Tag Archives: Islands

Ledaig 10-year-old

Bought: The Whisky World, 28th August 2020

Ratings:

85.5/100 – Whisky Bible

83.3/100 – Whiskybase (average from 1195 member votes)

Ledaig, the peated Tobermory, is not something you’d give to a novice whisky drinker, unless they have very eclectic taste buds. But once you’re a regular sipper, or looking for something different to Islay peat, Ledaig has a lot to offer. Not that I’m any sort of Ledaig expert. It’s another whisky where I’m guilty of enjoying my first experience but then not following it up with another example. Slap my wrist….but let me put my glass down first!

My previous experience of Ledaig was an NAS that’s long been discontinued. It was slightly rough around the edges but I could taste the potential this spirit would have with a bit more time in the cask. The 10-year-old seems like a suitable upgrade and reviews suggest this is an excellent dram. Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible says “almost a Bowmore in disguise, such are its distinctive cough sweet qualities. Massive peat; easily one of the highest phenol Ledaigs of all time. But, as usual, a slight hiccup on the technical front. Hard not to enjoy it, though.” His score of 85.5/100 classifies the Ledaig 10yo as ‘good to excellent whisky, definitely worth buying’.

Comments online about the Ledaig 10yo include, “I knew the maritime peat, the medicinal peat, here is the filthy peat!”, “It’s a shame that this one isn’t talked about very much, because it’s spectacular!” and “Wow. This is one of the nicest peated youngish whiskeys out there. Better than Ardbeg 10 and other rivals.”

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Quite light and well-balanced. There is a very soft peat with a gentle smoke. Notes of barley and malt extract, with walnut and pine oil and a hint of iodine, dried fruit and nuts.

Palate: Medium-bodied and quite rich. There are notes of spice and smoke gathering above the charred oak. The peat is quiet and dry with a touch of black pepper and earth.

Finish: Medium-length and slightly smoky with spice.

Here’s Andy of Malt Box on YouTube (November 2020) with his thoughts on the Ledaig 10yo:

Highland Park ‘Valfather’

Bought: Master of Malt, 17th March 2020

Ratings:

84.27/100 – Whiskybase (average from 162 member votes)

The Highland Park (HP) ‘Valfather’ is the third and final bottle of the ‘Viking Legend’ series, which kicked off with the Valkyrie in 2017, then the Valknut in 2018. Valfather makes reference to the Norse god Odin. His strength is reflected in the extra peatiness of the Valfather, which has been a highlight of this whisky for a number of reviewers. Presented at 47% with natural colour, you have to feel that HP kept the best for last.

Danish designer Jim Lyngvild provided his artistic skills for the presentation of the Viking Legend series. Did you know that Jim Lyngvild appeared on the TV show ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ in 2009? No, neither did I but it’s on his Wikipedia page. Apparently he’s known for his ability to eat things very quickly, which has earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records. If this skill also includes drinking, perhaps it’s best to keep him away from the Highland Park distillery!

Valfather’s score of 84.27/100 on Whiskybase is very good. It’s slightly less than the Valknut (85/100) but slightly more than the Valkyrie (83.7). Comments for the Valfather include “I was disappointed with the nose but give it a moment then wow”, “the flavours are intense yet amazingly balanced” and “smokey notes, fruity after taste with hints of vanilla, what’s not to like!”. Valfather also scores an excellent 4.7/5 stars on Amazon from 211 reviewers, although a lot of the 5 star reviews say “I gave it to a friend and they’re still speaking to me”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Robust, but refined smoke fills the nose initially followed by delicate vanilla, Conference pears, green apple skins and a heady, heavy floral richness. Underneath there’s cedarwood, honeycomb, spice from black pepper and nutmeg, as well as salted caramel before the heathery peat makes itself known. A sprightly sea breeze note emerges with time.

Palate: Simultaneously huge and yet elegant, the palate is beautifully integrated. Layers of creamy vanilla, apricot yoghurt and a helping of crème brûlée interplay with notes of incense burners, iron and salted almonds. Then there’s bitter orange marmalade, charred wood and dried earth among touches of cacao powder, toffee apples and smoked paprika.

Finish: Long and confident. The floral smoke lingers for an age but is offset by tropical fruit and black pepper.

