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: World of Whisky (Heathrow Airport), 10th September 2016
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):
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: Whisky Please, 10th December 2015
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.”
Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 9th December 2015
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.”
Bought: Just Whisky Auction, 15th November 2015
88/100 – Whisky Bible 2008
82.68/100 – Whiskybase (average from 33 member votes)
This discontinued distillery bottle of Highland Park first appeared in October 2005 and was a new addition to Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible in 2007. The 100cl version I have was exclusive to ‘Travel Retail’ so found in certain airport terminals. There was a 70cl and miniature more generally available. The bible score of 88/100 classifies this HP as “very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying”. The author says of the taste “mouthwatering and delightfully weighted barley with soft nuances of liquorice and smoke” and concludes with “I tasted this the day it first came out at one of the Heathrow whisky shops. I thought it a bit flat and uninspiring. This sample, maybe from another bottle, is more impressive and showing true Highland Park colours”.
Although 82.68/100 on Whiskybase is a reasonable score it’s only marginally ahead of the standard 12yo (82.38/100) and lagging slightly behind the 15yo (83.13/100). It certainly can’t hold a candle to the 18yo (87.42/100), which is a classic of its time. But if you love Highland Park this 16yo is certainly a good dram and worth looking out for. Hard To Find Whisky are selling a bottle for £120 but it goes for about £80 at auction.
Here’s a short Highland Park distillery video about the 16-year-old:
Bought: SMWS, 4th November 2015
87.25/100 – Whiskybase (average from 4 member votes)
Although Jim Murray doesn’t mention this HP by the SMWS in his Whisky Bible 2016 (it’s too new) he does mention 4 other HPs by this experienced independent bottler. They range from a 13yo scoring 88.5/100 to a 22yo scoring an incredible 96.5/100. In the middle are two 14yos, which are closest in age to my 15yo. They score 93/100 and 95.5/100 respectively. This tells me that, according to Jim Murray at least, the guys at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society know how to pick a good Highland Park. This is hardly surprising when you consider that Whiskybase mention 137 separate releases of HP by the SMWS since their inception in the early 1980s. They have a lot of knowledge of Highland Park and it shows in the quality of casks they select for bottling. The code ‘4.213’ would suggest this is the 213th HP cask the SMWS have released. That’s about one bottling every two months since the society started.
My 15yo, distilled in 1999, goes by the name of “A Regency Pomander” with the usual over-the-top Oscar-winning tasting notes conjured up by the SMWS “from the word go this one was oozing quality. The aromas were intoxicating, baked apple with crème Anglaise, Banana Brulee using Ambrosia custard, clove studded oranges, a very chocolaty mousse and always in the background, the fragrant glow of a Jo Malone incense and embers candle. The taste neat was that of thick, sweet and waxy goodness, deep fried corn fritters served with honey and cream, blueberry pancakes with maple syrup and chocolate tofu pudding. A drop of water and the luxurious fragrance of a rosewater poured candle appeared along with a heavenly dessert of macadamia praline and Frangelico parfait.”
In the video below Georgie of the SMWS explains the society’s bottle labels:
Posted in Highland Park
Tagged 15yo, 4.213, 56.6%, 70cl, A Regency Pomander, Cask Strength, Highland Park, Islands, Orkney, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Single Cask, Single Malt, SMWS
Bought: SMWS, 27th October 2015
85.5/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)
Well, I finally did it, I joined the ‘Scotch Malt Whisky Society’ (SMWS). I’d been considering it for over a year but I didn’t know how long my whisky interest would continue, or if £130 for the initial annual membership fee was worth it. I did my research and concluded that bottles by the SMWS aren’t ideal for a collector but much better for the drinker. Hmmm….but I’m a collector first and foremost so what convinced me to join? The society has an excellent reputation for picking good distillery examples and always at cask strength, unchillfiltered and natural colour. £130 might seem a steep joining fee but you receive a nice membership box with three 10cl bottles (which must be worth £40) and any purchase thereafter comes with free postage. When I joined there were 14 different cask strength bottlings under £50 in the online SMWS shop, and always with an age statement.
