...where distraction is the main attraction.

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

Friday, July 16, 2021

Highland Park 16 year old 2003, single cask 1885 for The Whisky Exchange

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

The first two official Highland Park single casks of this cluster-within-a-cluster were 12 years old. This one from TWE, at sixteen years, is one of the oldest of the 220+ single casks that the distillery has dropped in the past three years. Those extra four years has helped bring its alcohol content down from murderous levels to something more familiar. Like the previous two HPs — and the majority of these official casks — this sherry cask was fashioned from "European" oak.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Age: 16 years (2003-2019)
Maturation: first-fill European oak sherry butt
Cask #: 1885
Outturn: 585 bottles
Exclusive to: The Whisky Exchange
Alcohol by Volume: 58.9%
(from a bottle split)

DILUTED TO 43%abv

The nose is reminiscent of the old Glendronach 15 year old Revival (when it was older than 15 years old), but with much more peat. Dates, figs, fresh basil, toffee and molasses fill it all out.

The palate matches the nose nicely. It reads much heavier and richer than 43%abv. There are tart oranges, dates and figs in the foreground. Molasses and black coffee in the background.

It finishes with black coffee, dark chocolate and figs.

DILUTED TO 50%abv

Dried currants and almonds in dark chocolate, hints of tar, musty basement and toasted pecans in the nose.

Black coffee and mint leaves lead the palate with a little bit of dried currants and smoke in the background. It develops notes of soil and tangy fresh berries with time.

The long, tingly finish is an assortment of dried berries coated in cocoa powder.

FULL STRENGTH, 58.9%abv

The nose has dried cherries, dried cranberries, honeydew and wood smoke. It gets figgier with time, while also gaining molasses and eel sauce.

The palate has tart berries, tart citrus, tar and tobacco ash at the start. Fresh cherries show up later.

It finish pulls in the sweet and tart fruits from the palate and nose.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I think this sherry bomb's character is what people hope for when they buy a bottle of any of the Highland Park single casks. Big and rich, it fills the senses like few sherry cask whiskies have lately. The bits of smoke and citrus, and its ability to shine when diluted, set it apart from other aggressive-yet-generic sherry bombs. Its price is still hot bananas, but at least the whisky's great.

Availability - The Whisky Exchange
Pricing - £199.99
Rating - 89

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Highland Park 12 year old, single cask 5036 for K&L Wine Merchants

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

In Monday's intro to this cluster-within-a-cluster, I noted how Highland Park went big with their current single casks: Big Alcohol Content, Big Color, Big Prices. None of those aspects lure me, but sherried Highland Park is always of interest so I took part in bottle splits of three single casks. Monday was a single European oak butt for Bevmo, today it's a single European oak hoggie for K&L.

Distillery:
 Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Age: 12 years (2006-2019)
Maturation: first fill European oak hogshead
Cask #: 5036
Outturn: 292 bottles
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants
Alcohol by Volume: 66.0%
(from a bottle split)

As with Monday's HP, I'm tasting backwards, approaching diluted levels first.

DILUTED TO 43%abv

No sulfur on the nose this time. Not much in the way of smoke either. It's mostly almonds, walnuts and dunnage.

The palate leans heavily on nutty sherry casks. It's a little acidic, a little sweet (dates!) and has a touch of woody bitterness in the background.

It finishes with dates, salt, pepper and tannins.

The good news is this HP doesn't go extra ugly at this strength. The bad news is that this whisky feels over-diluted at 43%abv. I like the date notes though.

DILUTED TO 57%abv (100 UK proof)

I get this bold cherimoya note on the nose. (I'm no cherimoya expert, as I've tried the fruit all of three times, but I highly recommend tracking one down; it's definitely......something.) There are also nectarines, almond extract, blackberry syrup and some toasted oak. A few root beer barrel candies in the background.

The mighty alcohol note registers early in the palate. Lots of sherry going on here, and a slight industrial note that makes it feel a little old school. Smoke, cassis and tart nectarines float through the mid- and background.

The sherry note gets fruitier in the finish, while also holding onto those tart nectarines.

At this strength it's in much better shape, a real sherry monster. Though the palate is short on nuance, the nose is a lot of fun. Time to try it at...

FULL STRENGTH, 66.0%abv

The nose is all vanilla, banana and varnish at first. Needs air, the whisky and the drinker. Ah, it does pick up almond extract, fudge and fresh stone fruit after a while.

