Highland Park 12-year-old ‘Viking Honour’

Bought: Tesco, 22nd May 2017

Ratings:
81.61/100 – Whiskybase (average from 20 member votes)

Although all that’s really changed about the Highland Park 12yo in 2017 is the bottle style, packaging and calling it ‘Viking Honour’ it’s an opportunity for new reviews to appear to discuss this classic old Orkney favourite. In fairness, distillery standards such as the HP 12yo do change over time, so we shouldn’t assume the taste and quality remains the same forever and ever. But an old reviewer’s 85/100 might be a new reviewer’s 80/100 even of the same whisky, such is the randomness of ratings.

After 1152 votes on Whiskybase the old style HP 12yo (bottled since 2007) scored a very decent 82.24/100. It’s early days yet but ‘Viking Honour’ is lagging behind slightly. As I discussed in my last blog about the HP12, the Whiskybase ratings for the previous incarnations of the HP12 have shown a consistent downward trend. Is this true or do whisky drinkers look back on old bottlings of Highland Park with nostalgia and rose-tinted glasses?

Comments for ‘Viking Honour’ on Master of Malt are quite amusing, especially if Highland Park only changed the packaging and not the whisky. We have a mixed bag of remarks – “very smooth. I liked it”, “not an improvement and a big disappointment”, “sweet with a delicate smoky after taste which all in all is very agreeable”, “rubbish compared to the original”, “very smooth and slightly peaty”, “absolutely zero smoke or peat”. Has the whisky actually changed or is this a case of unreliable taste buds?

Tasting notes from Master of Malt, which interestingly don’t mention any smoke or peat but I believe these notes have not been updated since the previous HP12:

Nose: Fresh, clean and very aromatic. Floral notes abound the senses with a light grassiness. Notes of creamy Manuka honey and a touch of juicy citrus with cream and a well-balanced sweetness.
Palate: Rather full with a pleasant depth. Lurking somewhere in the substratum a grilled orange lies. Notes of granary toast and green tea with jasmine. A touch of sweetness.
Finish: Quite long with peppery spice and wood shavings.

Here’s Martin Markvardsen, senior brand ambassador for Highland Park, giving us his thoughts about the new 12yo ‘Viking Honour’. He mentions peat and smoke and talks about the new dram as if it were the typical HP 12yo profile (Sept 2017):

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Scapa ‘Glansa’ Batch GL01

Bought: Auriol Wines, 11th August 2017

Ratings:
80.26/100 – Whiskybase (average from 33 member votes)

Scapa distillery say about the Glansa on the box and bottle, “taking our signature smooth fruity single malt, which is aged in American oak, this expression is then rested in peated casks creating richness and depth, with notes of warm, heather-honey and soft fruits giving way to a subtle smoky finish.” They also include that it’s batch GL01 and bottled in August 2016. Over a year later and there hasn’t been a new batch, unlike the Skiren released in 2015, which is now on batch 8. It looks like the Glansa is a bit of a one-off.

I saw one comment online suggesting that finishing the Glansa in peated casks (probably from Islay) was a bit of a cheat. This was a weird remark because cask finishing has been common practice for a long time and there are many examples of excellent whisky finished in peated casks. The comment also misses the point – this is a rare release from a fantastic distillery that is trying something different. Those that know the Scapa signature will also know that adding peat should harmonise well. And for Scapa fans it’s a good sign that the distillery is still alive and not close to closing down as it has done in the recent past.

Comments online include “a nice balance between the sweetness of fruit and the smoke/peat”, “delicious stuff, better than many a standard” and “better than Skiren”. The scores back up the last comment where the Skiren comes in at 79.86/100 on Whiskybase, fractionally below the Glansa. Not that there’s much in it but it sounds like the Glansa is a good addition to the history of the Scapa distillery. Long may it continue!

