Chocolate, Pepper and Nutmeg, Sea Salt and subtle Brine.
Taste: Sherry much more prominent than on the nose – Prune Juice, Maple Syrup, Raisins. Caramel, Cinnamon and Nutmeg, Dark Chocolate and Pepper.
Thoughts: Perhaps a little pricey this one, but a fine dram all the same.
The nose is delightfully complex, allowing the sherry influence to make its presence felt but never to overpower the spirit character. On the palate meanwhile the Sherry / European Oak is more dominant, making for a rich, fruity and wonderfully warming mouthful.
For more on Tobermory.