ROYAL LOCHNAGAR 12 years 40°
We are now in Aberdeenshire in the northeast of Scotland.
After following the Royal Deeside for several hours from Aberdeen, we finally arrive near Balmoral Castle. Our objective is located just next door, the distillery which received the Royal Seal of Queen Victoria in 1848: ROYAL LOCHNAGAR.
We have to move slightly away from the river and enter the forest to finally reach a bend in a curve on a grey stone building with a pagoda roof in its centre. The distillery was there. It was located on the edge of a small lake and supplied by the small Distillery Burn (which flows 500 m further into the Dee). In front of us is a gravel driveway and a Royal brand flocked glass door. An old man was looking after the plants just above a painted barrel noted "Royal Lochnagar Distillery Est. 1845 " A small bucolic place where we would go to taste a mythical whisky.
Our disappointment was all the greater when we realized that the door was closed. The gardener saw our distress and told us "you haven't lost everything, there are often bottles left in the keep of the castle of BALMORAL.
We headed for the forest and further away from the castle. Through the woods, the path was the straightest but certainly not the flattest. Fortunately, the distance was not too long. After five minutes, a noise in a thicket right next to us. We find ourselves face to face with a majestic deer with 12 antlers that stares at us for a moment before leaving further into the forest.
We finally arrive at the edge of the woods facing a magnificent lawn and a little further on a castle: BALMORAL (summer residence of the Queen of England -NDLR-). Luckily, on the dungeon on the right (certainly the one the gardener told us about) there is no royal flag so no queen! The road seemed clear.
We approached the castle, went around it to the right and came across a door above which was the coat of arms of the English royalty with its lions and harp. The door was ajar, which allowed us to get in. Inside many woodwork surrounded a large staircase. On the wall are dozens of deer antlers, souvenirs of the great royal hunts. In a corner of the room next to a fireplace, a table filled with bottles. There were two different types: bottles of ROYAL LOCHNAGAR 12 years old and bottles of BALMORAL WHISKY. Both came from local distilleries. There was no new flocked version of the Baratheon deer from the Game Of Thrones series, but we hadn't come for it. We grabbed a 12-year-old bottle and got out of the lobby fast enough not to get caught.
Outside, always no one (wow). We walked along the building, down the stone stairs facing the castle and headed down to the park.
The path, punctuated by trees more than a hundred years old, led us to the bank of the Dee River where there were two benches also dating back several centuries. It is in this place steeped in history, where Queen Victoria had certainly meditated before making major decisions about the future of the Kingdom of England, that we settled down to taste this whisky.
In a very noble way (even royal), on the bottle we were holding in our hands, few frills. A simple badge-shaped label on which was just indicated the origin of the Highlands and the age of the whisky. Below is a small label, also very sober, which very humbly recalled that the distillery was awarded the royal label by Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and King George V (no more and no less). In the bottle, the liquid had a beautiful light amber colour due to its maturation for 12 years in American oak bourbon casks.
On the nose, this whisky made it clear that we were in the middle of Highlands. No frills but a Highlands smell. No aggressiveness either with its 40°. The sweetness of barley, the smell of wood...it was all there. On the second run of the nose, this whisky opened with a little more sweetness with a base of butterscotch and a fatter side. There were even some notes of smoke or roasting.
The tranquility of the place, which was only disturbed by the soft sound of the water and the presence of a swan, was an appropriate complement to the tranquility of this artisanal whisky (everything being relative given its belonging to Diageo), quite unknown but nevertheless part of the references.
The tasting confirmed the feeling of the nose. In the mouth the first impression was sweet and slightly sweet. But quite quickly this sweetness gave way to a little more acidity and even ended up after 12 seconds (due to age) with citrus notes typical of Highland whisky. Nevertheless, this slight bitterness also seemed to be attenuated by notes of caramel, almonds or dried fruit.
This whisky felt the stability and experience of the years and it was understandable why, although without frills, Queen Victoria had liked it so much (in addition to being right next to her summer castle) and continued to please the English royal family. So British!
Its finish was light and allowed to return. It left in the mouth slightly sweet and salty but also very pleasant woody notes.
This tasting was well worth a little risk and made us want to continue our journey in the middle of the Highlands.
That's how we reached the village of Bridge of Gairn to take the whisky road further north.