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Fruity sweet notes of soft peach, pineapple, vanilla intermingled with subtle bonfire smoke.
Palate: Peach and ripe flavours and creamy caramel toffee and vanilla balanced perfectly with soft smoke.
Finish: Very long with a markedly smoky finish.

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the Scapa Glansa (Dec 2016):

Glenmorangie 1990 ‘Grand Slam Dram’ 10-year-old

Bought: Online Auction, 10th August 2017

Ratings:
81.33/100 – Whiskybase (average from 3 member votes)

Rugby – something Scotland used to be good at. It’s sad that there are young Scottish adults walking the earth today that weren’t born when Scotland was a proud rugby country. Scotland haven’t won the Nations Championship since 1999, the year before Italy were asked to join to make it the ‘6 Nations Championship’ that we have today. Perhaps the Scots are allergic to Italians? The ‘Grand Slam’ is where a team manages to win the championship by beating all the other teams. The last time Scotland achieved this was in 1990, finishing on the 17th March with a 13-7 win against England at Murrayfield in Edinburgh. I watched it on TV and enjoyed every minute of it, except the England try, which was definitely offside!

After the dust had settled in 1990 Glenmorangie decided to release a commemorative version of their standard 10yo. On the reverse label it includes the signatures of the victorious Scottish team. Scoring just over 81/100 on Whiskybase is what you’d expect for a 10-year-old Glenmorangie from that period. Personally I’d rate it higher at about 85/100 but then I am a big fan of the Glenmorangie 10yo from the early to mid 90s, even though it’s 40% rather than the 43% of the modern incarnation.

I rarely give investment tips but here’s one for the ‘Grand Slam Dram’. As far as I can tell the bottle wasn’t originally sold with any packaging. The majority of bottles sold at auction come without any and typically make about £80. I noticed that some cunning person had paired their ‘Grand Slam Dram’ bottle with a tube from roughly the right period, which sold for £160. It goes to show that people are prepared to pay extra for packaging (weird – I know!). I bought my bottle for £80 and picked up an empty tin from the early 1990s from Ebay for £5. I can’t guarantee I’ll double my money if I ever sell it because auctions can be fickle but I’ll definitely make a profit on the tin.

Here’s a 15-minute documentary from 2010 to mark 20 years since the final Grand Slam match between Scotland and England, Murrayfield, 17th March 1990:

Glenlochy 1980 25-year-old (Signatory)

Bought: Online Auction, 10th August 2017

Ratings:
89.38/100 – Whiskybase (average from 18 member votes)

Glenlochy distillery, Inverlochy, Fort William, began production in 1901 and closed completely in 1983. During those 82 years the distillery had been closed several times meaning it had only been active for about 60 years. Unfortunately the closure in 1983 was the end of the distillery and the buildings were eventually converted into a guesthouse and flats. When active all the Glenlochy spirit went into blends, which were Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s, Haig, White Horse and Queen Ann. It’s only after the distillery closed in 1983 and casks were sold off that they start to be bottled as single malt. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society released the earliest bottling mentioned on Whiskybase in 1988.

Scoring almost 90/100 from 18 votes on Whiskybase is a fantastic mark. It’s nice to know when you’re spending a small fortune on a single malt that it’s the equal to a classic Macallan or illustrious Ardbeg. But to be fair to the Glenlochy, the distillery may have closed 34 years ago but this amazing bottle cost less at auction than a new Macallan 18yo would today. Only 229 bottles were produced of this rare Glenlochy and I have bottle number 104. Tasting notes provided on Whiskybase from a member scoring this Glenlochy 91/100 with the comment, “unique and characterful” are:

Nose: Sweet, mineral, fresh, herbs, grassy, caramel
Taste: Fruity (apples, oranges, pears, peaches), fresh, herbs, dry, caramel, honey
Finish: Long, sweet, spicy, herbs, caramel, nutty

John “Whiskyman” Loftus in his video below is drinking a Glenlochy, which was also distilled in 1980 but 24-years-old rather than 25. Bottled by Duncan Taylor at a cask strength of 61.2% it scores 89.8/100 on Whiskybase from 22 votes. This is a very similar score to my Glenlochy 25yo by Signatory so clearly they’re both good examples from the distillery. John also gives us a bit of history about the distillery.

