Highland Park Ice

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-22-46-28Distillery: Highland Park
Age: 17 years old
Bottles: 30,000
ABV: 53.9%
Cask: First fill Bourbon
More Info: WhiskyBase

Another special edition series of Highland Park bottlings. This time it’s not Gods but the elements themselves.

The first in the series, “Ice”, is rumoured to be similar to the Freya bottling of the Valhalla Series – a 1st fill Bourbon Highland Park with a light, sweet, gentle character.

Nose: Fresh green apple flavoured candyfloss. Sour chewy sweets. White peach. Damp, sweet grass.

Palate: Sweet, luscious and honeyed with fresh green fruit – white grapes, green apples, gooseberries. A rising wave of white pepper numbs the tongue through the mid palate.

Finish: Oaky, nutty and sweet with vanilla.

The nose is delicate, balanced and very alluring but the palate lets it down. Even with a fair bit of water that rising pepper burn dominates the palate. It doesn’t feel peaty, but rather spirity, and very atypical of what I’ve come to expect from Highland Park, especially at this age and price bracket.

Sadly forgettable. Definitely not worth the £180+ price tag.

Tweet Tasting: The Dram Team

dramteam

Another Tweet Tasting is upon us, and this time it’s the inaugural tasting pack from The Dram Team.

Each tasting pack produced will contain six drams sent by post and you can buy them one-off or subscribe to one per month. The first pack is a tasting tour of the six whisky regions of Scotland.

Up first, the contender for The Highlands…

 


Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 09.08.43Inchmurrin 18 Year Old

Distillery: Loch Lomond
Age: 18
ABV: 46%
Cask: Bourbon 1st fill, refill, and re-charred
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Toffee, heather honey and cereal with green bananas and Ester-rich pear drops. Rum-soaked raisins and a malty beeriness. There’s a lot of funky notes incongruous with the style: pickled onions, soy sauce, Manzanilla, sulphur, and fermenting fruit.

Palate: Sour cider apples and green peppercorns. Beery malt and hops. Sourdough bread and grappa. Very young and new-make-ish for an 18 year old.

Finish: Short and chalky.

Frankly, for eighty pounds a bottle I know plenty of other 18 year old expressions I’d prefer to buy. This is a flawed whisky, full of new-make character and off notes. I’m a fan of unusual flavours (in fact I prefer whiskies that surprise me) but this isn’t the kind of surprise I enjoy…

Next up, the Lowlander…

Auchentoshan Three Wood

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 09.17.30Distillery: Auchentoshan
Age: NAS
ABV: 43%
Cask: Bourbon, Oloroso and PX
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Oloroso sherry notes, nutty and sweet. Hot cross buns. Cough mixture and cola cubes.

Palate: Looks viscous in the glass but it’s lighter on the tongue. Gentle barley sugar sweets, old fashioned cough mixture, and a rising pepper spice. Dusty sherry.

Finish: Oaky vanilla and rum raisin ice cream.

This isn’t bad, though it is somewhat over engineered. I prefer Auchentoshan as it comes out of the cask, without watering down, chill filtering, or caramel. This just tastes like whisky-flavoured whisky.

From Campbeltown now…

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 15.11.17Glen Scotia Double Cask

Distillery: Glen Scotia
Age: NAS
ABV: 46%
Cask: 1st Fill Bourbon and PX
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Soft cotton, like sheets out of the dryer. Freshly sliced banana. Dark sugar and cracked black pepper.

Palate: Thick and resinous. Bourbon barrel spice with vanilla, cinder toffee, and caramel sauce. Sweet and tasty.

Finish: Lipsmacking with gingerbread.

Amazing nose! Really impressed all round, for an affordable NAS this is eminently quaffable.

I’m definitely getting a bottle of this on pay day!

And weighing in from Islay, we have…

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 15.11.33

Bowmore Darkest

Distillery: Bowmore
Age: 15
ABV: 43%
Cask: Oloroso Sherry
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Leathery and coastal, like a wax jacket on a clifftop walk. Dark chocolate with prunes and dates. A little marzipan with tangy marmalade.

Palate: Sumptuous sherry with juicy raisins and figs giving way to that signature Bowmore floral peat.

Finish: Dry oak and flower petals.

A classic! One of the better sherried peaty whiskies on the market. If you like this, I also recommend a bottle of its cask strength cousin, Laimrig.

Up next, the Speyside candidate…

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 15.11.57Glenfarclas 105

Distillery: Glenfarclas
Age: NAS
ABV: 60%
Cask: Oloroso Sherry
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Fierce! That ABV packs a punch. A drop of water reveals ripe apple flesh, and soft toffee. Really dark bitter cocoa and burnt treacle with a touch of rubber plimsol.

