Sirius 31 (43.1%, North Star Spirits 2020)

North Star Spirits are quickly becoming one of my favourite independent bottlers. From naming blends after stars to identifying undisclosed distilleries via co-ordinates on the labels, they certainly do things their own way. This release follows hot on the heels of the Vega series – a set of sherried Speyside blended malts that ranged from 22 to 41 years old. Sirius is a blend of Highland malts and is matured in first-fill bourbon casks. It’s bottled at cask strength, and when I saw it’s 43.1%, I wondered whether some casks had dropped below the 40% minimum and then vatted together with casks from other distilleries to bring it back up (as the owner of North Star confirmed was the case with one of their old Bunnahabhains). Ralfy and other reviewers have also touched upon this. I’ve seen rumours that Clynelish is one of the main components here, and the label certainly hints at Clynelish when it mentions waxiness. It also mentions citrus flavours, which, to me, means Balblair above all – so let’s see what it’s like.

Nose: It’s quite oaky and sweet, but it’s not over-oaked: there’s the antique furniture note you so often get from old whiskies, mixed in with ripe apricots and nectarines. Some vanilla too, as well as sweet orange marmalade. What’s great is that it’s a vibrant nose – while you can tell it’s a very old whisky, you don’t get the feeling it’s been in the cask for too long. It doesn’t feel tired or excessively woody. Water brings out more tart notes – the same fruit as before, but slightly less ripe. This is very complex.

Palate: Good body, at 43.1% it doesn’t feel weak or watery. There’s some coconut, wood varnish, vanilla, almonds and caramel. The orchard fruit from the nose are more muted and come through in the background as a dried fruit note. A bit of waxiness too. Be careful with water – it’s quite fragile after a certain point.

Finish: Medium, dry and woody. This is where the most overt oakiness can be found.

Comments: So is it mostly Clynelish, as has been suggested? Some parts remind me above all of old Balblairs – the glorious 1991 and 1983 vintages for example. The Sirius 31 belongs in the same category – namely, quality spirit that has been put in bourbon casks and left untouched for a long time. Some aspects of the nose feel like nosing an old bourbon barrel in a cooperage, but the fact that the first-fill casks didn’t completely overwhelm the spirit after 31 years is testament to careful cask monitoring. As is the case with many old whiskies, it loses one or two points because of the drying oak of the finish, but the nose especially is in 90+ territory. Go grab a bottle before they run out, because even at ¬£116 it’s a bargain for what it is.

Score: 88/100

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