Linkwood 1995 21-year-old (Signatory)

Bought: Master of Malt, 2nd August 2017

Ratings:
5/5 – Amazon (from one review)
84.67/100 – Whiskybase (average from 3 member votes)

This is my 17th example from the Linkwood distillery but my first to be bottled by Signatory. Released in 2017 it’s a combination of two casks numbered 5943 and 5944. Although it’s not stated, the colour suggests ex-bourbon casks and probably refill rather than first-fill. Nearly 85/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score. There are two almost identical 21yo releases by Signatory listed on Whiskybase, one from 2017 (casks 5940 & 5941) and another from 2016 (casks 5938 & 5939). They score 85/100 (1 vote) and 84.25/100 (6 votes) respectively, which are very good marks.

Ralfy on YouTube recently reviewed his first ever Linkwood in 8 years and 680 videos. He said that some people think that Linkwood is more for blends but he disagrees with that and so do I. Ralfy hits the nail on the head when he says that the fans of Linkwood are happy that the owners, Diageo, haven’t presented it as part of their distillery selection. It’s kept Linkwood’s profile low, which has allowed more independent bottlers to buy casks and kept prices down. This 21yo cost me £46, which is a fantastic price for the age. Imagine what it would be for a 21-year-old Lagavulin or Talisker? I never thought I’d see myself say this but – thank you Diageo!

Ratings online for my new Linkwood are few and far between but one person on Amazon gives it 5/5 stars and comments, “it is one to enjoy. I like it very much and think the money makes it a great deal!”

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Black tea and digestive biscuits. Walnuts and dates with a touch of dried hay.
Palate: Sugared peels, honey and a hearty kick of nutmeg.
Finish: Lingering dried flower fragrance.

Ballechin 2005 ‘Straight from the Cask’ Bordeaux Cask 11-year-old

Bought: Master of Malt, 2nd August 2017

Ratings:
87.75/100 – Whiskybase (average from 4 member votes)

According to Whiskybase there haven’t been many distilleries to mature or finish whisky in Bordeaux casks. Arran, Auchentoshan, Bowmore and Glen Garioch have done a small handful but Edradour are the experts when it comes to using wood from this illustrious French wine region. The small Pitlochry distillery, owned by Signatory, produced 25 Bordeaux cask releases since 2005. 20 of these were their unpeated ‘Edradour’ range but in 2017 they added 5 variations of their peated ‘Ballechin’. All 5 were from single casks, amounting to just over 400 50cl bottles per cask, and gradually released through 2017 as part of the ‘Straight from the Cask’ series.

Peat and French wine? Really? It’s fair to say that in the early days it didn’t always work but since 2012 none of the Edradour Bordeaux releases have scored less than 82/100 on Whiskybase. Of the 5 ‘Ballechin’ bottlings produced this year, 3 are rated and mine is fractionally the lowest with a fantastic 87.75/100. Bottled ‘straight from the cask’ at a natural strength of 55.7%, all 407 bottles of this 11yo quickly sold out. I’m glad I got one and can now tick ‘Ballechin’ off my whisky wishlist.

Note: ‘Bellachin’ is the name of an estate in Perthshire and also the name of a distillery in the same region that operated between 1810 and 1927.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Salted & pepper crackers, truffle oil, raisins and dried apricot.
Palate: Jammy red fruit notes are up-front and lip-smackingly sweet, with burnt oak and cut grass notes in support.
Finish: BBQ meats with a honey glaze.

