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Royal Brackla distillery is another obscure blending machine that, despite obscurity and dispassionate regard from most malt aficionados, produces a fine spirit. Thankfully this spirit can be found fairly readily from the hands of the independents.
Royal Brackla Distillery
Stills: 2 Wash 2 Spirit
Water Source: Cawdor Burn
Capacity: 2.5 Million Litres
1965-1985: Expansion And Temporary Closure
Oddly, there are very few bottlings of Brackla from before the early seventies and yet a very important but little known bottling of it exists that predates all others by decades. In the early nineties, to commemorate the reopening of the distillery, a sixty year old bottling of Royal Brackla from 1924 was produced. I mention this because it was one of the first, super long aged official bottlings to be produced and as a result is quite historically important, up there with the Macallan and Balvenie 50 year olds from the 1980s. The Brackla 60yo wasn't released officially but rather given (!!!) to staff and gusts at the event, as a result it is not widely known about. I have never tired it, it is, as you might imagine, quite expensive and rare, I only mention it here as a point of historical interest.
The distillery was reconstructed in 1965, a process which involved switching from direct fired stills to internal steam meating and from worm tubs to modern condensers. It is difficult to know what effect this had on the spirit as there are barely any bottlings that predate these changes (apart from the above). One possible example is an old 16yo OB for Italy bottled some time in the 1970s at 57%. It is a typically old style waxy, fresh and green fruited dram that is a little more closed and woody on the palate than the freshenss of the nose suggests, an excellent old style dram all the same.
Other fine bottlings distilled in the seventies and early eighties are a 1976 22yo by Douglas Laing, a fantastic 1976 30yo by Cadenhead's, another great 1976 by Scotts Selection and a stunning 1975 27yo by Specialty Drinks. These all reveal Brackla to still be quite an old style dram in the seventies, very polished with delicate notes of honey, wax, camphor, various oils and light garden fruits. Very good stuff in other words.
1991-Present: Rebirth and Restrictions
Brackla was closed for six years between 1985 and 1991 due to the savage financial climate of the 1980s. Since it reopened there have been very few bottlings of it to enable assessment of its current style. A 16yo Cadenhead's from 1992 showed a modern style of whisky full of vanilla, green fruits, honey, flowers, roasted nut notes and hints of lavender and caramel. The Flora & Fauna 10yo that came out in the early 2000s didn't help much either by being so typical and 'safe' that it probably has little info about the actual distillery character for us.
Royal Brackla is still certainly a fine distillery making a good spirit but it seems that bottlings will dry up significantly in the coming years once all the old stuff is gone. Unless owners Bacardi begin selling casks again or releasing a more interesting official range, its more modern aspects may remain something of a mystery.