Palate: Café mocha with dark berries and orange peel. Creamy and spicy, like nutmeg in rice pudding.

Finish: Warm oaky chocolate.

Great value for the ABV. This is in the same league as A’Bunadh, a sherry bomb fresh from the barrel. Both need water in my opnion, so they’re almost like a whisky cordial. The ‘farclas is a more subtle and complex beast though, some great dark low notes in it.

Finally, we go to the Islands for the sixth dram of the night…

Highland Park 21 Year Old

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 15.12.14Distillery: Highland Park
Age: 21
ABV: 47.5%
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Calm and gentle, soft and delicate. Chamois leather with a hint of clifftop sea breeze petrichor. Fresh blossoms. There’s an ice cream van in the distance.

Palate: Divinely balanced. Smoky grilled pineapple with black pepper. Vanilla cream and condensed milk with a handful of baking spices and waxy fruit skin.

Finish: Peat smoke reveals itself with gentle wafts that stay with you long after your last sip.

Oh, wow. I love old Highland Park and this does not disappoint. Classy, balanced, delicious. Absolute heaven.

MoM Highland Park 1990

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 20.55.48Distillery: Highland Park
Bottled: 2014 Distilled: 1990
Age: 24 years old
Bottler: Master of Malt
ABV: 57.5%
Cask: Second-fill Bourbon
More Info: WhiskyBase

I do like an interesting Highland Park!

The first time I tried his delicious Orcadian beverage was way back in the sands of time as a student. Since then, sadly, I’ve found that it’s easy to get the 12 year old anywhere but pretty much everything else in their range is hard to find or just too damn expensive.

But its scarcity and price do indicate one thing – its popularity. And with good reason. Highland Park to me always tastes like an older style of whisky – more subtle, mineral, savoury qualities on the palate without being a vanilla candle at one end of the scale, or a peat monster at the other. And they peat their own barley at the distillery, which I find always makes for a more interesting profile than barley smoked at an industrial maltings.

This particular single ex-bourbon cask held the spirit for 24 years. A good age for any whisky, I’m expecting some class here.

Nose: Grilled pineapple, grapefruit syrup, fragrant resin, nutmeg ice cream, honeydew melon. Beyond the fruit, a waft of sea salt flakes and dry wood smoke.

Palate: Pear skin, tart raspberry, grapefruit, oaky barrel spice, cinnamon, and savoury peat amidst a thick, soft mouthfeel and a gentle maltiness.

Finish: Salty oak with cashews and a touch of smoked cheese.

This is absolutely glorious. Coastal peat with a ton of fruit in perfect balance. Soft mouthfeel and very smooth at full cask strength. With water it opens up with even more fruit and smoke coming through. Without water it’s still masterful on the palate, belying the considerable 57.5% ABV of the spirit.

Forgive the cliché but it’s a “fruity dessert at a beach barbecue” kind of dram. Mmmmm, absolutely stellar.

Still available over at Master of Malt for £209.95. A little more than I’d like to pay for the vintage, but it is exceptionally good and a damn-sight cheaper than the official bottling of 25-year-old, plus it’s cask strength.

Highland Park 30

Distillery: Highland Park
Bottled: 2007
Age: 30 years old
ABV: 48.1%
Cask: American Oak and European Oak
More Info: WhiskyBase

Here’s the first of several 30-year-old whiskies I’m trying this year in the run up to my thirtieth birthday.

Highland Park endeavour to maintain the 25, 30 and 40 year-old expressions available as part of their core line-up with several different versions of each appearing over the years. This version, to my knowledge, is the most recent 30-year-old bottling and is still widely available.

Nose: Grassy and gristy, with honey-roast ham, sultanas and sea-spray. Some herbs and spices as well: cardamom, paprika, thyme, and mint.

Palate: Barley candy, spiced honey, tinned peaches with cinnamon; leading to a smoky mix of cacao, tobacco leaf and burnt coffee.

Finish: Very long and oaky with toasted hazelnuts.

Distinctively Highland Park’s flavour profile – gentle savoury smoke, a little saltiness, and some deep and rich malt and spice.

The time spent in barrel is very apparent here with a lot of the flavours coming directly from the wood. It’s not unpleasant at all but the oak is very much in-evidence. Though not made clear, my money’s on a vatting of bourbon-matured spirit with some refill sherry butts.

Personally, I would’t buy one of these. There are some sensational indy bottlings of Highland Park out there for a lot less money and I’m not convinced the age is bringing anything special to the table in this case.

I do like it, though – it’s refined and restrained with the flavours coming out slowly and gently. A quiet sipper and contemplater for special occasions.

This is at the higher end of Highland Park’s core expressions, with bottles going for £400 on their online shop. You can also get 3cl samples of the Highland Park 30 on WhiskySite.nl for €19.99.

