Whisky Review: Royal Brackla 21 Year Old

Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by Royal Brackla. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

As I write this my social media is still largely filled with news about the death of Queen Elizabeth the II. So it seems rather fitting to be looking at a single malt from the first Scotch distillery to receive a Royal Warrant. I’ll get into what a Royal Warrant is and the history of it a bit later. But the distillery I am speaking of is Royal Brackla. I’m looking specifically at their Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky aged 21 years. This whisky is finished in Oloroso, Palo Cortado, and Pedro Ximénez casks.

Royal Brackla was founded in 1812 on the estate of Cawdor Castle. It was the first Scotch distillery to receive a royal warrant in 1835 by King William IV. The “Royal” part of the distillery came after it received this warrant; the same thing happened for Royal Lochnagar in 1848.

The current iteration of the distillery has little to do with this past operation. It was mothballed in 1985 to reopen 1991. It was purchased by Bacardi in 1998 as part of the Dewar’s brand from Diageo. It has been used mainly for blending Dewar’s with a line of 12-, 18-, and 21-year-old statements only just coming out this year. Searching the Royal Warrant Holders Association, Royal Brackla is only listed under the warrant for Dewar’s. It is not clear if this is just because it is the parent company or because Royal Brackla does not have a current warrant. 

So what is a Royal Warrant? According to the Royal Warrant Holders association it is, “a document that permits a company to use the Royal Arms in connection with its business.” Companies receive them for five years for recognition of supplying goods or service to the Royal Family. The Monarch is in charge of who grants these warrants and currently only King Charles III may grant them. 

At the time of writing this the Royal Warrant Holders Association shows Queen Elizabeth II as having 620 active Royal Warrants. Upon her death companies have two years to cease use of her Royal Arms. Anyone with a current warrant is put into review and can be given King Charles III Royal Arms to use if approved. You can see Queen Elizabeth II’s Royal Arms on the Dewar’s label just above John Dewar & Sons Ltd, but it is nowhere in sight on the Royal Brackla.

This isn’t to say Royal Brackla is being misleading. Quite the contrary, they are very careful in their wording to reference their historic standing with the Royal Family but not a current Royal Warrant. Looking at the label it says “The First Royal Scotch Whisky” in two locations followed by “The King’s Own Whisky” with the history of receiving the first Royal Warrant by King William IV in 1835. How does the 21 year-old stack up to this royal history? 

Royal Brackla 21 Year Old review

Royal Brackla 21 Year (image via Royal Brackla)

Tasting Notes: Royal Brackla 21 Year Old

Vital Stats: 46% ABV. Aged 21 years and finished in oloroso, Palo Cortado, and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. No caramel coloring or chill filtration. SRP $599.99.

Appearance: This is a rich amber in color with long slow legs.

Nose: Nectarine and honey are the first thing I get on the nose. Black pepper and baking spice with a rich caramel are backing up the fruity scent.

Palate: The initial taste of this is quite complex. I get some tropical fruit, rich and nutty caramel, and a black pepper spice. Really get the taste of the malt at the transition to the finish that tastes like I just put malted barley into my mouth. Finish has a bit of citrus and bitterness that makes me think of hops. It also has a little funk to it with a touch of sulfur and a dry vegetal quality. Finish is long but light.

While this certainly didn’t need water the addition brought out even more of what I got in the nose with more sweetness on the front and spice on the mid palate. I also found the touch of water made the finish much cleaner.

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