Royal Brackla 12-year-old


Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…

The only royal distillery in Scotland?

The bottle featured in this review was purchased from the visitor centre at Aberfeldy Distillery. Obviously, the whisky wasn’t produced there, but Brackla and Aberfeldy share a parent. The two form the Bacardi-owned Dewar’s stable, with Craigellachie, Aultmore and Macduff. It’s Aberfeldy, however, that hosts Dewar’s World of Whisky, a sort of brand home for the whole portfolio. It makes the Perthshire distillery an especially interesting place to visit with a whole variety of drams available to sample. I certainly enjoyed a few during my most recent visit but it was the 12 year old, sherry-finished Brackla that really piqued my interest.

Aberfeldy Distillery

The Brackla distillery was established in 1817 by Captain William Fraser. The Captain was somewhat infamous in his day and some claim that he only started the distillery to put an end to the activities of the illicit distillers and smugglers that operated on his land. Fraser was awarded the royal warrant by King William IV in 1833, making his Brackla malt the first “Royal” Scotch whisky. The later appearance of other royal warrants, however, seems to have caused a not-so-friendly rivalry with another distiller. A rivalry, that would play out, for all to see, in the newspapers of the day…

The Aberdeen Press & Journal. Wednesday, 12th December 1838.

“Having found on my return from England, that an Advertisment has been put forth by a Rival Distillery, throwing a doubt upon the Authority of the Appointment of Distillers of Whisky to her Majesty in Scotland” having been obtained by this Company: I beg as one of the Partners of the Royal Glenury Distillery Company, to subjoin a Copy of the Warrant of Appointment…

I now call the Proprietor of the Distillery above alluded to, to produce a Copy of his professed Appointment, which I doubt his being able to do, having had the Books of the Board of Green Cloth carefully examined, and find that on no other Distillery in Scotland has this distinguished privilege been conferred. I am therefore justified in asserting that the Glenury Distillery Company alone possess the Royal Appointment.”

– John Windsor, Glenury Royal Distillery

The Scotsman. 29th December 1838

“Captain Fraser begs again to intimate, that the distinguished honour of using the Royal Arms on every thing connected with his Work, was granted to him by his late Majesty, dated Windsor, 15th August 1833, her present Majesty Queen Victoria being most graciously pleased to confirm and continue the privilege, dated Windsor, 18th May 1838.

It is, therefore, no profession on the part of the Proprietor of the Royal Distillery to say, that the Royal Appontment was originally conferred upon him on account of the far-famed character which the Brackla Highland Whisky has so long and justly maintained all over Scotland; and further he is the only Distillery in the Kingdom who has had the high honour of supplying the Royal Table.”

– Captain Fraser, Royal Brackla Distillery

The spat rumbled on into the New Year…

The Scotsman. 5th January 1839

“In answer to the Advertisement of Captain Fraser, dated the “Royal” Distillery, Brackla, Mr Windsor of the Glenury Royal Distillery, the registered Distiller of Whisky in Scotland to her Majesty, will simply ask the quesions, vz, “If the continuation and confirmation of the Privilege of his late Majesty was only granted by her present Majesty, on the 18th of May, 1838, as stated by Captain Fraser! by what authority were the Royal Arms, with the appellation of “Distillery to her Majesty” put over the door of Capt. Fraser’s Agent in Aberdeen, from February to 18th May.

Mr Windsor again repeats that his is the only duly registered Royal Appointment in Scotland.”

– John Windsor, Glenury Royal

I could find no further response from Captain Fraser but that’s perhaps for the best. I can’t imagine either man’s reputation being enhanced by a petty and childish argument that played out publicly in the press. It would seem the Captain had the last laugh, however…

Law Chronicle, Commercial and Bankruptcy Register. Thursday 31 October 1839

*Under list of sequestrations* Windsor, John, distiller and maltster, Glenury Royal Distillery, near Stonehaven.

John Windsor might have been better off concentrating his efforts on the running of his own distillery, rather than indulging in public spats with rivals. His Glenury distillery is today, sadly lost, having been closed for good by Diageo in 1985 but Brackla remains, perhaps not the only Royal distillery in Scotland but certainly the first. No-one seems to be arguing with them about that.

The Whisky

The whisky is 12 years old and has been finished in oloroso sherry casks. It’s bottled at 46% abv and retails for around £55.

Smell: There’s lots of sherry. Walnuts. Conkers – Autumnal in general actually. New leather jackets and rolling tobacco. Raisins and sultanas. Coffee beans. Dark chocolate. There’s a little bit of cherry in there and toffee apples too. Ground cinnamon. Orange zest. Water brought out a subtle meaty note.

Taste: Straight away I’m getting all the sherry and raisiny notes. The big sherry arrival flows into a blast of spice mid-palate. Dark chocolate and oak at the back. Dry finish with lingering sultanas and currants. Burnt caramel and toffee. Water softens the arrival and the dram takes on more of a honeyed note. Vanilla fudge. Gingerbread. Orange liqueur.

Thoughts: The sherry finish really leads the way. In fact we’re in full-on sherry bomb territory here, although a splash of water opened things up and introduced a more layered experience. I’m delighted that it’s bottled at 46% because that really helps to deliver the intensity of flavour that I look for in a single malt. In fact, I’ve been really quite impressed with this. It’s not a dram that I’ve seen around very often but it gives some much bigger names a run for their money. It’s rich, luxurious, has a great texture and a lovely warmth from the spicy notes… it’s really quite delicious. .

Price: £55. Probably about average for a higher strength 12 year old. Looks a bargain when you consider the price of some of the 3 year old whiskies being released by new distilleries. Should be on the radar of fans of Macallan, GlenDronach etc

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One thought on “Royal Brackla 12-year-old

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