Whisky Review: Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve 2009 - The Whiskey Wash

Whisky Review: Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve 2009

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Royal Lochnagar is one of those distilleries that has escaped public attention to some extent, at least in the United States. However, this lack of attention is more due to the fact that the distillery is small, and remote, located in the heart of Cairngorms National Park of Scotland. Balmoral Castle stands not far away. Both distillery and castle are situated in the shadow of Lochnagar mountain, from which the whisky takes its name.

Royal Lachnagar was awarded its “Royal Warrant” in 1824 when Prince Albert and Queen Victoria visiting the distillery and were impressed enough to grant the warrant. Today, the distillery still bears the title “Royal” and proudly uses this appellation in its name, even though it is owned by Diageo, a corporation that holds one of the largest portfolios in the business. Indeed, Royal Lochnagar plays a major role in some of Diageo’s high end blended whiskies, such as Johnnie Walker Blue Label.

Today, I have the pleasure of reviewing a 2009 bottling of Royal Lochnagar’s “Selected Reserve,” which lists no age statement. Despite the rather nondescript label, I do suspect my bottle could very well contain old casks mixed in with younger. The proof seemed less than impressive . . . until I poured myself a glass. Bada bing, bada boom. At 43% ABV, I was expecting a watered down wimp of a whisky. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this dram is not only robust on the palate, but also quite complex.

Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve

image via Whisky Kirk/The Whiskey Wash

Tasting Notes: Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve

Vital Stats: ; 700 ml; 2009 bottling; 43% ABV; refill sherry butts; 2982 bottles produced; price varies greatly.

Appearance: Deep amber in color with regular beading that points to the presence of old spirit mixed in with the rest. I’m sorry to say that this beading is nothing like a “royal crown,” so to speak, but it is respectable. I just love when a whisky beads up into a crown with sparkling yellow diamonds. For example, Highland Park’s 40 Year Old displays a magnificent crown in one’s glass.

Nose: The malty and fruity nature imparts an intense though pleasurable aroma. This reveals the fact that the whisky was aged in refill sherry butts and casks. I detect some high quality oak tannin, along with Pledge furniture polish (which can be found in older Springbanks and Glen Grants). In addition, there are notes of date, golden raisin, dried King Bolete mushroom, star anise, and a trace of gunpowder. The last note gives me a twinge of dread, as I detest more than trace amounts of “the devil’s cologne.” Let’s find out if sulfur on the nose becomes more noticeable when this whisky is sipped.

Palate: A creamy mouth-feel cradles the tongue elegantly. Malt meets oak, conjuring up flavors of dark chocolate, French roast coffee, burnt rye toast, black truffle, wood varnish, and cedar. On second sip, after my mouth has adjusted to the broth, I begin tasting fruity and floral notes, such as apricot, raspberry, cowslip flower, and witch fingers (grapes). Vanilla extract and a touch of mint are also faintly detectable to the more discerning palate.

Overall, the whisky’s oak presence is less bitter than expected. Younger and middle aged spirits are pulling their weight. That’s just fine with me, as sweeter notes do not bully the dram into submission. This allows more delicate flavors to stretch out, making their presence known. I’m also happy to report no trace of “devil’s cologne.” Goodbye sulfur, and good riddance.

Medium in length, the finish allows itself to be savored. At the death, one is left with a trace of malty sweetness, which almost seems to defy gravity: tìoraidh!

The Takeaway

Most people will only encounter Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve at auction. The 2009 bottling is quite respectable, not to mention rare, but I wouldn't pay more than $150. Despite this fact, I found the nose and palate to be anything but common. Perhaps most of all, I really appreciated the black truffle note. It was just fantastic without any unwelcome earthiness, or fustiness, which can sometimes burrow their way into a cask like earthworms.

Forget the Royal Warrant. This 'ere bottle of hooch shall henceforth bear the Whisky Kirk Seal of Approval . . . or not. Come what may, Royal Lochnagar can't say I didn't offer to buy a few gold stickers at the dollar store. Hey, before you roll your eyes, it's worth mentioning that I probably know more about single malt Scotch whisky than Prince Albert and Queen Victoria ever did.

4.5
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About the author

    Whisky Kirk

    Whisky Kirk is a writer who specializes in fiction and nonfiction dealing with the supernatural, cultural programming, and the entertainment industry. He also plays drums in rock, jazz, Latin, and ancient native forms of music. Kirk lives in Portland, Oregon, where he teaches creative writing at the college level as his “day job.” For him, whisk[e]y is an obsession that spans decades.