Receiving a royal endorsement for your product or service ain’t what it used to be. The House of Windsor’s reputation waxes and wanes – a car crash here, a Pizza Express there – the Queen has had to rebuild the reputation of the monarchy repeatedly over her 67 year reign. Fortunately, when it comes to one of the highest forms of contra-deal marketing – the Royal Warrant, only the Prince of Wales, Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen herself can grant these – so there’s no danger of receiving a decoration from one of the fourth tier hangers-on. There’s a fair few Royal Warrant holders out there – 883 at latest count. From cobnut suppliers, telephonic messaging services, lift installers, panel beaters and plastic suppliers (the needs of the Royal Family are seemingly quite diverse) all the way through to our field of whisky – of which there are a handful of Royal Warrant holders.
Royal Brackla, Royal Lochnagnar and Glenury Royal (which closed in 1985) include the prefix within their names. They were joined by Laphroaig in 1994 – the first and only distillery recognised by the Prince of Wales, who’s apparently a bit of a peat head. But, there’s also Warrant holders within the blended whisky market. Chivas Brothers and Famous Grouse both received their Warrant from Queen Victoria in 1842 whilst she was on a booze-induced jolly to Scotland early in her reign. And of course, Johnnie Walker – not only one of the world’s most recognisable whiskies, but holder of a Warrant, since 1934 – a fair few years after its trademarking off 1877.
Today’s focus in on Royal Brackla – the first distillery to have the honour bestowed. King William IV granted the Royal Warrant to Brackla back in 1835 – and it likely saved the life of the somewhat struggling distillery. Illicit distilling was rife across the region that Captain William Fraser founded Brackla and he was forced to call upon his entrepreneurship skills to export his spirit to London. Partnering with wine merchant Henry Brett, consignments of whisky made it to the capital. How King William IV got to hear about the Brackla spirit is now lost to history, however he was so taken by it that he allowed Fraser to ‘use the Royal Arms on everything connected with his distillery, as a mark of approbation for the complete success which has attended his efforts to produce Highland whisky by licensed distillation’. Fraser immediately did exactly that and also adopted the ‘Royal’ prefix into the Brackla name.
Nevertheless, like many the distillery has still had its periods of struggle – the site was closed during WW2 and for several years in 1960s (changing for coal over to steam). In 1985 it remained closed for 6 years until 1991 due to the wider industry whisky surplus. Four years after, it moved into the Barcadi-Martini stable (operated by Dewars) as part of Diageo’s dumping of blended whisky sites deemed surplus to requirements. It remerged as a brand in its own right in 2015 with a core range of 12, 16 and 21 year olds. It’s been bottled by independents for a fair number of years – but not in the frequency that you’ll see with other distillates.
Boutique-y’s first batch of Royal Bracka – released in March of this year (a surprisingly long time for the bottler to get to this distillery) is a 12 year old bottled at 47.9% ABV (a strength which I've noted is teadily becoming a regularity for TBWC). It’s also a vatting of several (around 3 perhaps) casks with 1,472 bottles available and is still available via Master of Malt for £57.95.
Nose: Apples and cider vinegar are joined by porridge, barley sugars, cereals and pine needle freshness. Baked pastries – choux buns and turnovers sit with pancakes, hay and reeds, whilst in the background a citric minerals conjure up images of rocky cliffs and well-limed margaritas. Dilution reveals barley water and salted toffee – fruitiness slightly reduced, minerality slightly increased.
Taste: The arrival has a syrupy weight and texture – with golden syrup and citrus curd alongside lemon juice, apple and pear preserves and an assortment of jelly sweets. Barley is joined by delicate ginger spicing and more emphatic pepperiness, whilst rocks and steeliness is again given a lick of coastal salt. Water has the opposite effect it has on the nose – reducing the minerality and upping the sweetness – sugar dusted pancakes with lemon juice drizzled over, honey and rolled marzipan.
Finish: Medium, dry salty and chiselled with fading orchard fruits.
This Boutique-y Royal Brackla outwardly presents a crisp, clean fruity spirit backed up by some thought-provoking mineral cues. What makes it particularly interesting through is the effect of a adding few drops of water – this somewhat inverts the profile of whisky, moving the minerality and saltiness from the back of the palate all the way to the front of the nose. Intriguing. And agreeable.