...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Highland Park The Dark 17 year old

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

Yeah, so maybe I did say I wouldn't review any of the semi-recent gimmicky Highland Parks, but I couldn't pass up an official high-strength teenage sherry cask concoction. It's a pretty big batch too — 28000 bottles worth — so I'd love to find out what sort of HP Mean they arrived at.

So here it is, The Dork. Oh my bad, The Dark. With a name like that, one would expect something coffee-colored like the brutal official single casks, but instead the whisky has a copper hue. That's a good omen.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Location: Orkney
Maturation: sherry-seasoned European oak casks
Age: 17 years
Release year: ca. 2017
Outturn: 28,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 52.9%
(Thanks to Dr. Springbank for the sample!)

NOTES

The nose is all over the place. Peated Twizzlers, spicy cigars, A&W root beer, Dr. Brown's cream soda, moss, mango juice and almond cookies. It is expressive.

The palate's first beat is fruity and floral, but then the second beat is all aggro casks, bitter and heavy. It does find a crazy middle ground: bitter, smoky, sweet, sorta floral, sorta musty.

It finishes with cigars and cream soda. Hints of bitterness, sweetness, mustiness and citrus linger around the edges.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

How on earth did they end up with this result with such a sizable batch? Did they just have a weirdo parcel of 50-100 casks of 2000 distillate, and needed to find them a home? Were blenders involved at any point? And, again, Highland Park is perfectly okay attaching their name to THIS, but not scores of lovely indie single casks?

All of that being said, I like this whisky more than I should. It's strange and messy enough to be of interest. A bit extreme and never boring, The Dark is also quite drinkable. Were it half its price, I'd encourage people to try it. Not because it's from Highland Park (I can't find any Highland Park in this Highland Park), rather because it's a silly thing, and we need silly things.

Availability - It's still around, four years later
Pricing - $250-$400 (USA), $225-$350 (Europe)
Rating - 83

Friday, July 30, 2021

An Orkney Distillery 15 year old 2002 Archives

(Highland Park cluster homepage)  

It's Friday. We made it. Grab a drink! Unless you're on the can at work, because you know they're watching you.

Yes, I have also run out of Intro Energy, so I'll keep this brief-ish. This is the first refill hoggie Highland Park of this cluster, even though it's the fourteenth whisky. It was selected and bottled by the good Archives folks, whose success rate on this blog is outrageously high. The sample was sent to me by My Annoying Opinions, whose label work here is concerningly conservative.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Location: Orkney
Independent Bottler: Archives
Age: 15 years (6 May 2002 - 30 Oct 2017)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Outturn: 270 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.7%

NOTES

The nose starts with dried pineapple and dried apricots in the foreground, dried sage and dried thyme in the back. It also has a creamy dessert side (or maybe vanilla meringue?), that's countered by a nice dose of Orkney peat. Once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv, the nose becomes farmier, with lots of hay and stones and dried flowers. Maybe some baked apple in the background.

The layered palate has lemon and toasted barley on top, peppery smoke in the middle, and something between wildflowers and grass — heather? — on the bottom. But it's not a light, brittle thing. It's pretty bold stuff. After about a half hour, it's all lemon candy and peppery smoke. It seems to get a little louder 46%abv, more lemon, more pepper, more bitterness. Less smoke, more ash.

That peppery smoke, heather and lemons make up most of the finish, though smoke stays the longest. At 46%abv, the finish is tangy, peppery, and lightly sweet.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This one hit the spot, as it seemed to mix the seasons (especially spring and autumn) with ease. Like last Friday's HP, it's a great pour for the end of a long week. Put your feet up; listen to the cicadas or freeway traffic or the crackle of electric wires or your neighbor yelling at his child or your HVAC unit struggling to kick on or the sound of another Covid Apocalypse coming; tip the glass rim to your lips and say a silent prayer to The Spirit of Fuck It All with your first sip. Have a great weekend!

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 89

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Orkney Islands 15 year old 2002 Berry Brothers & Rudd, cask 3 for The Whisky Barrel

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

Though this is another teenage sherry cask Highland Park, I promise I'm done with the masochistic crap. This one's abv is down at a semi-reasonable level of 56.8%. It's also from BB&R who run a decent London outfit, slinging wines for about four centuries, and whisky for approximately one. They did invent Cutty Sark, but that brand didn't go shite until Edrington bought it out. I think.

But even the gentlepeople of Berry Bros couldn't escape Edrington's demands to keep Highland Park's name off the label. Instead, much like the majority of indie HPs, "Orkney" appears instead. I'm not even going to give you the "well, maybe it's Scapa" spiel this time or ever.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: Berry Brothers & Rudd
Age: 15 years (2002 - 2018)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask#: 3
Exclusive to
: The Whisky Barrel
Alcohol by Volume: 56.8%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

The nose starts off very briny, with nutty sherry in the background. It slowly develops notes of caramel sauce and roasted corn. There are some notes of raspberry jam and apricot way in the back. It feels tight, with ethyl often dominating the other notes. Reducing it to 46%abv doesn't seem to change anything for a while, then some new notes of smoke, oranges and black raisins appear.

