Monthly Archives: March 2019

Highland Park 14yo ‘Loyalty of the Wolf’ (35cl)

Bought: World of Whisky, 1st November 2018

Ratings:
85.67/100 – Whiskybase (average from 3 member votes)
87/100 – Whisky Wise (YouTube review below)

The Whiskybase rating above is for the 35cl bottle, which I have. The 100cl scores over 2 points less with 83.36/100, purely because it has more votes (currently 35). Over 83/100 is still a good score but perhaps not as high as a 14yo from Highland Park (HP) from 10 years ago would score. Why? Because more and more people are having their view of HP tainted by the number of releases the distillery is flooding onto the market.

Like most HP fans I’m a member of the Inner Circle. Never a week goes by without an email from the distillery that talks about another new standard release, or limited release, or special release ‘connected with a celebrity that’s drunk as much HP as David Beckham had drunk Haig before they offered him lots of money to endorse is”.

Rightly or wrongly the over-commercialising of HP is causing increasing criticism of the distillery on Facebook groups and internet forums. And the less you think of a distillery the less you enjoy their whisky, even if the spirit hasn’t changed, such is the influence of emotions on our sense of taste.

HP may not be able to rely on the loyalty of all their fans but at least they’ve got a wolf to fall back on. On the plus side this 14yo from the new 2018 Travel Retail range has an age statement, unlike its predecessors Svein, Einar and Harald. Matured in sherry-seasoned American oak and ex-bourbon casks the distillery classify this dram as “sweet and complex”. Comments online are mostly positive and include “marvellous tipple” and “it’s not a sophisticated dram to ponder too much upon, but a very nice, enjoyable and care free evening sipper”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Toasted bread with marmalade, red apple, some punchy peat hints.

Palate: Barley, thyme honey and more marmalade. Smoke lingers in the background. Some Christmas spices give it heat.

Finish: Pecan, dry peat and cinnamon sticks.

Here’s Jason of Whisky Wise with his thoughts about this whisky on YouTube, which he likens to the old HP 15yo (Sept 2018):

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Strathearn – Private Cask Club, Cask 005

Bought: Online auction, 8th October 2018

Ratings:
Listed on Whiskybase here but no rating as yet.

Strathearn is another relatively new distillery, which has the claim to fame of the smallest in Scotland. It’s certainly the only one I’ve seen described as a ‘micro’ distillery. Situated in the southern highlands, Strathearn got planning permission at the start of 2013 and on the 18th October of that year the first cask was filled. The bottle of single malt I purchased at auction was distilled 12 days later on the 30th October and placed in cask no.005. Production comes from 2 stills – an 800 litre wash and a 400 litre charge. Rather than use the industry standard 200 litre barrels Strathearn have opted for the 50 litre ‘octave’. Hardly surprising since a typical spirit run is only 100 litres.

Strathearn use their own maris otter barley in the whisky making process. Well it is a farm after all. Initially they distilled into American oak and French oak barrels but recent releases have young spirit maturing in mulberry, chestnut and even peated acacia wood casks. By early 2017 Strathearn had withdrawn 12 products because of issues with the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association). Thankfully this doesn’t seem to be holding them back with their experimenting. Long may that continue!

Towards the end of 2016 Strathearn’s inaugural release was done by auction through Whisky Auctioneer. I followed it with interest but even the cheapest bottle at £315 was about £200 more than I would have considered paying, especially at 50cl rather than 70cl. Bottle no.1 went for a staggering £4,150. Interestingly the pictures of the bottles on the auction site had a blank space where the cask number should go. You would assume it was cask no.001 but the distilling date was 11th December 2013, nearly 2 months after the first barrel was filled. I can only assume this is because all the early casks were bought by the distillery’s ‘Private Cask Club’. My bottle from cask no.005 is the earliest example of distilling from Strathearn that I’ve seen on the market.

After the inaugural release it seemed the only way to own a bottle of Strathearn was by being a Private Cask Club member or finding a bottle at auction. By 2018 (if not 2017) Strathearn made a bottle of single malt available from their online shop but at £145 for 50cl it was still a bit steep. Thankfully more private casks were being bottled and appearing at auction where a typical price was £65-£80 for 70cl. Time to make a purchase!

The good thing about using smaller barrels is that there is a bigger surface to surface ratio between spirit and wood compared to a bigger barrel. This might not necessarily make the spirit taste older than its years if it comes from a smaller cask than the industry standard but it can influence the taste. My bottle is less than 4 years old but the spirit has drawn an amazing colour from the French oak, along with an augmented flavour:

Nose: Very fruity with spices (cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg), hint of pepper, honey and some citrus.

Taste: The sweetness and spices come through with a creamy fruit yoghurt at play in the background. Elements of the French oak wood become clearer, which were hinted at in the nose.

Finish: A good length with a pleasant warmth of after-spices and almost a floral tinge.