Tag Archives: Orkney

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):

Highland Park ‘Saltire’ 13-year-old 2nd Edition

Bought: Highland Park Shop, 11th November 2019

Ratings:

86.87/100 – Whiskybase (average from 32 member votes)

Here we have the second release of the Highland Park ‘Saltire’, distilled in 2006 and bottled in 2019. Unlike the first release (distilled 2004, bottled 2018), which was limited to 734 bottles, the second release appears to be going on forever. At the time of writing ‘The Whisky Barrel’ shop are selling a bottle of the ‘Saltire’ 2nd edition for £300 but you can still buy it direct from Highland Park for £55. Auction prices are typically between £40-£50 with the 1st edition getting around the £300 mark.

Both releases of the ‘Saltire’ are 43% but it’s not just the limited number of bottles that make the first edition more expensive. It’s hand-signed by retired Formula 1 racing driver David Coulthard MBE, who Highland Park collaborated with to create the releases. For every bottle sold a percentage of the sale goes to the communities and charities in Dumfries and Galloway where David grew up. The ‘Saltire’ itself references the Scottish flag David had on his racing helmet during his F1 career. It’s a shame it’s not better used in the packaging design, which is rather drab and uninteresting. Speaking of which, the 1st edition has a tube but the 2nd edition is nude, no box, nothing. You can’t expect an extra bit of cardboard for £55, you greedy scamp!

Another thing that seems to be unique about the ‘Saltire’ is that it appears to be the only 13-year-old distillery release that isn’t cask strength. But that rather boring fact is probably only interesting to Highland Park collectors, if even them! The 43% might be a bit wimpy but that’s not stopped 32 voters on Whiskybase giving the 2nd edition a very respectable score of 86.87/100. I certainly supported David Coulthard when he was racing and I enjoy Highland Park whiskies, so getting a bottle of ‘Saltire’ is a win-win for me.

Official tasting notes say to expect caramelised mango, sun-ripened lemons, root ginger, silky vanilla, spicy cinnamon and aromatic smoky peat.

Here’s ‘Whisky Shared’ with his thoughts about the HP Saltire on YouTube (Sept 2020). Please note this is an age-restricted video so you may have to be logged into YouTube to view it:

 

Highland Park ‘Orkneyinga Legacy’ 12-year-old

Bought: Highland Park Shop, 24th July 2018

Ratings:
87.84/100 – Whiskybase (average from 84 member votes)

This is the first time a single malt has caused me to purchase a book. The Orkneyinga Saga was written around 1200, so over 800 years ago, by an unknown Icelander. The saga covers the history, myth and legend of the earls of Orkney for several hundred years following the conquest of the islands in the 9th century by the kings of Norway. I bought the book ‘Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney’ by Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards. I used the ‘Look Inside’ option on Amazon and the first chapter ‘The road to Norway’ had me hooked. Brothers Nor and Gor went searching for their missing sister Goi. Nor laid claim to the land as he travelled, which he later named Norway. The end. No need for you to buy the book…..except there are another 250 pages! Not bad for less than £7. The whisky on the other hand was a little more expensive at £55 (£61 with postage).

The ‘Orkneyinga Legacy’ 12yo was released in 2018 and is no longer available ‘new’ but bottles can be found at auction for about £45. This is ridiculously cheap considering the rating Orkneyinga gets on Whiskybase. Sometimes you can take scores on Whiskybase with a pinch of salt. There will always be outliers but with over 80 votes a rating becomes more believable. At nearly 88/100 this is by far the best non-cask strength 12yo released by Highland Park in over a decade, possibly this millennium. It scores fractionally more than the standard 18yo! A bottle sold at auction earlier this month for £35. Whoever got it must be over the moon.

Reviewers definitely like the fact Orkneyinga is bottled at 46% and with tasting notes of sweet floral honey, rich fruitcake, warm winter spices, orange zest and aromatic smoky peat it does sound rather nice. Comments online include “easy drinking, very enjoyable HP”, “much nicer than the standard 12yr bottling” and “very drinkable”. One review wonders if the new ‘Ness of Brodgar Legacy’ can keep up the level of Orkneyinga. I’m glad to say I’ve acquired the Ness of Brodgar 12yo and look forward to blogging about it. Yet more Highland Park is not a bad thing!

