Bought: Tesco, 22nd May 2017
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):
Bought: Auriol Wines, 11th August 2017
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):
Bought: Online Auction, 10th August 2017
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:
Bought: Highland Park Shop, 6th July 2017
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):
Bought: World of Whisky (Heathrow), 27th June 2017
88/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
77/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)
90/100 – Scotch Malt Whisky
I went to the ‘World of Whisky’ shop at Heathrow airport without any intension of buying a bottle of Hazelwood 18-year-old. I was aware of its existence from previous trips and I liked its art deco styling but I only wanted a bottle of Chita, until a salesman grabbed me. He’d obviously been told to give the Hazelwood 18yo the hard sell and I was invited to have a sample. Don’t mind if I do! Granted it was very pleasant but I just wanted a bottle of Chita (Japanese single grain). I must stick to my guns! Then the salesman said they only had two bottles of the Hazelwood left and indicated that stocks were selling out everywhere. Clearly I had “sucker” written all over me. Sadly it worked and I found myself saying, “I’ll take a bottle!” A combination of sales persistence, several more whisky samples and my collector’s gullibility had been my undoing. For the same price as the new and more interesting Balvenie 14yo ‘Peated’ (£65) I’d bought myself a 50cl, 18yo blend in a fancy bottle. Well done! The moral of this story is “stick to your plan” even if a slick salesman is plying you with free whisky.
Although 77/100 on Whiskybase sounds quite average it’s only from 2 votes so far. I’ve got a feeling it will level out around 80/100 after 20 votes. Having tasted it I’d say it was more like 82/100 from me but Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible scores the Hazelwood 18yo a fantastic 88/100. This classifies it as a ‘very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying’. I don’t feel so bad about being duped out of £65 now. Jim Murray’s review consists of:
Nose: top-notch dispersal of subtle notes: walnut cream cake with a pinch of vanilla. The malt is low key but distinctly Speyside-style in its clarity, despite the odd wisp of something a little heavy.
Taste: Creamy-textured. Soft ulmo honey gives way to the thickening vanilla and toffee.
Finish: bitters slightly at the turned-up ending
Comment: until the final furry moments, a genuine little, understated, charmer
Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the Hazelwood 18yo on YouTube (July 2017):
Bought: Tesco, 25th May 2017
79.83/100 – Whiskybase (average from 14 member votes)
The Bowmore No.1, new in 2017, replaces the ‘Small Batch’, which appeared in 2014. Both are NAS (no age statement) and matured in bourbon casks so you have to wonder if anyone will notice the difference? The No.1, unlike the Small Batch, is exclusively aged in first-fill bourbon casks, so maturation is quicker. I hope this doesn’t mean the No.1 is younger than the Small Batch, which was young enough!
The Small Batch on Whiskybase ended up with a score of 81.5/100 after 229 votes so the No.1 is lagging behind, although it’s early days yet. Comments on Whiskybase include, “reminds me rather of a strongly diluted mixture of (too) young Laphroaig and Caol Ila” and “the sweet ashes are nothing special but nice. For me this has more than a few mistakes”. At least someone on Amazon says, “wonderful nose you can’t go wrong with Bowmore”, but another comment adds, “spend the extra for the 12yr old. You won’t regret it.” Or get the 9yo if you’re on a budget and prefer a sherry influence instead of bourbon.
Tasting notes from Master of Malt:
Nose: Nutella on brown bread, sea salt and a hint of lemon zest.
Palate: Vanilla notes are up front and sweet (though earthy vanilla pod does appear after a minute). Plenty of coastal peat smoke.
Finish: Lingering smokiness.
Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts on YouTube about the Bowmore No.1 (May 2017):
Bought: Whisky Auction, 24th May 2017
Birth of Prince William, 1982:
82/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
Queen Elizabeth’s 60th Birthday 1986:
Not rated yet but listed on Whiskybase here.
Bell’s Decanters have arrived in my collection and the men in white coats are coming to take me away. Did I just go insane? But no whisky collection would be complete without one, even if the majority of people consider them to be a bit naff. This is probably why they don’t make much money at auction. I paid £11 for Prince William and £18 for the Queen’s 60th. Empty bottles sell for a similar price on Ebay. It seems weird to say they’re “yesterday’s antique” when they only appeared in the 1980s. Perhaps one day their value will bounce back but there seems to be a lot of them about. It’s time to buy them all up and smash them! Let’s reduce the numbers. I’m sure the royal family won’t mind.
The Bell’s decanter first appeared in the 1920s when it was made from blue glass and designed in a more traditional decanter shape. By the late 1930s the bottle began to take on a more bell-like appearance and was made from porcelain. By the 1950s Royal Doulton, a famous British porcelain manufacturer began making the Bell’s decanter in the brown and gold design seen in Ralfy’s video below. By 1960 Stode had taken over production and then in 1966 it was Wade of Stoke. The Christmas decanters (often seen at auction) began life in 1988, which is also the year the decanters started containing ‘Bell’s Extra Special Blended Scotch Whisky’. Prior to that it wasn’t extra special at all!
Both my examples are royal commemorative decanters, which Bell’s first produced for the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981. This was also the first time that white porcelain had been used and all the stock sold out in a matter of months. Given this fact it’s hardly surprising that Bell’s decided to continue the royal theme with a second decanter release in 1982 for the birthday of Prince William. A 3rd release in 1984 commemorated the birth of Prince Harry and a 4th and 5th release in 1986 marked Queen Elizabeth’s 60th birthday and the wedding of Prince Andrew and Miss Sarah Ferguson. Since then Bell’s have done several more regal releases.
