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Not content with ending 2020 on the high that was their excellent 11th Batch (see here) North Star have managed to squeeze in Batch 12 too, featuring another impressive selection of whisky and wine.
Incidentally, North Star Spirits recently won independent bottler of the year at the Scottish Whisky Awards and having tasted my way through these last two batches, I’m not at all surprised.
*Full disclosure: I was sent these samples free of charge. As always I will strive to give an honest opinion on the inherent quality of the spirit and the value for money it represents.
Springbank (Hazelburn) 1998 22 Year Old Single Malt
Whilst reviewing Batch 11 I mentioned that independently bottled, single-cask Springbank doesn’t appear very often. Somehow though, North Star have managed not only to acquire a 25 year old Springbank but also, by some miracle, a Hazelburn and Longrow too…
Hazelburn is Springbank’s triple distilled malt, named after one of the many lost Campbeltown distilleries. Aged for 22 years in a sherry hogshead and bottled at 46% it retails at £530 a bottle.
Smell: Sherry – obviously. Raisins, sultanas, currants… everything you’d expect. Dark chocolate. Coffee. Toffee. Golden syrup. Caramel. Figs. Cinnamon.
Taste: Lots of oak. Old sherry… coffee and dark chocolate again. Dates. Dry woody spice. Salted caraemel. Cloves. Walnut.
Thoughts: Like the Batch 11 Springbank, we’re in crazyland where prices are concerned. I’m not pointing the finger of blame at anyone, it’s just the way it is, unfortunately. Single cask Springbank with this sort of age statement isn’t within the reach of the average person. It sucks but there you go. Tragically, the whisky is outstanding. It would be so much easier if it was rubbish – then I wouldn’t care about not being able to afford it.
With one sniff you realise that you’re not dealing with some three month finish, this is full-on sherry maturation and it shines through with a fantastic depth and length to the wine’s influence – it just keeps going. Maybe it would have been nice to see a little more spirit character coming through but it’s hard to criticise a dram as satisfying as this one and there is a lightness to its weight along with a clarity to the delivery that belies its triple distilled nature. A sherry bomb yes, but one with an element of sophistication to it. Awesome.
Springbank (Longrow) 1994 25 Year Old Single Malt
Completing the Springbank hat-trick is Longrow, the name given to their heavily peated spirit. Distilled in 1994, it has been bottled at 52.1% and with only 130 bottles available, the price unfortunately has gone stratospheric.
Smell: Flour. Almonds. Marzipan. Lemon and pineapple. Honey. Shortbread. Germoline antiseptic cream. Stale, oily smoke.
Taste: Big salty arrival. Burnt caramel. Old oak. Liquorice. Sea salt and black pepper. Diesel fumes. Tobacco smoke.
Thoughts: I remember getting my first student loan of £1100 when I was 17 years old. I thought I was loaded. Not for long right enough – I used the money to buy my first set of turntables and then suffered the rest of the year with next to nothing in the bank. I realise that applying 1998 rates to 2020 doesn’t make a lot of sense but £1100 for a bottle of whisky doesn’t make much sense either. I get it though… just 130 bottles of a 25 year old Longrow. It doesn’t get much rarer than that and I’m astonished and extremely grateful that the lovely North Star troops sent me a sample. I only hope that the lucky few with the money to grab one actually crack it open. It would be a terrible shame for whisky this good not to be drunk.
Normally I take value for money into account in my reviews but when it comes to something like this, there’s no such thing as value for money. No drink can be worth this much. Having said that, it is absolutely magnificent – among the finest whiskies I’ve ever tasted.
At 25 years old it would be no surprise to find oak dominating proceedings but unlike the previous dram, the spirit is calling the shots here. What would no doubt have started out as an exuberant spirit, full of fire and brimstone, has been allowed to age slowly over a quarter century to become an outstanding example of an old peated single malt. Not much else to say, it’s about as good as single malt scotch whisky gets.
Glenrothes 2009 12 Year Old Single Malt
Glenrothes is one of those distilleries that pops up quite often in independent bottlings. Edrington owned, the official range is decent if unspectacular but the malt can really sing when bottled at higher strength so let’s hope for good things from this one at 62.2%…
Smell: Tobacco leaves. Leather. Fruit cake. Glacé cherries. Cinnamon and clove. Caramel. Cocoa.
Taste: Dark chocolate. Coffee. Lots of oak. Winter spices – cinnamon, ginger, star anise… With water there’s toffee and some sulphur-y oak char.