On the other hand, the palate is approachable. It has a moderate berry sweetness, salt and raw walnuts. The oak offers more spice than bitterness.

It finishes tart, gingery and salty with a whiff of toasted oak.

I lived to type another review! Again the nose proves more interesting than the palate, which is likely due to such an aggressive cask.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This was without a doubt a cleaner and more reliable cask than Monday's. It requires dilution, though it may work better in the 50-55% range than my experimental levels. I still think the aggressive oak and extra high ABV don't do the whisky a lot of favors as those factors seem to suppress the spirit's character, but some fans of sherry cask whisky will likely enjoy this Highland Park more than I do.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $160
Rating - 84

Monday, July 12, 2021

Highland Park 12 year old, single cask 6737 for BevMo

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

One of my many complaints in my Full Volume Highland Park Rant post was that the distillery had discontinued its program of offering exclusive single casks. And wouldn't you know it, mere weeks later a new exclusive Highland Park single cask program began! Just like Jim Murray, I will say that it was 100% my doing, and you're welcome. Unlike Jim Murray, I will not compare them to an imaginary girlfriend's soiled undergarments in Barcelona.

Most single distilleries have a barreling/filling strength of 63.5%abv. Highland Park goes with 69.5%abv. That explains the ultra high ABVs on these single casks, and the extractive nature of that strength probably has something to do with the dark color of these releases.

Scotch whisky that punches in higher than 63%abv (or even 60%abv) tends to clash with my palate. And I'm not always quick to chase coffee-dark whiskies, as they're often massively tannic. But the main thing that has kept me from buying a bottle of one of these single casks is......you guessed it! The price. Here in America (aka Democracy Central) these ~12 year old whiskies are priced at $160-$200. And I have no idea why I (or anyone) should pay that amount. These are not one-offs; more than 220 of these casks have hit the market as of the date of this post.

Anyhoo, I have friends and acquaintances who feel otherwise, and they have bought a bottle or two. (Though I don't know anyone who has dropped $200 on the Ohio-exclusive cask.) And because I don't want to miss out on all the fun, I participated in three bottle splits.

I'll start with the BevMo single cask.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Age: 12 years (2004-2017)
Maturation: first fill European sherry butt
Cask #: 6737
Outturn: 360 bottles (cask split?)
Exclusive to: BevMo
Alcohol by Volume: 65.3%
(from a bottle split)

I'm going to conduct this tasting backwards, trying the whisky at lower/diluted strengths before digging into the full strength version.

DILUTED TO 43%abv

Hello nose, hello sulfur. Hello lots of sulfur. A little bit of farm, plenty of berry candy and hot fudge. The sulfur fades a bit, but the rest remains.

The palate is grassy, gingery and very very sweet. Some pencil lead and prunes stand out. But it's mostly sulfur.

It's all sulfur, sugar and prunes in the finish.

It's actually impressive how much sulfur can be squeezed into a 43%abv whisky. For a Highland Park, this stinks in more ways than one. Long time readers (do you exist?) know I kinda like a bit of dirty cask here and there, but this one...whew.

DILUTED TO 57%abv (100 UK proof)

There's much less sulfur on the nose. More more fruits (limes and plums) and more chocolate. A good blop of black strap molasses.

Some actual peat appears in the palate, along with prunes, rock salt and a hint of oranges. The sulfur registers louder here than in the nose.

The finish goes flat with salt, pepper, sugar and sulfur.

It's an improvement over the 43%abv version, but not something I'd recommend to anyone, especially not to Highland Park fans.

FULL STRENGTH, 65.3%abv

The nose is tight but not too hot. I smell a fruitcake loaded with cherries, as well as fruity cinnamon and chocolate. The sulfur emerges after some time, as does a raisin note.

The sulfur is most palatable here on the cask strength palate. And it's drinkable though tight, again. Salty and savory, the flavor is boosted with hints of tart citrus and sweet pineapple.

It finishes with bigger notes of salt and pineapple, smaller notes of smoke and sulfur.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but don't add water.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I find it interesting that Highland Park is happy to put their name on this whisky, but not okay with allowing their name on the labels of scores of potentially excellent independent casks. This whisky does not help the brand in any way. Though sulfur-phobes may disagree, this whisky isn't a complete disaster. But it's also not on-brand in its style, and it would PISS ME OFF if I paid $150+ for it. Highland Park puts out great whisky consistently, like few brands do. This is not great whisky.