Here’s Ben and Horst Luening with their thoughts about the HP Valfather on YouTube, August 2019:

Highland Park ‘Valknut’

Bought: Master of Malt, 14th August 2019

Ratings:

85/100 – Whiskybase (average from 238 member votes)

The ‘Valknut’ release of 2018 is the second in Highland Park’s ‘Viking Legend’ series, which started with ‘Valkyrie’ in 2017 and finished with the third release ‘Valfather’ in 2019. If you have a nut allergy, don’t panic! The Valknut does not contain nuts and I haven’t seen any reference to nuts in the tasting notes. The word ‘Valknut’ translates as ‘knot of those slain in battle’ and refers to a symbol of three inter-linked triangles, which represent the transition from earthly life to heavenly life.

If you’re a fan of German football you might recognise the Valknut symbol. The 3 inter-linked triangles inspired the logo used by the German Football Association (DFB) since 1991. Archaeology has found the symbol on a variety of objects used by the ancient Germanic peoples. The symbol has a strong connection with Odin, a prominent god of Northern Europe as recorded during Roman occupation over 2000 years ago. Germany, Scandinavia, Orkney – we’re all connected. If you start reading up on it you’ll be needing a drop of whisky to keep you going!

Highland Park say about the Valknut “created using a higher proportion of our local peated malt and matured in a combination of sherry seasoned European and American oak casks and ex-bourbon casks.” It’s this extra peat that’s caught the attention of a lot of the drinkers, in a favourable way. Scoring 85/100 on Whiskybase is a very good mark, which nudges it ahead of its two ‘Legend’ brothers, the Valkyrie (83.7/100) and Valfather (84.3/100). Comments online for the Valknut include “good balance. Seaweeds and peach go hand in hand. This is very pleasant and quaffable”, “really nice balance and a lot of taste which makes this a dram that I can keep pouring all evening without boring me” and “good approachable Highland Park, which even though it is a NAS, shows fair complexity and depth”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Warming peat smoke rises, paired with fresh vanilla, thyme honey and sandalwood.

Palate: Toasted barley and fennel seed, with a kick of cinnamon underneath.

Finish: Flamed orange peel, a very light touch of BBQ char, gingerbread and nutmeg.

Here’s Vin PF of ‘No Nonsense Whisky’ with his thoughts about the Valknut on YouTube (Dec 2018):

Talisker 15-year-old, Diageo Special Release 2019

Bought: Master of Malt, 28th October 2019

Ratings:

87.82/100 – Whiskybase (average from 492 member votes)

84/100 – Ralfy (his YouTube review below)

I was quite glad when I realised that the Diageo ‘special release’ of Talisker for 2020 was an 8-year-old. My instant reaction was “that’s the same age statement as the 2018 release, so I’ve got it already”. Complete nonsense I know because they’re obviously different whiskies but, heck, it’s the same age! If they’d made the 2020 a 9yo, or 11yo, I would have felt compelled to get it but…. another 8yo? No, I’ll save my money. The Cardhu 11yo looked much more interesting, which I’ll be blogging about at a later date.

I’m a big fan of the standard Talisker 10yo. It’s in my top 3 favourite go-to whiskies. When I finally tried the distillery’s 18yo release I was rather disappointed. The 10yo is youthful and vibrant, which was mellowed out and lost after another 8 years in the cask. It therefore came as no surprise that Ralfy only gives this 15yo release 84/100, which is quite a low mark from him. Although 87.82/100 on Whiskybase is a great score, the younger 8yo from the previous year breaks 88/100 with over 630 votes.

It’s often said that Islay whiskies taste great when young, and Ardbeg have embraced that with their 5yo ‘Wee Beastie’ release but can the same be said for Talisker? Perhaps not as young as 5 but maybe 10 years is the optimal age, with enough maturity to have depth but still youthful to have that zing on your taste buds.

