By Elizabeth Emmons
Royal Brackla has a rich history dating back to 1812, when Captain William Fraser established it on the Cawdor Estate. For those of you who are not up on your knowledge of Scotland, the Cawdor Estate is a breathtaking, sprawling 80 sq. mile property located in Nairn, Scotland. The Cawdor, as it is known, has belonged to the Thanes of Cawdor and their family since the 13th century, and that family ownership continues today under the seventh Earl of Cawdor, the 25th Thane, and his family. The family resides on the property and over the past several years has polished it up. The family also runs the Drynachan Lodge, an upper crust hotel that sleeps only 22 people and boasts locally sourced meals from the woods, rivers and sea. It is a popular destination for the partridge hunting, and there are also many long hikes one can take along the picturesque grounds.
And of course, one can (and should) visit the distillery.
Upon retiring from the army and returning from a 14 year stint in India, Fraser helped to open the Brackla distillery, named for Fraser’s house. He marketed his whisky in London and exported it through the port at Inverness, one of the only ports then allowed whisky to be shipped to London. The whisky eventually reached King William IV’s lips, and in 1833 he allowed for the Royal Arms to be used on all things connected to the distillery. Hence “Royal Brackla,” reflecting the King’s approval. Queen Victoria later added her seal of approval, and granted him a Royal Warrant, making Brackla the first whiskey to be granted a Royal Warrant. An interesting history, indeed.
As is the norm for so many of the most historic Scottish distilleries, Royal Brackla endured several periods of time when the distillery was closed for various reasons, as well as having changed ownership a few times too. It is currently owned by John Dewar & Sons Ltd., which in turn is owned by Bacardi. The distillery is a major contributor to Dewar’s but also has a single malt line to call its own, including the 12 Year Old considered here.
In the glass, Brackla 12 is a medium yellow gold in appearance. In keeping with the arrival of autumn, the color reminds me of oak leaves in the northeast as they take on their golden fall color. Legs are quite apparent, yet drip down quickly. As such, the mouth feel is slightly oily and not very viscous.
The nose is light, with hints of almond paste, light caramel, smooth vanilla, and sweet nut bread or cornbread with a molasses glaze; the sweetness is a nod to the first fill Oloroso Sherry casks it aged in. Each time I smelled this, I salivated so there is a clear connection between food and this dram.
The taste at first is airy and quite smooth. It begins fruity, with hints of pineapple (a tartness), the middle manifests itself with a minimal peppery tingling on the side of the tongue, and the end returns to bright fruits such as apple. The finish is consistent with the light pepper and fruits and is medium-dry. Let the finish continue for about a minute and it becomes drier and drier.
Overall, this is a drinkable whiskey and would likely be crowd-pleaser in the sense that its sweetness and minimal complexity makes it easy to drink. That being said, it is bottled at the minimum of 40% ABV and quite expensive compared to what I think to be comparable options. It would make a nice gift, though, as the bottle design is decorative with its royal motif and is substantial with its large bottle and cork top. It would fit nicely on anyone’s bar.
As I wrote, this is a pricey bottle. Expect to pay $80 in the U.S, £42 in the UK, and about €50 in Europe.