5 years of WhiskyReviews: Spica 40 Year Old


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In early October 2015 my wife and I were nervously awaiting the arrival of our daughter. Before that I had always made my way through life by focusing my energies, particularly in times of stress, at a distracting hobby and from the age of 16 that was music and DJing. In my late twenties I got more serious about that hobby and started to play out, running events in pubs and clubs across Glasgow. It was a crazy period that created a lot of great, if hazy, memories.

By the time I was in my mid thirties, however, music had been the driving force of my life for twenty years and I felt like maybe I wanted to focus on something else. Impending fatherhood was also something of a looming shadow over a lifestyle that involved lots of late nights and a house full of loud music. I had always enjoyed writing though. In my short educational career English and Art were the only topics that came easily to me. It felt like I didn’t have to work at English, I just knew how to do it. It seemed logical then, that some kind of blog would be an interesting, and quieter, creative outlet.

As for whisky, I had crashed headfirst into an interest in the topic some years prior. After trying a dram I was blown away by the taste and spent the next few years digging deeper and deeper into the topic: reading, watching, tasting and generally consuming everything I could possibly find. I was dumbfounded by the amount of information people hosting tastings were able to dole out – and the contrasting lack of knowledge the general public and casual whisky drinker was endowed with. I began to feel that maybe I could help relay all that I had learned and would continue to learn to those who hadn’t been exposed to it themselves.

So I had a blog and I had a topic but beyond that there were no grand plans. My only intention was to work my way through my whisky collection and share some hopefully useful information along the way. On the 2nd of October 2015 I published my first review… Chivas Regal 12 year old, a bottle I had inherited from my Granda who passed away the year before, annoyingly close to meeting his Great-Grandaughter.

As I worked my way through the bottles on my shelf, researching the history of distilleries, blenders and bottlers I was often delighted with what I found. So many distillery timelines touched on significant moments in Scottish, even world, history. Talisker was founded by landowners who expelled their tenants in the midst of the Highland Clearances. The original Benrinnes was swept away in the Great Moray Floods. Old Pulteney was forced to close as the temperance movement brought prohibition to the town of Wick. During World War II the RAF Coastal Command requisitioned Bowmore as their headquarters… Sharing such stories has become one of the things I really love about writing this blog, although tasting hundreds of delicious whiskies has been quite fun too, I suppose.

Maybe you’re wondering why I’m posting this in early November when the anniversary was the 2nd of October? That would be because I forgot. 2020 has been a year of many challenges for all of us and people have faced far worse than I have but the last few months have been a little chaotic in the Murphy household. That baby we were waiting for when I posted my first review started school in August and because life wasn’t complicated enough we decided to throw a puppy into the mix with all the sleepless nights and damp carpets that entailed.

I have also posted this article on the 5th of November 2020 which just so happens to be my 40th birthday and it seemed an appropriate time to look back at the last five years. So thanks to you readers. To those who have been here since those first few clumsy reviews and to those finding the blog for the very first time. Thank you for indulging this hobby of mine.

As for the subject of this review, back in 2016, I went to the Good Spirits Co in Glasgow to taste six whiskies from a new independent bottler called North Star Spirits, founded by former A.D. Rattray ambassador Iain Croucher. On the night I bought a bottle of their Port Dundas single grain and wrote a review and when North Star released their second batch a few months later, Iain sent me samples. It was the first time I received such a delivery. I realise there are some who criticise bloggers for accepting samples and I don’t really want to open up that debate, all I’ll say, is samples help me to publish more content and hopefully people trust me to give an honest opinion of my own enjoyment of a whisky, which is what I always try to do. I say try, because no-one is without bias. We all have our favourites and a reviewer must try to approach any product with all their critical thinking skills in action. Please do forgive this slight detour into the bizarre world of whisky blog politics. It isn’t somewhere I enjoy spending time, I assure you!

In any case, it seems the whisky Gods were smiling at me because North Star released a 40 year old blended Scotch in their Spica range just as I was steadying myself for the big 4-0. There was no way I could miss out so I put my order in with the ever-awesome Ciara and was told that the bottle was soon on its way but generous-to-a-fault Iain wouldn’t take my money. So thank you North Star Spirits. Thanks for making an old man very happy.

And to everyone else, please forgive me if my bias gets the better of me here. It’s my party and I’ll gush if I want to.

Smell: Red apples. Berries. Cherry. Caramel. Raisins. Prunes. Old oak. Honey. Rum. Leather. Cinnamon.

Taste: In terms of mouthfeel the dram shows the delicacy of age. As you’d expect from a 40 year old whisky there’s plenty of oak too. Also apples, currants and caramel. Raspberry jam. Gentle wood spice. Orange zest. Dark chocolate. Peppery spice at the back and a long oaky finish.

Thoughts: North Star have offered some drams of incredible value in this range (along with their Vega and Sirius titles). Who could argue with 40 years worth of character for £125?

Maybe I would have loved this no matter what, but I found it to be an excellent whisky. From its rich colour you perhaps expect a big chewy sherry bomb but there’s much more to it than that. The years have been long and the spirit has become more complex and more sophisticated. Sherry is prominent certainly, but it’s old sherry and it comes with an abundance of fruity notes that make the dram a joy to sip on. The only problem here is its immense drinkability. A dram of this kind of age should be savoured slowly and carefully but it’s so tasty you’ll find yourself reaching for it again and again.

Thanks again to all at North Star Spirits and especially thanks to everyone who has read my reviews over the last five years. You guys make all this worth it. Thank you.

For more on North Star Spirits visit here.


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