Fruitier than the nose, the palate immediately shows off plums, apricots and Rainier cherries. It never gets sugary, though, as bitter citrus peel, walnuts and serrano pepper provides a little bit of depth. At 46%abv, the citrus becomes sweeter, less bitter. The stone fruits get tangier, and a bitter chocolate bite shows up.

The finish has that citrus peel, apricot juice and pepper oil combo as well, with an added touch of smoke. The finish doesn't change much at 46%abv, perhaps getting slightly sweeter and smokier.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Compared to Monday's whisky, this is much closer to my style of sherried HP. It doesn't start too promising, as the nose reads narrow and bland. Luckily the palate tops the nose, a whisky occurrence I experience once a month at most. With its fresh fruit, moderate oak, and a reasonable strength, this is one of the most drinkable members of the cluster so far. With water it becomes a casual sipper. I'd rather have my Highland Park mumble than scream at me.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Monday, July 26, 2021

Highland Park 13 year old 2004 SMWS 4.249

(Highland Park cluster homepage)  

I return, momentarily, to the high strength sherried Highland Park fad, with a botting from SMWS. It's sort of a cousin of the swollen duo I reviewed two weeks ago, except this time the HP is from a refill oloroso butt. The review will be conducted backwards again, with the highest dilution first and the uncut version last, that way I don't torch my face too early.


Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Age: 13 years (31 May 2004 - 2018)
Maturation: refill Oloroso sherry butt
Cask#: 4.249
Outturn: 592 bottles
Cask "name": The mermaid marmalade
Alcohol by Volume: 64.6%
(from a bottle split)

DILUTED TO 43%abv

The nose is remarkably hot for the abv. I get burnt bark and burnt leaves, then ocean air, vanilla and toffee. The palate starts with ash, charred veg, charred meat, burnt nuts and bitter oak. After 30 minutes some plum candy appears, lifting the palate a bit. It finishes with smoke, salt, maybe some limes and a lot of the burnt stuff.

Not great, Bob! It's fierce, but it's also one of the more carcinogenic-tasting things I've ever sipped. Perhaps the mermaid scalded the hell out of the fruits?

DILUTED TO 57%abv (100 UK proof)

At first the nose is all seashells, cinnamon, hay and a whiff of peat smoke......but mostly the burnt stuff, again. It gains notes of rope and dried currants after 30+ minutes. Meanwhile, the palate is more interesting than the nose. It's more herbal and quite smoky. There's some anise and smoked almonds. Lots of salt throughout. It finishes with heat, hay, dark chocolate and tangy smoke.

It's much better here on the palate, but the nose still has that scorched planet note that would work if anything offset it or balanced it out. But nothing does. Yet it does drink much better than the 43%abv version.

FULL STRENGTH, 64.6%abv

There's a considerable ocean/coastal presence in the nose. Is that supposed to be "The mermaid"? But there's also dark chocolate that fades into brownies, with time. Then some farmy peat and grape jam. The palate is hot, tangy, salty and as aggressive as one would expect. Some dried herbs and bitter veg drift through the background, but not much else. The finish is hot, tangy and loaded with ground black pepper.

Great nose! The palate......needs some water?

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This is what I like to call Late-Imperialist Whisky; it tries to conquer through nothing but lumbering violence. Actually, I just made that term up. Steal it if it works!

This style of whisky was definitely not designed with my sort of palate in mind. So there will be folks who find it A-MAY-ZING, but I find it kinda hot-meh. (I'm quite the wordsmith tonight.) I think it's at its best in the full strength nose, but the palate works better with a little bit of water. But be careful with that water, because things may get ugly. The coastal notes in the nose help keep this Highland Park's score out of the 70s.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - originally £61
Rating - 81

Friday, July 23, 2021

Highland Park 18 year old 1999 Gordon & MacPhail, cask 4256

(Highland Park cluster homepage)  

This is the third bourbon cask Highland Park from Gordon & MacPhail I'm reviewing this week, but it's not the last one in the cluster--

Okay, I'll just spoil things. I normally don't knock out all 2oz of a sample in one sitting, but it was a goddamned fuckin' day, and this whisky was perfect for a goddamned fuckin' day. No, not the sort of whisky to get shitty with, or with which to get shitty, but a whisky that hits every note right. Let's get to it, and if you bought a bottle of this, congratulations. May you open it on a goddamned fuckin' day.


Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Range: Connoisseurs Choice Cask Strength
Age: 18 years old (30 Aug 1999 - 18 May 2018)
Maturation: 1st fill bourbon barrel
Cask number4256
Outturn: 177 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 53.6%
(from a purchased sample)

NOTES

Apricots, white nectarines, honey and a moment of light smoke start the nose and......just stay there for a good 20 minutes. Then comes a hint of mango, a whisper of musty oak, roses, apple skins and wet grasses. Diluted to 46%abv it's all fruit, flowers, broken stones and soil.