Whatever my amateurish, unscientific opinion, comments online for the Talisker 15yo have been very favourable. Remarks included “brilliant Talisker that reminds me somewhat of the 57° North”, “great whisky, a wide palette of derivatives, wonderful soft smoky peat notes framed by sweet cream, excellent balance, depth, very smooth, polished” and “peaty, salty, malty and really bold and impressive”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: A seaweed iodine note is the first to spring from the glass – but it’s sunny and inviting, not industrial and heavy. Kelloggs Cornflakes, honey-roasted cashews, tangy cinnamon, warm nutmeg, and caramel notes build on the sense of sunshine, while an undercurrent of peat smoke brings depth. Water rounds it all out a bit and gives more of a velvety impression.

Palate: The rush of sweetness is a real surprise – on the front of the palate there are peach notes, raisin and perhaps red cherry. Then it’s all about that rich spice, along with the peat – a delicious abutment of pepper heat, bright allspice and rolling smoke. With water, it gets even sweeter and a little quieter, but still really tasty and mouth-filling.

Finish: Long and rich, but with a happy lightness, too.

Here’s Ralfy on YouTube with his thoughts about the Talisker 15yo Special Release by Diageo (Sept 2020):

Talisker 8-year-old Special Release 2018

Bought: Master of Malt, 18th September 2018

Ratings:
87.92/100 – Whiskybase (average from 321 member votes)
9/10 – Whisky Wednesday (his YouTube review here)

I must admit I wasn’t even aware of the 2018 Special Releases from Diageo until this Talisker 8-year-old appeared towards the end of the run. It may even have been the last of the 10. The previous 9 were either too expensive or too mediocre for me to care. Among them was a 28-year-old from the closed distillery Pittyvaich, which I’ve rarely heard good things about. But as a collector’s item I’m sure it will do very well. No doubt this Talisker 8yo will do the same. Thankfully its youthfulness was its saving grace with regards to price. Diageo kept it down to £70 but 8 months later and auction prices are hitting £130.

No doubt the chosen age statement of 8 years was doffing its cap to the classic Talisker 8yo last seen in the 1980s but back then it was still only 45.8%. This special release tips the scales at 59.4% so it’s like the 57 Degrees on steroids with an age worth owning up to. I’m beginning to wish I’d bought two bottles!

Not surprisingly the reviews for this tantalising Talisker have been very favourable. Comments online include “the most flavoursome whisky I have had in living memory, and I am very old”, “this is superb, I cannot see how they got such complexity and depth in an 8yo” and Serge of Whisky Fun summaries with “fantastic whisky, one of the best quality/age ratio out there, in my opinion” and rated it 91/100.

As tempting as it is to keep this special Talisker as in investment I feel it has to be drunk at some stage. I’d have to hit rock bottom before considering selling it, even when it starts getting over £200 at auction. As a big fan of this Skye distillery it would be a travesty not to taste this little beauty. Something for a special occasion.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Super medicinal: this one is all about the Bonjela notes. There’s metallic peat smoke of course, along with topical pineapple, strawberry, roast pork, peppery vanilla, and a toffee backdrop.

Palate: Powerful – this one packs a punch. There’s pepper, wood smoke, pork sausages on a barbeque, apple sauce, coffee beans, butterscotch and blackcurrant. There’s a cranberry-citrus sharpness, too.

Finish: Long and lingering, and all about that woodsmoke-fruit balance.

Here’s Mark ‘Jedi’ Dermul with his thoughts on the Talisker 8yo on YouTube, which he scores an excellent 86/100 (April 2019):

Highland Park ‘Valkyrie’

Bought: The Whisky Exchange, 11th May 2017

Ratings:
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):

Talisker ‘Dark Storm’

Bought: World of Whisky (Heathrow Airport), 10th September 2016

Ratings:
92/100 – Whisky Bible 2016
83.85/100 – Whiskybase (average from 309 member votes)

The Talisker ‘Dark Storm’ first appeared in 2013, the very year I got into drinking, collecting and investing in whisky. Even though I love Talisker it’s taken me 3 years to get the Dark Storm because of the NAS (non-age statement) war that was raging in 2013. The younger Macallan age statements (10yo, 12yo & 15yo) were being replaced by NAS and most new NAS bottles were greeted with scepticism and sneers. As I searched for advice online I got unfairly tainted by the NAS jibes, often by people who hadn’t even tasted the whisky they were insulting. Not that the Dark Storm was easy to acquire being a Travel Retail exclusive (airport Duty Free) but it also took me a while to get the ‘Storm’. Of course ‘exclusive’ means the Dark Storm is available in numerous shops in Germany and Holland, as well as £62.90 from Amazon UK (£44.99 at airports).

