Na Bràithrean [na brahrin] is Gaelic for the brothers. It is a new independent bottler with an interesting approach: take a mother cask, split it into a pair and further mature half of it in a specific type or size of cask. You then get a wee brother and a slightly older big brother: the same spirit with different characteristics and personality.
I was able to try their first release, a Caol Ila 2011 matured in a refill bourbon hogshead. Half of the cask was bottled at 8 years of age, the other half was finished in a Pedro Ximénez quarter cask and bottled at 9 years of age.
Caol Ila 8 yo 2011 ‘Wee Brother’ (60,2%, Na Bràithrean 2020, refill bourbon hogshead, 103 btl.)
Nose: sweet but even more sea shore salinity. Engine oil, olive brine, smoked lemons and a light pickled gherkin note. A light meaty note. The peat is alive and kicking. Mint leaves, hints of apples and a touch of tequila. Just a little eau-de-vie-ish, but clean.
Mouth: fairly hot and robust, but showing the same immaculate character and oily texture. Clean smoke, dough, slightly bitter grapefruit, green pepper and a big bucket of salty sea water. Some toasted wood and dark tea. Lemon juice. Some toffee sweetness towards the end.
Finish: long, spicy, with zesty lemon, plenty of peppery notes and straight smoke.
Caol Ila 9 yo 2011 ‘Big Brother’ (58%, Na Bràithrean 2020, PX quarter cask finish, 170 btl.)
Nose: more bready notes, hints of roasted nuts and smoked almonds. Some leathery touches. Slightly less peat but the coastal punch is still there. A hint of popcorn, vanilla pastry and chocolate as well. Not even close to a sherry bomb, the influence is fairly light and the original whisky is still recognizable, a good choice.
Mouth: it exchanged some of the robustness and heat for chocolate biscuits, ginger, nutmeg and grassy notes. The zesty grapefruit and brine are still there. Just a hint of toffee sweetness. The smoke seems deeper, more earthy and sooty now.
Finish: long, on bittersweet ashes, ginger and charred oak.
The fierce intensity of this Caol Ila overshadows the sherry character, which may not have been the idea. The sherry finish doesn’t feel entirely integrated (yet). An educational duo, but I’m sure they can achieve a better outcome in future releases. Available from Na Braithrean direct or Master of Malt.