...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Three whisky events in four days: Part One

Three whisk(e)y events in four nights.  Pasadena, Costa Mesa, Santa Monica.  What a man won't do for a dram.  I'm sure my innards are positively pickled, so I will attempt a three part recap as I recover...


I had an awesome Robert Burns Night.  I hope you did too!

Though among the thirsty crowd at Beckham Grill in Pasadena, I had to reign in my whisky sampling due to a long drive home at the end of the night.  But there was great food, including haggis:

It looked like a cross between a scarab, a turd, and a baby's head.  Naturally, it was delicious.  A little lamb, a spot of liver, and a few shakes of black pepper.  And there was great company including Martin Daraz, the Highland Park rep responsible for structuring the evening's whisky appreciation.

I had heard so much about Martin and I really enjoyed meeting the man.  He was very honest and candid about the HP malts.  And he IMPRESSIVELY handled a crowd that was sprinkled with non-member hecklers.  Let me emphasize that the interrupters were still relatively sober and though they may have fancied themselves comedians, they just embarrassed themselves in front of Il Maestro Daraz.  Don't heckle a heckler.

Okay enough with the crabbing, onto the booze lineup.  We started with Famous Grouse as an aperitif.  Then we moved to the HP 18 for the toast.  During dinner, I helped pour the 12 and 15.

For dessert there was this:

And this:

I sampled some HP Thor.  But the fun surprise bottle was the Highland Park Bicentenary.  While the whisky wasn't 200 years old, its lifespan was actually 1977-1998.

The Bicentenary was GREAT, though I only had a whisper of it since I had to head out into the rain to drive home carefully.  The Thor was decent, probably could have used some water.  The HP 25 and 30 were magnificent; if you can afford whisky at that price......you lucky ducks.

Full disclosure: this was my first HP18 experience.  While it didn't blow my tastebuds out of my head, I did enjoy its finish better than that of the fancier bottles.  The hubbub and noise and smells prevented me from really digging in.  So I have a full-on HP18 report scheduled for this year and I look forward to a controlled setting.

I'd read some grumbles about the 15-year, but I liked the slightly different character brought about by sherried American oak.  And as usual, the 12 was reliably excellent.

I can confirm to you all that all HP is now using all ex-sherry barrels, each bottling has a mix of first and second-fills.  The distillery grassy-fruited-light-peat character was remarkably consistent from bottle to bottle.  Probably even more consistent than Laphroaig had been during December's once-in-a-lifetime verticale.

Ultimately, this was a lot of sherried whisky in one night for me.  The sherry and the HP spirit merge much better than most (or all?) sherry "finishes" I've tried.  But I'd love to find an indie bottling that was aged in refill ex-bourbon.

This Burns Night made for an excellent whisky social experience.  Thank you Martin for the whisky and the education.  Y'all need to meet this gentleman when he comes to town.

In Part Two, I'll travel South (in both California and Scotland)...


  1. I got a mini of HP 18 with a full bottle of 12 last year (it was a Christmas gift pack). From what I recall I didn't quite like it as much as the 12 year old and it was because of the finish. For some reason prickly pepper was what I got on the finish and it just didn't tickle my fancy. It might have been the batch used for the minis so I've since picked up a new mini from this year's gift pack.

    1. I found a bit of pepper on the finish too, along with a bunch of lemon zest. It was completely unique to all of the other HP finishes. Could be a batch thing or perhaps the palate is changing with all the 100% sherry element. I'm keeping my eye out for that gift pack.

    2. The Party Source has that gift pack, but it might not make much sense with their shipping costs.

    3. True. HiTime had it for a few months. Wiser buyers got to it before me.

  2. Shockingly, Beltramo's in Menlo Park (down the road from K&L Redwood City) has a bottle of Highland Park 50 Year Old. I don't know how they grabbed a body to sell but it's the coolest bottle I've seen. Too bad I'll need $17,000 to buy it.

    Gerry Tosh states in a Youtube video that the cask was forgotten about until 2010 which raises the question of what other old casks Highland Park might have lying around.

    1. I get excited when I find a dollar sitting in my pocket that I'd forgotten about, so I'm sure the 50 year old cask discovery was relatively thrilling. I've heard some grumblings that the "forgotten cask" claim is a bunch of marketing BS, but cynics have to keep in mind the size of the warehouses these companies have; thousands or tens of thousands of casks were racked long before Excel spreadsheets came into being.

      While I think the HP Loki and HP Thor presentations are silly, that 50 year bottle is pretty fun to behold:

    2. And $17,000 is a bargain compared to Park Avenue Liquor's price of $18,600. Whisky Exchange has it for 10,000GBP but (according to Harrod's) the bottle is non-exportable.

      This comment is expressly for my extensive billionaire readership. You're welcome!

    3. Michael, I'd totally split the bottle with you if we agree to split the bill (which comes out to $8,500) but I'm so keeping the bottle :).

      Of course, you're on your own in explaining to the wife why you ponied $8,500 for half a bottle of whisky...

    4. That sort of money for a brown liquid is stupefying. Though I'm sure it's pretty delicious. I'll have to take Serge's word for it. I'll bet someone will be selling or has already sold one of those empty bottles on eBay.

    5. I know. If anything I'll settle for that Highland Park 30 year old (which was $499.99 when K&L had it in stock but I'm sure that's going up when a new batch gets bottled). Heck, for $17,000, I'd buy a few cases of Port Ellen and Brora and probably make some of the money back if I set aside some bottles for investment.

    6. Yeah, the quantity and quality of whisky that can be bought at that price is mind blowing. That bottle price is for someone who lives in a different reality than I.