Thoughts: This one strikes me as being a wee bit steep and where the insane prices of the Springbank bottlings were understandable, I’m not seeing the same here. It’s a lovely whisky but when did a 12 year old Glenrothes become a 3 figure dram?
At 62% it’s a big bruiser of a whisky. Lots of sherry and lots of spice make it a fine winter sipper. Unsurprisingly, it can take a fair bit of water without losing its depth of flavour. In fact for me it reached a sweet spot after I’d put in maybe a teaspoon and a half, developing a really pleasant viscosity and a mouth-coating texture that allowed the finish to linger even longer. Lovely but pricey.
Bunnahabhain 2009 11 Year Old Single Malt
It’s never a disappointment to find Bunnahabhain in a sample pack. The most northerly, and remote, distillery on Islay, it produces un-peated malt for the majority of the year before changing over to produce a style more typical of its island home.
This particular malt is matured for 11 years in a first fill sherry butt, meaning there should be plenty of flavour on offer here. Please note: this one isn’t at the final bottling strength, so I won’t be tasting the specific version that makes it to the shelves.
Smell: Another big sherry bomb, though this one has more of sticky treacle character. Raisins… Leather… Ginger and cinnamon. Maple syrup… Slight struck match note.
Taste: At the risk of irritating the snobs, there’s a smoothness here that comes totally unexpected after the slightly fiery nose. Thick caramel and dark chocolate. Raisins. Currants. Pepper. Deep, dark oak. Actually seems to get spicier the more water you add.
Thoughts: Likely to be priced around £137 I believe which is another weighty price tag for an 11 year old malt. Islay doesn’t come cheap though, especially not from a first fill butt. Not the most attractive price point but a fine dram nevertheless.
Even though my sample was at the original cask strength, I added a fair amount of water so it’s likely that I’ve tasted something pretty close to the final release. Has to be said though, I think I preferred it before I added water. Bunnahabhain takes well to sherry maturation and this is an excellent demonstration of that.
Chaos Islay Single Malt
Chaos is North Star’s Islay single malt created from a small parcel of casks from the Caol Ila distillery. A combination of 2 oloroso sherry butts with 1 refill hogshead that was finished in oloroso, it is bottled at 50% abv.
Smell: Pipe tobacco and cigars. Old leather. Tar. Currant buns. Honey. Vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce and fudge. Distant, yet nevertheless pungent, smoke.
Taste: Orange and lemon. Sea salt and pepper. Oak. Raisins and walnut. The Caol Ila smoke is an undercurrent rather than a tidal wave. Smoky bacon with honey-glaze.
Thoughts: Fantastically priced at £40 a bottle. I don’t think I can make it clear enough just how much of a bargain that is given the quality of the liquid. Batch 12 has involved some pretty hefty price tags thus far, so it’s nice to see some real bang-for-buck Islay in there as well.
Despite coming from three casks that have all seen sherry at some point or other, this dram offers up a bit more in the way of balance than one or two of its Batch 12 siblings. Sherry is still very much part of the picture, but the Caol Ila distillery character is right alongside it. It seems to shift and evolve on the palate, changing the experience with each sip and the finish seemed to linger for an age. A wonderful whisky at an exceptional price.
Oloroso Fortified Wine
With Batch 11 North Star unveiled their third bottling of a Pedro Ximenez Fortified Wine from the Montilla region of Spain. With Batch 12 they have spread their wings by introducing an interesting new Oloroso, which also carried the “fortified wine” tag because it was bottled in Scotland and therefore can’t be considered sherry.
Smell: Leather. Walnut. Balsamic vinegar. Sultanas and currants. Furniture polish.
Taste: More of that balsamic character. Raisins and sultanas. Figs. Nutty with light cinnamon spice.
Thoughts: I’m not a massive sherry drinker, though I do enjoy it from time to time. With this available at prices ranging from £16 to £25 though, you can afford to take a chance on it and if nothing else, you’ll learn a little about a wine that plays a large role in the whisky industry.
A perfectly pleasant Oloroso, though I must confess, as someone with a massive sweet tooth it doesn’t quite compare to the magnificent Pedro Ximenez in Batch 11. I’d still gladly own a bottle though, and the price makes that a realistic possibility. It’s also nice to see a new variety of “fortified wine” from North Star and I would love to see that diversity continue in future batches. Sherry plays such an important role in the whisky industry yet how many whisky drinkers pick up a sherry from time to time? I’ve found it massively educational, not to mention enjoyable, to get to know sherry better and best of all, quality doesn’t cost a fortune the way it sometimes can with whisky.
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