Availability - Sold out?
Pricing - $150-$160
Rating - 79 (again, don't add water)

Friday, July 9, 2021

Highland Park 18 year old four times, four bottling codes

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

In previous decades, Highland Park 18 year old was considered a modern classic, then more recently it became one of the bellwethers of the single malt price surge as it jumped from $100 to $150 seemingly overnight. When Highland Park rebranded in 2017, the 18yo became Viking Pride (because Erik Thorvaldsson drank a lot of Highland Park 18) and received a whole new bottle shape.

I'll be honest, I haven't tried the stuff since the rebranding, partly because of the price, partly because there are a A LOT of whiskies out there. But I have obtained two samples and two minis of the pre-Viking 18 year old. One sample was from an OC Scotch Club event, the other was from a Columbus Scotch Night event, and I bought the two minis from a place in LA that was slinging them for only $6.99 a pop!

Each of these four HP18s has a different bottling code, and interpreting HP bottling codes can be challenging. Luckily for us, there have been several online discussions that have gotten as close to the truth as any of us will likely get unless we're hired by The Edrington Group. Here are three such conversations: the first of which was initiated by a mysterious chap named Mongo (who has feelings for Sheriff Bart):

https://whiskywhiskywhisky.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=95835 - This one was initiated by a mysterious fellow named Mongo (who has feelings for Sheriff Bart).
https://www.connosr.com/highland-park-bottling-codes-whisky-discussion-1731
https://www.connosr.com/macallan-cs-bottle-codes-whisky-discussion-1547

Going by the information gleaned by these good people, a drinker can discern an HP18's bottling year by the bottling code, specifically the letter that ends the first part of the code. For example:

L0092K L10 25:02 10:04
L0262M L3 14:04
L0276R L3 11:07
L0566S L4 16:12 11:40

The label style, seen on the minis in the pic below, ran for 11 years from 2006 to 2016. Per the linked discussions, here is your secret decoder:

F - 2006
G - 2007
H - 2008
J - 2009
K - 2010
M - 2011
P - 2012
R - 2013
S - 2014
T - 2015
W - 2016

So for my samples:

L0092K L10 25:02 10:04 - bottled in 2010 (erroneously marked 2009 on my sticker)

L0262M L3 14:04 - bottled in 2011

L0276R L3 11:07 - bottled in 2013

L0566S L4 16:12 11:40 - bottled in 2014

Because these are all only 43%abv, I can try them side-by-side-by-side-by-side without causing an international incident. Probably.



Highland Park 18yo, 43%abv
code L0092K L10 25:02 10:04 - bottled in 2010

Oh the nose. Clementines, apricots, lychee and guava. Candied pecans, almond extract and toffee pudding. And if that wasn't enough, there's a definite Yamazaki 18 note to it.

The palate may be even more complex than the nose. Sweet clementines meet bitter stone fruit skin meet ultra tart limes. Almonds, salt, stones and a bit of dunnage rest in the background. There are some very sticky, almost paxarette-style sherry casks in the mix. They show up late and never leave, just like me!

It finishes with sweet citrus, tart citrus, roasted almonds and minerals/stones.

This HP earns its reputation. It's a work of art. Stellar right at 43%abv, it is the least peaty HP18 I've ever had, and the fruitiest. At times it reads older than 18 years, but I doubt there was anything much older in the mix, since single malt sales were already on the rise in 2010. We were spoiled at that OCSC event.

RATING - 90


Highland Park 18yo, 43%abv
code 
L0262M L3 14:04 - bottled in 2011

Raw pecans, raw almonds and gravel lead the nose, followed by a gentle briny peat and a hint of nocino. Hints of orange peel and apricots sneak into the smoke after a while.

The palate begins with bitter chocolate, dunnage, creme de cassis and dried currants. There are hints of a super dry cabernet at the start, which then fade away and are replaced by grapefruit notes. Considering the dilution and filtration, the whisky has a very silky mouthfeel.

It finishes with bits of bitter chocolate, smoke, lemons and grapefruits.

A year later, a drier batch. Gone are most of the 2010's fruits, replaced by some very good edgy tart and bitter qualities. Because of this, the whisky is less moreish, and more of a fighter. It would pair well with a heavy dessert and a winter evening.

