Independent bottler North Star Spirits have not been on the block all that long, but have already made plenty of waves in the whisky world. Founded by Iain Croucher (formerly AD Rattray’s Brand Ambassador) in 2016, North Star have released several batches (35 bottles and counting) of well-regarded single malts, single grains and blends. The company’s ‘Vega’ blended malt series launched last year with a 23 year old that had many of my fellow writers and bloggers noting not only the quality of the liquid, but also the highly reasonable asking price. Few were prepared for what Iain had in store for the second edition.
Vega Edition 2 upped the ante – a lot. North Star’s second blended malt was not just presented with a little bit more maturation over the 1st edition, but, the ante was upped all the way to 40 years of age. Interest and eagerness was immediate adn apparent. Then there was the matter of the price – obviously this was going to cost more than the 23 year old. It did. But, not by much – £120 was the asking price for the Vega 40 year old. This is stunningly low for a whisky of that age (even a grain whisky would sell for significantly more than this). The current market conditions seem to necessitate 12 year old limited editions selling like they’re an oasis in the desert and new 3 year old inaugural editions shifting for the price of a second hand car. And yet here is a 40 year old whisky (and a sherried one at that) that retailed in the same price bracket as many distillery’s pitch their 18 year olds. Staggering.
In no surprise to anyone, every single bottle sold out on impact. On social media, a retailer would announce their Vega 40 stock and within minutes the scrabble would seem like a distant memory. No sign, no trace – if you blinked, you’d certainly have missed it. Being 40 this year, Vega Edition 2 seems like an obvious target to add to my birthday bottle collection. And, importantly, a 40 year old whisky at a price that virtually all malt enthusiasts, including myself, could afford. Despite usually possessing fast fingers – others were faster. For me, there was none. nadda. niente.
But, where there’s hope, there’s light. In the run up to my birthday, whilst conducing other (Bunnahabhain seeing as you asked) shopping I discovered that this is still available via whisky Exchange’s Perfect Measure sample bottles!
As of writing: https://www.thewhiskyexchange.com/p/44786/vega-blended-malt-40-year-old-sample-north-star.
OK, you’re gone and bought one and have returned? Good. Then lets continue with The Dramble’s review.
Vega 40 year old was distilled in October of 1977 from both American and Spanish oak matured whiskies – there’s no indications as to the distilleries (even the number of them) that have been utilised in this vatting so your guess is as good as mine here. It is delivered at 43.1% ABV and was a run of 400 bottles.
Nose: Pronounced, but at the same time temperate – forgiving and pillowy rather than robust and full-bodied (particularly in terms of raw wood influence, of which there’s none to note). The sherry influence is apparent – soft stewed and reduced red fruits, mingled with dark berries – blackcurrants, cassis and mulberries. These sit alongside raisins, walnuts, cherry cola and plenty of gooey chocolate. Aged aromas pronounce themselves in the form of top grain leather, split suede and the scents you’d associate with tannery. Running throughout – cigar humidors, dried tobacco leaves and old books. Interestingly, this old-timer doesn’t respond as well to resting as would usually be the case for whiskies of this age – it adds damp soils, mud and a touch of marzipan sweetness, but seems to lose some of the top note expressiveness of the fruit elements.
Taste: Perfectly judged ABV – the arrival is soft and calm, whilst still packing plenty of flavour. The mouthfeel, has a touch of oiliness to it - just enough to lend texture. Milky latte, chocolate and coffee and walnut cake lead off – whilst forgiving, they extend throughout the palate, rather than attacking in force. This is notable in that is allows for a particularly smooth transition of flavours into juicy fruits (red and black berries, with hints of stone fruit), old tobacco, ginger and cloves. Each flavour having its moment in the limelight and bringing with it wonderful balance. In the back palate, gentle herbalness from mint, and a scattering of almond brittle.
Finish: Medium in length with a slight citric bite – mandarin and grapefruit peels. There’s plenty of chocolate and coffee still – cacao nibs and spent espresso grounds. These fade surrounded by sweet dark reduced fruits.
North Star’s Vega 40 year old is a triumph of flavour over cask. Whilst many well-aged whiskies are all but unable to hide the woodiness that is inherent in long maturation (and indeed in those cases it’s more a matter of integration and balance), Vega 40 does exactly that. Age here is expressed in soft depths and profundity of flavour rather than in overt oaky influence. The low bottling ABV (which is still listed as cask strength, so we should assuming zero dilution post maturation) suits this whisky perfectly, allowing for excellent expressiveness and dynamism without the associated bite and hard-hitting impact – which would feel out of place in this composition.
Any 40 year old whisky sold for £120 in the current market is going to fly off the shelves. Some might have been wondering whether, at that market-defying price, the liquid contents would be as good as the promise – without a doubt they are.