Loch Lomond Single Grain (2016-)

Bought: Master of Malt, 2nd August 2017

Ratings:
93/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
78.52/100 – Whiskybase (average from 33 member votes)

It seems the only reason this single grain from the Loch Lomond distillery isn’t single malt is because of the continuous distillation process, which is a ‘single grain’ thing. It’s exclusively made from malted barley, which ticks the single malt box. According to a Whiskybase member who visited the distillery, “it has aged for around 4-5 years in first fill bourbon casks (around 20 per cent of each batch) and the remaining 80 per cent come from refill bourbon casks.” On the back of the tube it says “soft fruits and creamy vanilla with a hint of smoke and peat.” Peat as well! Blimey! And at 46% this is far from being a typical budget single grain.

Scoring 78.5/100 on Whiskybase is the sort of score I’d expect to see for a good, if a bit young, single malt. How appropriate considering that’s what this Loch Lomond nearly is. Comments online include “nice, easy drinking, every day dram”, “a real surprise, never had such a malted grain style whisky before and to be honest – I like it” and “sweet & spicy and easy-drinking with an interesting malty twist”. No mention of peat though.

93/100 in the Whisky Bible means that Jim Murray thinks the Loch Lomond Single Grain is “brilliant”! He says about the taste, “the sugars on the nose are indicative of a sweet grain, for the delivery centres around the maple syrup lead. The oak is something like most anchors at work: barely visible to invisible”. He summaries with, “elegant grain; keeps the sweetness controlled”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Plenty of sweet, fruity grain character here. Citrus peels, icing sugar, a little bit of grassiness.
Palate: Pineapple starts to develop on the palate, with a touch or two of oak spice keeping it from becoming overly sweet.
Finish: Continued fruity freshness.

Kilkerran 12-year-old

Bought: Lockett Bros, 19th April 2017

Ratings:
90.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
90/100 – Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com) – his video review below
86.78/100 – Whiskybase (average from 560 member votes)

My previous bottle of ‘Kilkerran’ by the Glengyle distillery was the ‘Work in Progress 5’ (bourbon casks), which I bought at the end of 2013. Back then my blog mused about the possibility of a 10-year-old release in 2014 but we had to wait until 2016 for the appearance of the first age statement. Glengyle filled the gap in 2014 and 2015 with a ‘Work in Progress’ 6 and 7. It was certainly worth the wait because whisky lovers went mad for the Kilkerran 12yo when it appeared in 2016. It was arguably the best budget single malt release of the year. I was a bit slow off the mark but thankfully managed to pick up the 2016 version of the bottling in early 2017. Since then Glengyle have released the 12yo again and it looks set to be a regular release from now on.

Over the years critics generally said that the bourbon cask version of the ‘Work in Progress’ was marginally better than the sherry. You have to suspect that Glengyle picked up on this, which is why they made the 12yo 70% bourbon and 30% sherry. Scoring nearly 87/100 on Whiskybase is a fantastic score. And from 560 members this suggests the Kilkerran 12yo is very much a whisky drinker’s whisky. Comments include “pleasant standard at a reasonable price”, “a surprisingly tasty drama considering the price and age” and “beautifully made no-nonsense Campbeltown whisky”.

Scoring 90.5/100 in Jim Murray’s ‘Whisky Bible 2017’ classifies the Kilkerran 12yo as ‘brilliant’. The author comments about the taste “despite the dozen years in cask, this still retains a degree of youth about it. But the malts are confident and take advantage of the overall lack of body to spread out and blossom”. He summarises with, “a malt far more confident at this age than some of the previous, younger, bottlings from a few years back. Has a fragile feel to it and the air of a malt which must be treated gently and with respect.”