RATING - 88


Highland Park 18yo, 43%abv
code 
L0276R L3 11:07 - bottled in 2013

This one's nose leans closer to a seaweed-y Islay peat than I'm used to finding in an official HP, but it's quieter and more delicate than the famous malts from that island to the south. There are summer wildflowers, orange blossoms and almond brittle in the middle, and some sherry cask dried fruits in the back.

Again with the orange blossoms, now on the palate, joined by orange brandy, almond skins and a pinch of salt. Hints of peaches and musty casks linger in the background. It's the sweetest of today's four HP18s, and there's no sign of the nose's peat.

Plenty of sweetness fills the finish as well, though it's slightly tempered by some salt, wood smoke and bitter peel.

Though the nose is very interesting, the palate is simply pretty. It's very well made and a pleasure to drink (too quickly), but without the previous two HP18s' complexity, it feels like a half step down. The palate needs that peat, even if it's just a touch. Again, it's good stuff but not that much better than that era's 12yo.

RATING - 86



Highland Park 18yo, 43%abv
code 
L0566S L4 16:12 11:40 - bottled in 2014

There's definitely some complexity to the nose here. There are minerals, limes, and a hint of the briny peat, but also some butterscotch, orange blossoms and dried cranberries. Oddly, an eau de vie note appears after 30 minutes.

The palate begins with bitter orange peel, grassy smoke, pruny sherry casks and lots of buttery American oak. It loses some of that oak over time, but it's only replaced by black pepper.

It finishes bitter, buttery, and peppery, with a few limes.

This one was of a much different quality than the other three. It was also the most recent sample, from a bottle opened less than a year ago. If memory serves me right (which is not guaranteed), this whisky underwhelmed at the whisky event as well. The nose is the best part, again, and keeps this from dropping into the 70s, rating-wise. I'd take any of the popular Speyside/Highland 18s over this one's palate.

RATING - 81


That ended on a weird note. My hope is that the L0566S was from an off batch, and that my lone unopened bottle of HP18 (a letter 'T') doesn't have similar issues. The 2014 was the only one of the four where the oak became aggressive. Were it a 2021 bottling, I wouldn't have been shocked, but 2014 seems early for cask tinkering.

Meanwhile, the 2010 was utterly lovely, and some folks might even like the 2011 better. I enjoyed finding the orange notes appear in all four whiskies, taking on different forms at different times for different senses. The palates' lack of peat was fascinating as well. Either my palate was blown out from 2.5 months of Port Charlotte or 18 years of maturation in the official warehouses softens and shifts Highland Park's phenolics.

May your remaining bottles of pre-Viking Highland Park 18 year old match your preferences. Next week, I will drink something stronger...

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Highland Park 2010 New Make Spirit Drink

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

Though it's a pleasure to begin one of these clusters with some new make, I don't know the story behind this release. It's a mystery to me why Highland Park sold it, and it's a mystery to me why they stopped selling it. But it was a real thing! I was so excited to find out it existed that I bought up 40% of a split of one of the skinny 350mL bottles.

As I'd mentioned in the series opener, the distillery does about 30% of its own malting on site. As of last year that in-house malt was significantly peated (30-40ppm). Were the 2010 specs the same? Is this new make from that peaty malt, or from the unpeated sourced malt, or a mix of the two? I may or may not find out right now...

pic source

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Kirkwall, Orkney
Distillation date: February 2010
Age: New
Maturation: in the bottle
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfilltered? Probably not
Colorant added? Highly doubtful
(from a bottle split)

The nose begins with anise and a woodsy peat smoke. The smoke becomes mossier and chalkier with time. Hints of dark chocolate and rosewater appear around the edges.

It's a mouthful of cigarette smoke, slivovitz and bitter chocolate. There's a little bit of complexity to it, with a grassy/hay side, bitter citrus peel and lemon candy.

It has a real finish with smoke and earth up front, dried herbs and bitter cocoa in the back.

This was much smokier than I'd expected even considering the current onsite malting specs. I dare say it may even be too peaty, with the smoke (possibly) hiding some fruitier elements. Had this been a blind tasting, I would have guessed this came from Islay. Because of its powerful style, the new make is well served by its 50%abv bottling strength. 70%abv would have been punishing.

Apparently the distillery itself currently sells a newer 350mL 50%abv new make. If you've had it, let us know in the comments what you thought of it. In the meantime, I'm going to keep the rest of my portion on hand for future tastings.