Highland Park Odin

Distillery: Highland Park
Age: 16 years old
Bottles: 17,000
ABV: 55.8%
Cask: First fill and refill sherry
More Info: WhiskyBase

I have to say, I’ve been looking forward to this. Highland Park’s Valhalla series ends with year four’s release, Odin, following in the steps of Thor, Loki, and Freya.

As ever, the lads from Orkney have done a cracking job with their marketing and the online buzz for this whisky reached absolute fever pitch a couple of weeks back when the whisky was released.

But what’s it like..?

Nose: Sticky dates, lime skin, tangerine juice, spiced honey and grated chocolate. With time and water, brandy-soaked apples, sweet rolling tobacco and burnt paper ashes.

Palate: Thick and sticky with muscavado, fruity coffee, metallic tinned peaches, and crystallised ginger. A rising edge of smouldering tangy peat that brings sea salt and dusty dark chocolate powder.

Finish: Long, oily, smooth and drying with powerful smoked oak and soft ashes.

As ever, the Highland Park peat is dry and restrained, adding great smoky, ashy elements to the whisky without drowning out the softer fruity notes beneath. A splash of water really opens this up as well, though the full cask strength mouthfeel is gorgeously syrupy.

The sherry casks used here are absolutely wonderful. Such dark and rich bass notes of fruit and chocolate, but interesting flavours rise up beyond the clichéd “christmas cake” profile that we expect from other alleged sherry monsters.

I have to say, I think this whisky is worth the fuss and the price tag. It’s neither a peat, nor a sherry monster; nor is it a monster of any other kind.

Odin the Allfather is a gentleman of depth, power, subtlety and character.

Well played, Highland Park. Make more whisky like this soon!

Douglas Laing’s Rock Oyster

Those folks at Douglas Laing sure can put together an interesting blend.

I’ve been a big fan of Big Peat for a few years now, especially the Xmas edition*. Their other regional blends, Timorous Beastie (for the Highlands), and Scallywag (for Speyside) are less to my taste, but very well put together all-the-same.

This one looks right up my street – the new blend, Rock Oyster, comprised purely of whisky from Scotland’s Islands region. I’m expecting maritime, salty, peaty goodness here. Let’s go!

Nose: Leathery, damp sand, mud, brine. Very mineral rich and salt-crusted, with a hint of icing sugar.

Palate: Quite savoury. Lemon, bitter grapefruit, thyme, cloves, olives and a crisp, tangy smoke. There’s a biscuity element in there too, among the tangier notes, which comes through later. A little bit of honey, vanilla and flowers once the smoke’s died down but only a bit.

Finish: It starts off oily in the mouth and progresses to a drying, lip-smacking finish of salt, cured meat, and white pepper.

I think the name here is bang on – it’s like sitting in a rock pool while you smoke seafood over a beach-fire.

It’s certainly one of the most savoury whiskies I’ve had in a while – not much in the way of fruity, malty notes. Thick bodied, too, with wide legs ending in big beads. Looks like a higher strength dram than 46.8%.

Sleuthing out the Components

The distilleries aren’t listed like they are with the Big Peat but it’s worth a bash all the same…

I’m thinking there’s a good dose of Highland Park in here – the way they peat their own barley on the island imparts that savoury smoke and the distinctive drying, grainy quality on the finish.

Since Jura and Arran only have a single distillery each, those are easy conclusions to come to! Though I don’t get any of the toffee or tangerine that I usually get from those whiskies (respectively), so that’s unexpected. I suspect their contribution to the whisky is relatively small compared to the others.

Which leaves the Islay component…

It’s a very maritime whisky, rather than an out-and-out peaty profile. Ardbeg is earthier, Laphroaig more medicinal, and I can’t see Lagavulin or Kilchoman being easily available.

The texture isn’t right for Bruichladdich, and Bunnahabhain is usually very sweet so the overall palate wouldn’t be this savoury…

Add the salty, lemony, olive-oil characteristics into the mix and… I’d have to say it’s a Caol Ila.

And Finally…

I like this one a lot. It doesn’t blow your head off like Big Peat (although that experience is not unpleasant) so it’s a bit more accessible – a weeknight dram for the coastal whisky fan, rather than a late-night mood whisky for a smoke-headed lunatic.

I’m not a huge advocate of food-pairing with spirits usually, but I can totally see this being nice with seafood. Maybe a bowl of prawns or mussels… I must buy a bottle and do some more research!

The important question now is, when will Master of Malt’s Sam add the Rock Oyster to the Douglas Laing Crimefighting Force…?

* In fact, one of the highlights of the London Whisky Show for me was being given a Big-Peat pen projector that casts the face of the windswept hero into the distance like Batman’s Bat Light.

You can pick up a sample or a bottle of Rock Oyster over at Master of Malt for £37.82.