The Whisky Bible’s score of 92/100 relates to the 2013 edition of the Dark Storm but I have the 2014 version. Not that there’s much difference between the two. If anything the 2014 is slightly better as it scores 83.85/100 on Whiskybase with the 2013 release scoring 83.77/100 (from 344 votes). Both are fantastic scores. Comments for my bottle include “not your typical Talisker, but still very serious and complex”, “a very round and delicate malt” and “damn good release from Talisker”.

As Horst Luening says during his review on You Tube (here) there’s probably colour added but neither he nor any review I’ve read say this affects the taste. He suspects the Dark Storm is a young spirit but the heavily charred wood has been used brilliantly in smoothing and shaping the flavour. There are several other You Tube reviews, all very complimentary (Jo of Whisky Wednesday loves it and scores it 9/10) but I’ve added the following review from Scotch 4 Dummies because they give us four different opinions (April 2016 – 15 minutes):

talisker-dark-storm-nas-100cl

Highland Park ‘Ingvar’

Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 3rd June 2016

Ratings:
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.”

Highland Park Ingvar NAS 70cl

Scapa 1980 25-year-old – 500th blog post!

Bought: Whisky Please, 10th December 2015

Ratings:
89.4/100 – Whiskybase (average from 17 member votes)
88/100 – Malt Maniacs (from 2 maniac votes)

It’s purely by chance that my 500th blog post is about one of the best whiskies in my collection. As much as I love Highland Park I have a soft spot for their Orkney neighbour Scapa. Whiskybase list 203 distillery releases from Highland Park but only 16 from Scapa, such is the rarity of direct bottlings. Of the 16 bottles the 25yo gets the best rating with an amazing 89.4/100.

Only 2000 bottles of this Scapa 25yo were released in 2005 but you can still see them popping up in auctions and shops quite regularly. Here is how the 25yo compares against other familiar Scapa releases on Whiskybase:

  • 89.4/100 – Scapa 25-year-old
  • 82.63/100 – Scapa 16-year-old ‘The Orcadian’
  • 81.58/100 – Scapa 14-year-old
  • 81.14/100 – Scapa 12-year-old
  • 79.14/100 – Scapa ‘Skiren’

Talk about being ‘head and shoulders’ above the rest! A member of Whiskybase describes the 25yo’s taste as “spicy and malty aroma, cinnamon, pepper, oat porridge, vanilla, red apples, lemon, floral honey, tea and dry hay. Marzipan sweet taste, eucalyptus, pepper, malt, vanilla and walnuts. Medium long and malty end.” Another member summarises with “this is an absolute powerful Scapa with the knowing sweet and malty notes and even the sea breeze in the background. A complex and powerful experience and you might be sure, close your eyes, take a sip and you’ll be on Orkney.”

Scapa 1980 25yo 70cl

Highland Park 1986 20-year-old ‘Premiers Choice’

Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 9th December 2015

Ratings:
85.6/100 – Whiskybase (average from 17 member votes)

Distilled on the 1st June 1986 and bottled on the 1st June 2006, this 20-year-old Highland Park was sold exclusively to the Thailand market. Nearly 10 years later it’s made it back to the UK where I found it in an online auction. The ‘Premier’ referred to in the title of the bottle is clearly pictures on the label, the late great Sir Winston Churchill. Is he particularly well known in Thailand? And was he fond of Highland Park? All I’ve ever read about Sir Winston suggests he preferred a blend such as Johnnie Walker or Hankey Bannister but when has accuracy ever stood in the way of marketing!

85.6/100 on Whiskybase is a very good rating. One of the voters kindly provides this summary “a tad fruitier and less beefy/leathery peaty ness than the 18yo OB. It’s more accessible, yet drier. It’s almost engineered to me. It has dried apricot up front, which is new for me. I really like it, but it’s a shame they bottled this goodness at such low strength. It should have been at least 43 percent to give it the body like the 18 has over this. If you can buy this for less then 70 euros I would still recommend it over almost everything I know under it. It’s complete by assembly.”

Highland Park 1986 20yo Premiers Choice 70cl