Rating - 82

Monday, July 5, 2021

The Highland Park Cluster

HISTORY

Highland Park distillery was (probably) founded in 1798 by David Robertson, but didn't go legal until obtaining its license 28 years later. James Grant, formerly of Glenlivet fame, modernized it by expanding the facilities and adding stills in the late 19th century. Highland Distillers purchased the distillery outright in 1937, and began marketing Highland Park single malt in the 1970s. Thanks to The Whisky Loch and solid warehouse management, HP debuted their 18yo and 25yo in 1997. The current owners, The Edrington Group, bought the distillery two years later. The brand then went Full Viking in 2017.


Though Orkney is culturally distinct from the rest of Scotland, and was under Norse rule longer than it's been part of Scotland, I'll let Highland Park's marketing squad sell its Viking story. And I've already disgorged a rant about their chaotic branding, so I won't waste any further space acknowledging the brand's unintentional comedy. 

A FEW DETAILS

Highland Park does ~30% of their own malt onsite, peating the barley to 30-40ppm using Orkney decayed vegetation, which results in a different peated-style than Islay malts. The other ~70% of the malt arrives unpeated from Simpson's. Combining these two malt types, as well as different fermentation times (from 50 to 80 hours), can result in different styles even before the spirit starts maturing. 

BUT WHAT ABOUT MY FEELINGS?

I like Highland Park single malt.

THE CLUSTER SHAPE

28 Highland Parks comin' up, distilled from the 1970s to the 2010s. There are a few contemporary official bottlings, but no Norse stuff. Sorry not sorry. There will be at least one week of the now-ubiquitous "Orkney" indie single malts.

The Port Charlotte cluster stretched out over 76 days, so you'll be relieved to know that this one will be over only 74 days from now. Unlike Port Charlotte, Highland Park tends to not be bottled at murderous strengths and tends not to be a palate killer, so I won't space out the reviews in the same fashion. Instead it'll be 2.5 months of nonstop HP, aside from two very special weeks near the end.

I'm looking forward to exploring so many of HP's permutations, but I'm even more excited about drinking some good whisky.

THE HIGHLAND PARKS

1. Highland Park 2010 New Make Spirit Drink - "I dare say it may even be too peaty, with the smoke (possibly) hiding some fruitier elements."
2. Highland Park 18 year old, bottled 2010 - "It's a work of art."
3. Highland Park 18 year old, bottled 2011 - "Gone are most of the 2010's fruits, replaced by some very good edgy tart and bitter qualities."
4. Highland Park 18 year old, bottled 2013 - "...very well made and a pleasure to drink (too quickly)......but not that much better than that era's 12yo."
5. Highland Park 18 year old, bottled 2014 - "...the only one of the four where the oak became aggressive."
6. Highland Park 12 year old 2004, single cask 6737 for BevMo - "Highland Park puts out great whisky consistently, like few brands do. This is not great whisky."
7. Highland Park 12 year old 2006, single cask 5036 for K&L - "...a cleaner and more reliable cask than [#6737]."
8. Highland Park 16 year old 2003, single cask 1885 for The Whisky Exchange - "Big and rich, it fills the senses like few sherry cask whiskies have lately."
9. Highland Park 10 year old 2001 Gordon & MacPhail, cask 2998 - "Rustic and lean with just a touch of oak, it shows HP youth in all the right ways."
10. Highland Park 17 year old 2001 Gordon & MacPhail, cask 3004 - "...heftier than the 10yo from the start......bitterer and smokier overall..."
11. Highland Park 18 year old 1999 Gordon & MacPhail, cask 4256 - "...this is precise, graceful whisky selected and bottled at the perfect strength."
12. Highland Park 13 year old 2004 SMWS 4.249 - "...Late-Imperialist Whisky; it tries to conquer through nothing but lumbering violence."
13. Orkney Islands 15 year old 2002 Berry Brothers & Rudd, cask 3 for The Whisky Barrel - "...fresh fruit, moderate oak, and a reasonable strength......one of the most drinkable members of the cluster so far."
14. An Orkney Distillery 15 year old 2002 Archives - "This one hit the spot......mix[ing] the seasons with ease."
15. Highland Park The Dark 17 year old - "...strange and messy enough to be of interest. A bit extreme and never boring......it's a silly thing."
Assessing the cluster at the halfway point
16.
17.
18.
19.
20.
21.
22.
23.
24.
25.
26.
27.
28.
Concluding the cluster

Sunday, July 4, 2021

A meditation on the Port Charlotte Cluster and other things

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

If you think this series has gone on for an eternity, I can relate. But time plus booze equals......a quicker march towards the infinite? I don't know, what was my point? Ah yes, these clusters disabuse me of all my previously held opinions, notions and theories about the distillery or brand of focus. Knowledge over romanticism. Three reviews, or even six reviews, just won't do.

