Bought: Online Auction, 5th October 2017
76.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2013
89/100 – Serge Valentin (www.whiskyfun.com)
86.5/100 – Whiskybase (average from 225 member votes)
Highland Park ‘Saint Magnus’ 12yo was a distillery release in 2010 and was the second edition from the Inga Saga trilogy. The Saint Magnus label isn’t new to Highland Park as I’ve seen bottle examples using it in the 1960s. The Inga Saga trio consisted of:
- Earl Magnus 15yo, 2009, 5,976 bottles, 52.6%
- Saint Magnus 12yo, 2010, 11,994 bottles, 55%
- Earl Haakon 18yo, 2011, 3,300 bottles, 54.9%
When the Saint Magnus 12yo appeared in 2010 it was priced at €100. Some felt it was expensive for what it was but €100 for a similar release in 2017 would seem quite reasonable. The presentation is very good and I like the sturdy wooden display case. An equivalent Highland Park costing €100 today would be the Sigurd, which comes in a solid wooden box but it’s NAS (non-age statement), widely available and only 43%.
Jim Murray’s review of the Saint Magnus in his Whisky Bible 2013 is a bit of an outlier especially when compared to 89/100 from Serge Valentin of Whisky Fun. Mr Murray simply says “tight and bitter” and 76.5/100 classifies this dram as “average and usually pleasant though sometimes flawed”. Serge Valentin only uses the word ‘bitter’ with regards to ‘bitter oranges’ in the taste but I don’t get the impression this is a negative remark. He says “the cinnamon is really big” and, “with water: now it’s really excellent, with a great earthiness”. I’m a big fan of cinnamon so this sounds good to me!
Scoring over 86.5/100 on Whiskybase is a very good mark. Comments include “great malt”, “shows the potential of the distillery” and “one of the most interesting malts that HP has brought to market in recent years” (written in 2016). I’m left thinking that Jim Murray had a tainted sample because his low rating of the Saint Magnus is in the minority.
Bought: Tesco, 22nd September 2017
85.41/100 – Whiskybase (average from 19 member votes)
When Highland Park met ‘Game of Thrones’ the ‘Dragon Legend’ was born. It’s like when Harry met Sally but with more fire breathing and less fake orgasm. Highland Park claim ‘Dragon Legend’ has got something to do with Vikings but we can all see through the thin façade. Clearly someone at the distillery’s marketing department loves heraldic, Valhalla, Lord of the Rings fantasies. The Hobbister release in 2016 even had the word ‘Hobbit’ in it! I rest my case.
But, marketing aside, the new Dragon Legend is scoring very well on Whiskybase. Over 85/100 is an excellent mark, especially when compared to similarly priced NAS (no age statement) bottles from Highland Park such as the Einar (80.3/100) and Svein (81.4/100). Comments on Whiskybase about the Dragon Legend include “more full-bodied, sherried and peaty than the Valkyrie, but less fruity”, “better than the standard 12YO and IMO better than the Valkyrie” and “there’s certainly enough complexity and distillery character to be able to recommend this whisky at its £40 price tag”. Tesco have even had it on offer at £30 – wow!
Here’s Martin Markvardsen, senior brand ambassador for Highland Park, giving us the tasting notes for the Dragon Legend (October 2017):
Bought: Highland Park online shop, 17th August 2017
84.89/100 – Whiskybase (average from 20 member votes)
The ‘Shiel’ is the second bottle in the Keystones Series, which started with the release of the ‘Hobbister’ in 2016. Both releases were limited to 1200 bottles and offered to the Highland Park ‘Inner Circle’ to gobble up as fast as possible. I missed out on the Hobbister in 2016 when I thought I’d joined the Inner Circle only to realise I hadn’t. Even when you manage to become a member you have to be careful to read emails from HP thoroughly and follow links and instructions to the letter.
The Shiel was released at a similar time to the Royal Mile Whisky Shop announcing their entrance into the auction market. They caused quite a stir by having an ‘ethics’ list on their new auction website which included, “Royal Mile Whisky Auctions will not accept for auction any limited edition whiskies within one year of release” and “whisky fans know that prices are not being artificially driven up, especially those new releases being ‘flipped’ immediately after release.” Will this stop Flippers from simply buying limited edition whiskies for a quick profit? No because they’ll just wait a year then sell. Not that I’ve seen any other auction house joining this crusade against flipping. It’s been over a year since the Hobbister was released and bottles are making £300 at auction having been flipped initially for around £350 before dipping to £200. Bottles of Shiel are making £250 so not as profitable for the Flippers as the Hobbister but still a good return for £81, even after auction costs.