90/100 from Ralfy is one of his highest scores. Here are his thoughts about the Kilkerran 12yo on YouTube (Oct 2016):

Glenfiddich ‘IPA’

Bought: Tesco, 2nd August 2017

Ratings:
86/100 – Whisky Bible 2018
81.3/100 – Whiskybase (average from 197 member votes)

As it says on the back of the tube “a Glenfiddich whisky finished in IPA craft beer casks, something never done in the industry before”. I don’t see many other distilleries falling over themselves to do it again. But credit to Glenfiddich for trying something different, especially as experimentation is not something generally associated with the distillery. One common remark about the new ‘IPA’ is that the actual ale element is hard to detect on the pallet. This is not surprising given the whisky is only ‘finished’ in it rather than matured from birth to bottle. Unlike using sherry or wine maturation, ale has a similar creation process to the early stages of whisky, so it’s going to be difficult for it to stand out.

I’ve been interested in pairing beer with whisky (separate glasses rather than mixing) for several years and this is where the Glenfiddich IPA scores extra points from me. I’ve seen this combination referred to as a ‘half and half’ online but I remember it as a ‘pint and a nip’ when I was a lad. Old chaps in workingman’s pubs would choose a blend rather than a single malt to go with a beer but these days the chaser can be whatever our wallets can afford. Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com) discusses pairing beer with whisky here on YouTube. The blog ‘In Search Of the Perfect Chaser’ also gives some combination examples.

Scoring over 81/100 on Whiskybase is a very good mark especially when you consider that the standard 12yo only scores 76/100 from 874 votes. The IPA scores exactly the same as the standard Glenfiddich 15yo, which gets 81.3/100 from 463 votes. Not bad for an experimental non-age statement. Comments online for the IPA include “lovely IPA odour with generous hints of toffee”, “fresh, fruity and full of citrus with a nice small touch of hops right at the end” and “probably won’t buy again due to the price but it was certainly worth trying once”. I agree with the last remark because it was on my wishlist for a very long time before I parted with £45 to get it.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: An elegant harmony of fresh green apple, William’s pear and spring blossom. Complimented with Aromatic hops and fresh herbs.
Palate: Vibrant with a zesty citrus note followed by creamy vanilla and a hint of fresh hops.
Finish: Enduring sweetness with an echo of green hops.

Here’s Vin PF of ‘No Nonsense Whisky’ with his thoughts about the IPA on YouTube (August 2017):

Highland Park ‘Rebus 30’ 10-year-old

Bought: Highland Park Shop, 6th July 2017

Ratings:
84.29/100 – Whiskybase (average from 23 member votes)

The ‘Rebus 30’ 10yo by Highland Park’s own admission is the standard 10yo in a different bottle. Their excuse is that the new 10yo (named ‘Viking Scars’) isn’t available in the UK market so the ‘Rebus 30’ is an opportunity for Brits to try it. The 10yo scores 82.8/100 on Whiskybase from 9 member votes, nearly 1.5 points less than the Rebus 30. It goes to show that by releasing a ‘limited edition’ in different packaging and adding a story can influence opinion. Although we’ve all known that for year. I’ve certainly fallen for it!

When John Rankin, author of Inspector Rebus, got in touch with Highland Park in 2007 and asked about a commemorative bottle to mark 20 years of his character this resulted in a unique 20yo single malt limited to 150 bottles. These now sell for up to £2,000 at auction and £3,000 retail. In a way it’s a shame that after 30 years of Rebus all we get from Highland Park are 10,000 bottles of their bog standard 10yo. The look of the bottle is nice but it doesn’t come in a box. I suppose for £30 and £5.99 postage we mustn’t grumble. It has an age statement on it after all, unlike the new Highland Park ‘Dragon Legend’ selling at Tesco supermarkets for £40.

Tasting notes by Martin Markvardsen, senior brand ambassador at Highland Park:

Nose: Lightly fruity, hints of vanilla, citrus, fresh green apple
Taste: Citrus, fresh fruits, cream of vanilla, peppery spiciness, touch of smoke
Finish: Very long with continuing spice along with honey peatiness.

Here’s Rob of ‘Whisky In The 6’ with his review of the Highland Park 10yo, which is exactly the same as the Rebus 30 (Jan 2017):