Each cluster starts with excitement, like a new love, then it drifts towards fascination before slumping to boredom, then arising to objective distance, and finally curling up in exhaustion.

Twenty-four reviews later, I no longer see Port Charlotte as a "brutalist malt," "strange, jagged and stark, conjuring images of concrete and steel." When young it's a savory, salty, coastal thing, but to find that core, one has to dive beneath the heat of its often outrageous bottling strengths. As it ages, it releases its grip on those characteristics, sometimes gradually, sometimes abruptly, depending on the maturation vessels. I'm sure this is the case with all whiskies, but I see Port Charlotte's development more clearly now.

By the time it reaches its mid-teens, Port Charlotte takes its spot among the great malts of Southern Islay. It trades most of its youthful eccentricity for balance and stability, resulting in a more familiar single malt.

But what is better? The excitement or the reliability? That is the crux of the biscuit, my friends. It depends on your preferences, as well as the moment. Is it mid-January in the Midwest, or late summer in Southern California? Are you watching the rain in Port Ellen, or wiping the sweat from your lower eyelids at a Ginza cafe in June?

For me, Port Charlotte (and Laphroaig and Lagavulin and Ledaig and Ballechin and Ardbeg and Kichoman and Hampden and Worthy Park) can be a rough drink in the summer. My palate has no disputes for the other three-quarters of the year, though.

Were price no barrier, I'd continue to explore bourbon-cask and sherry-cask Port Charlotte as it gets older, to see if it trends towards any other familiar single malt styles. For now, I'm perfectly happy to enjoy the official 10-year-old and Islay Barley editions. And I'm even happier that I still enjoy Port Charlotte at the end of this cluster.

Now on to the next one...

Friday, July 2, 2021

Port Charlotte 16 year old 2001 Archives, cask 278 (my bottle)

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

For the 24th and final Port Charlotte cluster review, I opened up one of my bottles. I'm pretty sure it was the oldest existing Port Charlotte for all of about 30 minutes, so I got those Big Whisky Eyes, and suddenly I was nearly breaching my spending limit, for a 16 year old whisky mind you. My logic was: Port Charlotte (Good) + Archives (Good) = Doubleplusgood. And shut up and take my money.

At the time, I'd never tried a Port Charlotte that was 10 years old, let alone 16! Thanks to this cluster, my experience has changed. In fact, I tried this 16 alongside the other two 16s from this review series. And now it receives its own post.


NOTES


Diluted to 46%abv (going backwards this time)

At first it's an outdoor fish market (in the morning) and salty/savory smoke in the nose. Baked peaches and apricots fill in the midground, with hints of anise and sourdough in the background. An intense ocean water note takes over at the 30 minute mark.

The palate is loaded with the big PC peat, as well as lots of salt and wasabi. There's no vanilla, and very little sweetness. With time in the glass, it develops a mix of charcoal smoke and lime juice.

It finishes salty and tingly, and holds onto that charcoal smoke + lime combo.

Full strength - 59.7%abv

Horse stables and peaches on the nose. Seaweed and kiln. Lemon, honey and a hint of guava juice too. Yes.

The palate is fierce AF. No subtlety, just ALL CAPS. Herbal bitterness and salt wrapped in black smoke. A wallop of Hampden-style funk. Baskets of limes and oranges.

The citrus goes tart in the finish, keeping up with all the heavy smoke, salt and funk.

WORDS WORDS WORDS


Thank goodness this is good. I've had a number of decent-enough bottles recently, and I'm getting tired of trading my money for "decent-enough."

One great aspect of this Port Charlotte is that it's two different whiskies at 46%abv and 59.7%abv, and both versions are throughly enjoyable. This also hints at the possibility of more variation at other dilution levels. Quality + flexibility! While the nose is grand at both levels, I prefer the crazy violence at full power. This may be another whisky that will drink even better when the heat index is below 100ºF, so I'm going to keep the bottle sealed up for a few months before returning to it.

Well, that's nearly a wrap, folks. I will pull together my thoughts from this 2.5 month quest and post something like a conclusion this weekend.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - €170 when it was released; a lot more €€€ on the current secondary market
Rating - 90