Highland Park ‘Voyage of the Raven’

Bought: Master of Malt, 23rd February 2018

Ratings:
83.56/100 – Whiskybase (average from 179 member votes)

As it stands in 2020, you can tell if a whisky enthusiast is a collector rather than an investor if they constantly acquire different bottles of Highland Park. It’s never ending! The distillery’s constant output of late has sent investors looking elsewhere, and bottles are taking a long time to sell out online. But if you like drinking HP and/or enjoy having a good HP range in your whisky den, the last few years have been a golden age for HP fans. Some may say they’ve cheapened the brand and that a release for Scottish Ballet is the whisky equivalent of a TV series ‘jumping the shark’ but the reality is, they’re still producing excellent nectar. You can’t go wrong with a bottle of HP, even if it’s wearing a tutu and tempting you to break out the nutcracker.

It’s over two years since ‘Voyage of the Raven’ was released and in general it has been very well received. Over 83.5/100 on Whiskybase from 179 votes is a solid score. It may only be 41.3% and yet another NAS (no-age statement) but it’s clearly HP through and through. Comments online include “beautiful creamy-oily, spicy and sweet sherry HP – very tasty”, “smooth and delicious”, “anyone who knows Highland Park knows what to expect” and “a sherry barrel falls on the Highland Park profile”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Chocolate mousse and black cherry, with a subtle wisp of floral smoke.

Palate: Peat is still in the background, but this expression is very much a showcase of Sherried Highland Park malt.

Finish: Drying Christmas-y spices last on the finish.

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the Raven on YouTube (Jan 2018):

Highland Park ‘The Dolphins’ (2nd release – 2018)

Bought: Highland Park Shop, 22nd September 2018

Ratings:
85.22/100 – Whiskybase (average from 29 member votes)

As Highland Park (HP) say on their website the first release of ‘The Dolphins’ was a request to create an “officially licensed product for sale in the bars and shops at the The Royal Navy’s Faslane base in Scotland” by the Royal Navy Submarine Service. So this was effectively a private release and not on general sale. I believe this was in 2017 as The Dolphins started to drift onto auction sites in December of that year. Being rare and difficult to find bottles were making over £300.

During the first half of 2018 The Dolphins were consistently making £250 at auction, peaking at £400 in June. Then in September HP put the bottle on general sale from their online shop for £40. People refer to it as the second release but there’s nothing on the label to say that it’s any difference from the private version from 2017. Even the barcode is the same. And I strongly suspect that the shops at the naval base were selling the first release at the £40 mark. But there is a difference between the shape of the bottles between the first and second releases (the first is straight) and the first release has “Estd 1798” on either side of the HP logo, which is missing from the second release. But I bet the whisky inside both versions is very much the same.

The first release of The Dolphins scores a respectable 83.85/100 from 48 votes on Whiskybase but the second release scores slightly better with 85.22/100 from 29 votes. A similar low budget NAS (no-age statement) HP called ‘Viking Tribe’ scores 82.5/100 from 20 votes and that’s 46% compares to The Dolphins’ 40%.

With official tasting notes including vanilla, bananas, light peat, lemon peel, white pepper and toasted oak, The Dolphins sounds quite appealing. The second release has sold out on the HP website and if it doesn’t return we’ll probably see prices at auction start to increase again but not back to the heady heights of £400.

Here’s The Malt Chronicles doing a comparison between two Highland Park no-age statement releases, The Dolphins and Viking Tribe (March 2019):

Highland Park ‘Viking Tribe’

Bought: Amazon, 17th January 2019

Ratings:
4.3/5 stars – Amazon (from 75 customer reviews)
83.08/100 – Whiskybase (average from 16 member votes)

The Highland Park ‘Viking Tribe’ is a single malt from the famous Orkney distillery, exclusively available from Amazon UK. The Highland Park (HP) website describe the flavour as ‘sweet vanilla, zesty citrus, peppery spices and aromatic peat smoke’. Sounds like the sort of whisky that no sideboard should be without. It might not have an age statement but its robust 46% makes the recommended sale price of £43 a bit easier to swallow. Thankfully since its arrival in 2018 there have been regular Amazon reductions to £30 and free delivery. Unfortunately there’s no presentation box but that seems to be quite common for HP bottles under £50-60.

Scoring 83/100 on Whiskybase is a pretty good score but only from 16 votes. 4.3/5 (equivalent to 86/100) is a bit better on Amazon but it probably levels out about the same when you remove the 5 star ratings with comments like “bought this for a friend/partner who didn’t spit it out, so it must be good”. But most reviews are from people who drank it and include comments of “tasted amazing”, “it’s characterful and very satisfying” and “a very nice whisky that I would have no qualms in recommending”. On the flip-side there were several remarks that the Viking Tribe was harsh, young and underwhelming. A number of people felt it was only worth buying when reduced to £30 or less. Hardly surprising when the 12yo is still getting discounted to £25 in some supermarkets. But the Viking Tribe is yet another new HP on the market from the popular distillery, which is all fans need to make a purchase. I certainly did!