My first bottle had to be a Highland Park, which has a society code beginning with the number 4 (which denotes the 4th distillery the society worked with). The list is quite easy to find online. This HP has been given the title ‘The Cinderella Cottage’ which is a bit bonkers but wait until you hear the description on the bottle:
“Our travellers arrive at the chilly coastal cottage, it has been lying empty with damp plaster walls and sea salt encrusted windows. Old cinders lay in the grate so the weary crew lit the fire with heather and peat. They speared sausages with rosemary sticks and grilled them, skin splitting, on the open flames with green tomatoes. From their provisions they cobbled together a makeshift feast of prawn crackers, dimsum and tempura shrimps with sesame seeds. They baked apples in the embers, crispy skinned, and finished their pudding with dough balls. Warm and fed – what a transformation!”
Creating a story to present the tasting notes is certainly unusual but quite intriguing. This Highland Park comes with the drinking tip of “Friday night session dram in a cold climate”.
Here’s Jo of ‘Whisky Wednesday’ and his first review of a SMWS bottle where the membership is also discussed:
Posted in Highland Park
Tagged 19yo, 4.209, 54.5%, 70cl, Cask Strength, Highland Park, Islands, Orkney, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, SMWS, The Cinderella Cottage
Bought: Online Auction, 9th October 2015
79.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2016
86/100 – Whiskybase (average from 29 member votes)
Distilled in 1997 and bottled in the autumn of 2010, this Highland Park (HP) was produced exclusively for the Taiwan Travel Retail market. Although it’s not stated on the bottle this is a 13yo as confirmed by Gerry Tosh of HP Distillery in the video below. Sadly it’s now discontinued, although for a collector that’s a good thing! Hard To Find Whisky are selling a bottle for £300 but bottles can be found at auction for less than £100.
Any whisky averaging above 85/100 on Whiskybase is clearly a good dram. One reviewer remarks “an outstanding and very typical Highland Park, the balance of flavours is just perfect”. Unfortunately Jim Murray isn’t as impressed in his Whisky Bible where 79.5/100 classifies The Sword as “average, and usually pleasant though sometimes flawed”. Mr Murray’s entire review consists of “shows its cutting edge for only a brief while on delivery – when it is quite spectacular. Otherwise painfully blunt.” He scores the taste 23/25 (i.e., 92/100) but it’s the nose, finish, balance and complexity that let it down. Thankfully that’s only his opinion. Clearly the majority of drinkers have enjoyed this limited edition from Highland Park.
Gerry Tosh of Highland Park gives us his thoughts about this dram on You Tube (March 2012):
Posted in Highland Park
Tagged 1997, 43%, 70cl, Highland Park, Islands, NAS, Online Whisky Auction, Orkney, Single Malt, The Sword, Travel Retail, Viking Collection
Bought: Shetland Reel Gin, 11th September 2015
None as yet but listed on Whiskybase here.
I was going to list this whisky in my collection as a ‘Glenglassaugh’ since that’s where it was distilled but what the heck, I’m putting it under ‘Saxa Vord Distillery’ on the island of Unst in Shetland where it was bottled. The big selling point of this single malt when it appeared in September 2015 was being the first whisky to be bottled on the Shetland Isles, which makes it the most northerly whisky ever bottled in Scotland. But, as the label says, it was distilled in “a Portsoy distillery” which is another way of saying this whisky is Glenglassaugh.
The release was limited to 4 casks, one peated, which produced 21 bottles, and 3 non-peated, which produced 151 bottles. Since both my parents were born in Shetland, and I have a lot of family history there, I simply had to get a bottle. Not surprisingly they sold out pretty quickly but I got bottle no.6 of 50 from the 1st non-peated cask. Distilled on 15th December 2009 and bottled on 13th July 2015, this 5-year-old was matured in German virgin oak. At cask strength of 58.8% and natural colour, I’m expecting it to taste youthful but feisty. But I wont be opening it until a special occasion involving a gathering of the family clan.