For those of us who are actually interested in drinking the Shiel, which is what it was designed for, initial ratings are very good. Scoring nearly 85/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score but lagging behind the Hobbister, which gets 88/100 from 12 member votes.
Tasting notes from Highland Park for the Shiel:
Nose: Unashamedly smoky, camphor, eucalyptus, violets and vanilla
Palate: Dry peatiness, pencil shavings with light vanilla
Finish: Dry and lingering peatiness
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: 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: The Whisky Exchange, 11th May 2017
86.82/100 – Whiskybase (average from 64 member votes)
Highland Park have obviously decided it was time for a change and 2017 sees the start of a new design for their label and packaging across their core range and the new ‘Valkyrie’. And I love it! Unfortunately it makes the old bottles look rather plain and dated, like having a modern car sitting beside a Ford Granada. But the old design has been kicking around for about 10 years and was clearly in need of an update. The new look pushes further towards Orkney’s Nordic ancestry, and the nipped-in waist of the bottle suggests many hours in the gym working on those obliques!
The Valkyrie replaces the ‘Dark Origins’ and begins a series of 3 new bottles to appear over the next 3 years. Already the Valkyrie is over 2 points ahead of the Dark Origins on Whiskybase, which is very impressive. Comments for the Valkyrie include, “quite weird HP with heavily peated. I like it. The weakness is the finish.” And “Not a bad HP after all, very mineral with a rather short finish.” But someone on ‘Master of Malt’ says “lingering finish” where the Valkyrie scores 4/5 stars from 6 reviews. On ‘The Whisky Exchange’ it scores 5/5 stars from 6 reviews with comments of “a fantastic rounded dram” and “near perfection”.
Although some reviewers find the Valkyrie underwhelming (especially the finish), the majority are very impressed with this new offering from Highland Park. With 250,000 bottles and a reasonable price tag of £55, it’s a good start for a new series, which will include Valknut and Valhalla in 2018 and 2019.
Tasting notes from ‘Master of Malt’:
Nose: Chocolate and some nutmeg off the bat before the smoke develops, balanced by dried apricot, plum and, increasingly, zesty orange too.
Palate: Plump dried fruits are complimented by vanilla, dried apple and waves of smoke and wood spice.
Finish: Liquorice and more fruit too, plus a return of some chocolatey notes.
Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts on YouTube about the Highland Park Valkyrie (June 2017):
Bought: Whisky Auction, 9th February 2017
85.33/100 – Whiskybase (average from 5 member votes)
Released in 2012, this Travel Retail exclusive was a replacement for the 1990 bottle. At the same time the 2001 came in to replace the 1998 release. Unlike the Highland Park (HP) 1990 the HP 1991 was limited to the Singapore market. This may explain why it didn’t appear in Jim Murray’s ‘Whisky Bible’. Strangely it took over 4 years after the release before the HP 1991 started to appear in UK auctions. I’ve heard of the slow boat from China but these bottles must have been on a tortoise from Singapore! Auction prices have ranged from £77.50 to a whopping £165, which is a lot for a 10-11yo HP. Nevertheless I foresee prices going up because this seems to be quite a rare bottle.
Scoring over 85/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score but the HP 1990, which the 1991 replaced, scores 86.44/100. The 1990 was bottled in 2010, which makes it slightly younger than the 1991. So being older doesn’t necessarily mean being better.
Tasting notes about the HP 1991 from ‘Scotch Malt Whisky’ say:
“Golden with glowing coppery tones, Vintage 1991 (40% ABV) has aromas of dried orange peel, vanilla with toasted cedar wood and rich fragrant spicy notes such as nutmeg, a hint of cloves and incense. Mouth-watering lemon and orange citrus flavours in the mouth, with sweet vanilla custard notes wrapped in subtle yet complex spices at the end. The finish is medium sweet with a lingering, smoky spiciness.”
Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 3rd June 2016
85.25/100 – Whiskybase (from 6 member votes)
The ‘Ingvar’ much like the Highland Park ‘Sword’ before it is exclusive to the Taiwan Travel Retail market. It first appeared in January 2016 and slowly drifted onto the UK auction scene with prices falling from £100 as more bottles began to make it over from Taiwan.
Scoring 85.25/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent mark albeit from only 6 member votes so far. At 60.5% this special cask strength edition certainly packs a punch and is a nice addition for any Highland Park lover or collector. Here is what the distillery say about the Ingvar:
“Ingvar Ragnarsson was a warrior king famed for his cunning nature, cruelty and skills on the battlefield. Legend has it that Ingvar and his brothers formed the Great Heathen Army to avenge their father’s untimely death in a pit of vipers. They went on to conquer Dublin and rampaged through Northern England and East Anglia, eventually beheading the King with a long spear.
Ingvar joins the other warriors (alongside the newest recruit, King Christian 1), bringing to life Highland Park’s heritage and distinction through stories and iconography from Viking history.”
Bought: Master of Malt, 3rd March 2016
92/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
88/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
I’m always keen to add a different Highland Park to my collection and what better than one from a new independent bottler, Edinburgh Whisky. The company have been on the go since 2013/14 but only appear to have bottled a Highland Park, Glenlivet and a blend so far. I found their website quite annoying because it keeps asking me to confirm I am over 18yo as I try to move from page to page. A basic error that should have been fixed by now if anyone in the company bothered to test it.
There were only 257 bottles produced of this HP. For a collector that’s a good thing. With an age statement (15yo), natural colour and non chill-filtered, this ex-bourbon cask whisky ticks a lot of good boxes. Thankfully Jim Murray agrees in his latest Whisky Bible 2017 where 92/100 classifies this HP as “brilliant”. He summaries with “after an uncharacteristic scramble on delivery this becomes a classic HP for its age, as is the nose. Rather lovely.”
The supplied tasting notes are:
NOSE: Soft, smoky initial maritime hit – from Lapsang tea to light iodine – washed over with a mineral, salty brine. The sweet fruitiness of candied orange and dried apricot evelops into darker fruit like fresh figs and prunes in Armagnac, which leads to great savoury elements like new leather, pipe tobacco and toasted macadamias. Lightly floral and aromatic with notes of fresh roses, wild heather and jasmine tea.
TASTE: Lovely mouthfeel – both dense and smooth. Panettone to salted caramel and pure heather honey. Baked apples and golden raisins. Cigar box woodiness. Climbing intensity with the light peat smoke throughout. Dark and brooding. Long, lush finish.
IMPRESSION: A sophisticated and truly engaging malt that slowly draws you in to some dark smokey world, but keeps balance and lightness and becomes about the sum of its parts, rather than just peat, or fruit. One to take time over. Quite special.
A couple of reviews can be found here:
Bought: Master of Malt, 3rd March 2016
83.5/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)
I confess I’ve been delaying getting this bottle of Highland Park for my HP collection because of its mixed reviews. Although my 35cl bottle gets a healthy 83.5/100 on Whiskybase it’s only from 2 member votes. The full 70cl (which is effectively the same stuff) scores a more modest 81.7/100 from 20 votes, which is good but not brilliant. Hardly surprising for a young single malt from an Orkney distillery where age really matters. Youthful Islay malts often get praised for their depth of flavour but with HP drams they seem to need time in the cask to become great. Just consider the distillery’s own 18yo, 25yo and 30yo. But, as someone mentions for this 8yo by Gordon & MacPhail (G&M) “fairly simple HP, but certainly value for money.” For the price you can hardly expect great things from this whisky.
Up until 2012 this bottling by G&M was 40% but then they sensibly increased it to 43%, giving it a bigger kick than the standard 12yo. One reviewer on Whiskybase says of my 35cl “great Nose! Slightly peaty, but very light and fruity at the same time. Exotic fruits like mango and peaches. On the palate, the light smokiness and the fruits remain, sweet like exotic fruit gums. Does not develop much, short to medium finish. Nothing sensational, but quite a juicy dram all the same.”
Reviews on Master of Malt are very good (4 out of 5 stars) but this review by Chemistry of the Cocktail is less favourable. The reality is it’s young, pleasant, slightly underwhelming but you can’t grumble at the price.