Tasting notes from Highland Park (Nov 2018):

Highland Park 14yo ‘Loyalty of the Wolf’ (35cl)

Bought: World of Whisky, 1st November 2018

Ratings:
85.67/100 – Whiskybase (average from 3 member votes)
87/100 – Whisky Wise (YouTube review below)

The Whiskybase rating above is for the 35cl bottle, which I have. The 100cl scores over 2 points less with 83.36/100, purely because it has more votes (currently 35). Over 83/100 is still a good score but perhaps not as high as a 14yo from Highland Park (HP) from 10 years ago would score. Why? Because more and more people are having their view of HP tainted by the number of releases the distillery is flooding onto the market.

Like most HP fans I’m a member of the Inner Circle. Never a week goes by without an email from the distillery that talks about another new standard release, or limited release, or special release ‘connected with a celebrity that’s drunk as much HP as David Beckham had drunk Haig before they offered him lots of money to endorse is”.

Rightly or wrongly the over-commercialising of HP is causing increasing criticism of the distillery on Facebook groups and internet forums. And the less you think of a distillery the less you enjoy their whisky, even if the spirit hasn’t changed, such is the influence of emotions on our sense of taste.

HP may not be able to rely on the loyalty of all their fans but at least they’ve got a wolf to fall back on. On the plus side this 14yo from the new 2018 Travel Retail range has an age statement, unlike its predecessors Svein, Einar and Harald. Matured in sherry-seasoned American oak and ex-bourbon casks the distillery classify this dram as “sweet and complex”. Comments online are mostly positive and include “marvellous tipple” and “it’s not a sophisticated dram to ponder too much upon, but a very nice, enjoyable and care free evening sipper”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Toasted bread with marmalade, red apple, some punchy peat hints.

Palate: Barley, thyme honey and more marmalade. Smoke lingers in the background. Some Christmas spices give it heat.

Finish: Pecan, dry peat and cinnamon sticks.

Here’s Jason of Whisky Wise with his thoughts about this whisky on YouTube, which he likens to the old HP 15yo (Sept 2018):

Highland Park ‘Full Volume’

Bought: Highland Park, 30th October 2017

Ratings:
86.48/100 – Whiskybase (average from 119 member votes)

I was lucky enough to be one of the first 1000 ‘Inner Circle’ members to order the Full Volume so I got a 7′ vinyl record as an added bonus – woohoo! Now all I had to do was find a record player to play it on. This took 6 months only to discover that the record was faulty. But I could tell from what little I heard on constant repeat that I wasn’t missing much. Some rock dirge similar to something I recorded on a cassette back in the 1980s. Now where did I put that cassette player?

Although the Full Volume has “collector’s item” written all over it the reviews have been very favourable so far for those who preferred to drink it. It is 100% bourbon cask matured so no sherry influence in the mix. And at 47.2% it’s got a decent potency. Over 86/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score where comments include, “a really enjoyable bottling, completely different from HP’s usual core range”, “an official that tastes like some very good independent, and that’s because there’s no sherry”, “quite interesting – at least not boring” and “I like this one a lot and I’d almost give it an extra point for the Spinal Tap reference on the box”.

There is a bit of debate to the age of the Full Volume, with some saying it’s a 17-year-old. On the box it says that the last cask used in the mix was filled on 7th September 1999. Full Volume wasn’t released until October 2017, which does suggest it reached its 18th birthday before being bottled. With special 17yo releases such as the Dark, Ice and Light costing £190, £86 for the slightly older Full Volume seems like good value. Heck, it was even cheaper than the bog standard 18yo at £100!

In this video from ‘Whisky in the 6’, HP ambassador Cam Millar says the ‘Full Volume’ is 18yo, so not 17yo. I assume HP ambassadors don’t go around lying about the age of the whisky so I’ll take his word for it. (Oct 17th 2017):

Highland Park ‘Saint Magnus’ 12-year-old (2010)

Bought: Online Auction, 5th October 2017

Ratings:
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.

Highland Park ‘Dragon Legend’

Bought: Tesco, 22nd September 2017

Ratings:
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):