The palate begins with a grassy, almost floral, smoke. Peaches and yellow plums. Hints of bandages and sea salt. Then it slowly develops a bright bitterness, and note of smoky grilled chiles. When reduced to 46%abv, the whisky becomes intensely mineral, which I didn't realize was a thing until now. It's a bit earthy and bitter, with hints of roses and vanilla beans, and lots of tart limes.

Tart lemons join floral peaches in a finish that has a long dusty, briny, smoky fade out. At 46%abv, there's earth, stone and bitterness to go with a splash of peach juice.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Because I'm a Gen Xer I feel like this is the place to throw a GIF or a meme or ironic emoji. But I'll save all of those for other reviews. One may find a more complex Highland Park (likely with a higher age statement), but this is precise, graceful whisky selected and bottled at the perfect strength. It motivates me to continue this cluster.

Availability - Probably sold out
Pricing - it was €130-€140 maybe?
Rating - 90

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Highland Park 17 year old 2001 Gordon & MacPhail, cask 3004

(Highland Park cluster homepage)  

I rarely have the opportunity to this but......here's a cask that's a true sibling to that of my previous review. Monday's 10yo, cask 2998, was distilled on the 16th of October 2001. Today's 17yo, cask 3004, was distilled on the 16th of October 2001. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens after another seven years of maturation in G&M's warehouses. During those seven years, the old Cask Strength range was rebranded/replaced by the Connoisseurs Choice Cask Strength series, which is essentially the same thing but with different packaging and higher prices. So it goes.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Range: Connoisseurs Choice Cask Strength
Age: 17 years old (16 Oct 2001 - 10 Sept 2019)
Maturation: 1st fill bourbon barrel
Cask number3004
Outturn: 174 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 56.5%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

This one feels heftier than the 10yo from the start. The nose leads with toasted oak and citronella up front, with hints of farm and burning tires in the background. Almond notes come and go. The fruits (apricots and kiwis) appear later. The nose shifts a bit at 46%abv. It gets a little coastal, and the smoke reads more like burning plastic. But cardamom and marzipan are the main notes.

There's a definite link between this 17yo and the 10yo in the palate. Herbs stay in the front, and the sage tilts more towards the dried stuff than smudge. Plenty of bitter citrus peel up front, with salt and almond extract in the back. It gets smokier with time. An aggressive bitterness swoops in once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv, clouding out everything else aside from bits of sugar and vanilla.

The smoke reads loudest in the finish. There are also plenty of dried savory herbs, salt and pepper. At 46%abv, the finish becomes short and a little weird with a mix of vanilla and veg.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Compared to the 10 year old, the 17's oak does read a little louder, but it doesn't take over. This whisky doesn't dilute as well as the 10, and the finish doesn't totally work. It is bitterer and smokier overall, though, which is a big plus for those who prefer spirits like that. Though I'm in that club, I'd take the 10 over this.

Availability - ???
Pricing - €130-€160
Rating - 85

Monday, July 19, 2021

Highland Park 10 year old 2001 Gordon & MacPhail, cask 2998

(Highland Park cluster homepage) 

Gordon & MacPhail, grandpa of independent whisky bottling, is one of the few bottlers who are still allowed to call their Highland Park releases "Highland Park," so we don't have all half-assedly guess about G&M Orkney single casks. Yet.

I've enjoyed G&M's Highland Park releases because they're often bourbon cask matured, an under-appreciated style of Kirkwall's finest. As noted last week, most of the big bucks are spent on dark sherry cask Highland Park. There will be a mix of sherry and bourbon cask HPs for the rest of this cluster, but this week brings me three first-fill bourbon barrel whiskies. First, I have a relative youngster from the retired Cask Strength series...

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Range: Cask Strength
Age: 10 years old (16 Oct 2001 - 13 Sept 2012)
Maturation: 1st fill bourbon barrel
Cask number: 2998
Alcohol by Volume: 57.7%
(thank you to My Annoying Opinions for the sample!)

NOTES

Lots of barley, apples and hay on the nose. Horse whisky! Lemon zest, wildflowers and kiwi juice in the midground, a hint of vanilla marshmallows in the background. Interesting......after 20 minutes I smell a horse barn. Reduced to 46%abv, the whisky holds onto the barn note, while swapping out the lemon zest for lime zest. Toasted grains and apple cider appear next, along with a hint of Play-Doh.

Sage smudge and herbal bitterness hits the palate first. Then salt, limes and lots of minerals. Down at 46%abv, the whisky gains some savory smoke, fresher herbs, barley and a hint of cucumber skin.

It finishes with salt, barley, soil and lots of dried herbs. At 46%abv, it finishes with the savory smoke, herbs and a pinch of pepper.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Though you may not see dozens of individual notes or florid adjectives above, I really enjoyed this Highland Park. Rustic and lean with just a touch of oak, it shows HP youth in all the right ways. It also dilutes well, and can be dropped closer to 40%abv without much of a problem. If you enjoy this style, keep an eye out for this cask if it ever hits the secondary markets.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87