I’ve heard Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com) describe himself as eccentric many times but he always comes across as being quite normal. Nevertheless he sometimes shows eccentricity with his purchases and he’s currently the only person I can find that’s done a review of a Bell’s decanter on YouTube. Here’s Ralfy’s decanter advice from October 2012:
Posted in Bell's
Tagged 1982, 1986, 40%, 43%, 50cl, 60th Birthday, 75cl, Bell's, Blend, British Royal Family, Decanter, NAS, Online Whisky Auction, Porcelain, Prince William, Queen Elizabeth II
Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 27th March 2017
77/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
79.68/100 – Whiskybase (average from 30 member votes)
You have to give the Speyside Distillery credit for trying. I was very impressed with the presentation of the Spey Tenné and now the Chairman’s Choice brings a very stylish box into the mix AND a scroll! Although I only bought a 20cl the salesman at the Aberdeen Whisky Shop almost convinced me to get the full 70cl based on the packaging alone. If I were buying it as a gift for an occasional drinker with a Speyside preference I would have gone for it, especially at £60. But for drinking something different with my brother I knew the 20cl would suffice. It’s good whisky but not scroll-worthy whisky.
Scoring 77/100 in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible classifies this Speyside Distillery NAS (non-age statement) as “average, and usually pleased but sometimes flawed”. Mr Murray’s review is incredibly brief and consists of “Their Chairman’s choice, maybe. But not mine”. Well that was very informative wasn’t it!
Scoring nearly 80/100 on Whiskybase is a reasonably good mark but nothing special. Comments include “the nose left a bit to be desired, but the palate was okay. Nevertheless, this Spey is a bit of a disappointment”, “not a bad whisky but not really good either” and “a clean and well crafted single malt with a gorgeous nose and a delicate sweet and fruity palate. Easy to drink, not really complex with a relatively one-dimensional finish. A delicate all-day dram.”
Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the Spey Chairman’s Choice (May 2015):
Bought: Whisky Auction, 24th May 2017
87/100 – Whisky Bible 2006
83.71/100 – Whiskybase (average from 9 member votes)
In 2015 a similar bottle of Glenturret 15yo sold at auction for £70, in 2016 for £50 and I got this old malt for £35 in 2017. At the same time the retail value of this bottle has been going up at a similar rate. This is because whisky shops tend to think that all whisky is increasing in value, which simply isn’t true, not if you follow the auction sites. If you want an old bottling of Glenturret than now is the time to buy at auction. If you’ve got an old bottle of this 15yo you’d like to sell then hold onto it because I have a feeling the auction price of this little beauty will bounce back.
When I say “beauty” I am of course referring to the taste not the packaging. In the 1990s Glenturret were going through a phase of asking a colour-blind hamster to design their boxes and labels. Dirty yellow and brown, really?! But what’s inside has gone down extremely well with 9 members of Whiskybase where nearly 84/100 is a fantastic score. One member concludes with “wonderfully balanced with a easygoing flavor palette.”
Although Jim Murray’s score of 87/100 in his Whisky Bible 2006 is a good bit after the 1990s this was a fairly consistent 15yo as it moved across the millennium. Mr Murray’s score classifies this dram as “very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying”. He says about the taste “highly intense malt that sweetens, mildly oily with a hint of oak” and summaries with “a discontinued bottling now: if you see it, it is worth the small investment”. And I couldn’t agree more!
Tasting notes provided on Whiskybase:
Nose: Flowery, sweet and pleasant.
Taste: Soft vanilla notes, light peppery and notes of fruit.
Finish: Pleasantly sharp and soothing.
Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 30th March 2017
90/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)
When I watch the Whisky Hunter on YouTube I’ve been stunned by how many amazing finds he’s made. It seems that every garage sale or backwater off license in America harbours a classic whisky at a ridiculously low price. Why can’t the UK be the same? It’s possibly because bourbon is the big thing in America and single malts and blends get neglected. More people in the UK want and recognise a vintage whisky so it’s rare to see one languishing on a shop shelf for years.
I found this bottle of Crawford’s 5 Star in the Aberdeen Whisky Shop. They’d recently bought it from a private seller so it hadn’t been sitting on the shelf for long. Priced at £50 I did some research and discovered that bottles can sell at auction for over £100 but also less than £40 depending on age and condition. This particular version dates from the 1980s, which appears to be the last decade the 5 Star was produced, although it might have crept into the 1990s. A whisky auction site says “A & A Crawford was a whisky blender and merchant which established in Leith in 1860, now belonging to Whyte and Mackay’s portfolio. The deluxe 5 Star Blend that was launched in the 1920s, now discontinued, followed the success of the 3 star offering.” The Whisky Exchange are selling a bottle of 5 Star from the 1950s for £350.
I don’t think discovering this bottle of Crawford’s has turned me into a whisky hunter because £50 is probably all it’s worth. The reason I bought it was because of the great reviews it gets for flavour. 90/100 on Whiskybase is a fantastic score, albeit from only 2 member votes. Ben of ‘A Dram A Day’ is also very impressed. Here are his thoughts about the Crawford’s 5 Star on YouTube (Sept 2016):