...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Birthday Booze: Highland Park 18 year old 1978 Hart Brothers

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

Look at that: Birthday Booze + Highland Park Cluster all in one. I wish I could say that I'd planned it just like this many months ago, but......yeah let's just pretend.

I've tried a number of whiskies from the Hart Brothers, but for some reason I have never reviewed one here. [Update: This is not true. I reviewed a Hart Brothers whisky, an HP no less, in 2018.] So I'll start (and end?) my Hart Bros reviews with a tough one to top, an 18yo HP from 1978. Though Hart currently focuses on cask strength bottlings, with some 46%abv releases mixed in, the bottlers used to offer up 43%abv whiskies in previous decades, back when Gordon & MacPhail was doing the same.

Because this was (probably) a bourbon cask release, I didn't pair it up with an official 18yo. Instead it was matched up with my newly beloved 21yo G&M single cask bottling reduced to 43%abv. How would the 1978 fare in comparison?

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Range: Finest Collection
Distillation year: 1978
Age: minimum 18 years old
Maturation: ??
Outturn: ????
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

This is the citronella-est whisky I've ever nosed. There's also plenty of lemon zest and whole wheat bread up front. Fresh herbs and light smoke merge in the middle. Anise and a slight grassiness fill the background.

Orange zest fills the palate, with fresh herbs just underneath. Toasted grains and mild sweetness appear next. Cigar smoke and dusty leather show up after 20+ minutes.

Lemon candy, lemon juice, sea salt and cigar smoke form the simple but decent length finish.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This would be a very good everyday drinker. There are no missteps and each element works together with moderate depth. It's all very friendly and the whisky disappears quickly. But as always, this drinker wonders what this whisky would have been like at 46%abv or higher. Still, the diluted 21yo has much more complexity and character at 43%abv, so water isn't the only thing to blame for this 1978's muted shine.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Friday, August 27, 2021

Birthday Booze: Speyside Region 43 year old 1973 The Whisky Agency

I don't know why I chose a pair of 43 year old whiskies, because I'm only turning 23 this week. Heh heh. Heh. Ugh.

Monday's 43yo was a strange lovely thing, a Cognac cask-matured Glenfarclas. Today's whisky is a "Speyside Region". Whiskybase lists it as a "blended malt", while the bottle label just says "Malt" (neither single nor blended). It may or may not be from Glenfarclas, it may or may not be from a fino cask. I'll drink the thing no matter what, but these games aren't very fun.

This whisky is quite beloved by many of those who have consumed it, including Ruben and Serge, who both gave it a 93-point score. I tried a 41yo 1975 fino cask "Speyside Region" two years ago and was underwhelmed. Perhaps it was just me, as my score is tied for the lowest on that 41yo's Whiskybase page, but that experience will keep my enthusiasm for this 43yo in check, unless the whisky changes my mind. Please change my mind, whisky.

Distillery: Glen Fart Glass?
Region: Speyside (maybe)
Independent Bottler: The Whisky Agency
Age: 43 years old (1973 - 2017)
Maturation: a butt of some sort
Outturn: 568 bottles
Exclusive to: The Whisky Exchange
Alcohol by Volume: 47.4%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

This is definitely not a sherry bomb. Instead the nose begins with brine, mango, basil and graceful old oak. It gets fruitier with time, but I can't pin down the exotic fruit. There are some white nectarines and blueberry pies involved, though. Some citronella around the edges. A dash of Pecorino Romano as well.

Woo, it has some fight left in it. Citrus peels, cinnamon sticks and tons of very dark chocolate on the palate. It balances a peppery burst with baking spices (dried ginger and whole cloves), while an autumnal forest floor note gradually builds with time.

It finishes with eucalyptus, yuzu, honey, dried ginger and cloves.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This was much better than the 41yo "Speyside Region", or at least I think it was, per my notes of the 41. I did try it side by side with the Cognac cask 'Farclas, and I loved them both. The official Farclas came out on top due to its dazzling unique style, but this 43yo Mystery Meat is excellent. Its success is due to the cask —as it usually is with spirits of a certain age — which I'm inclined to believe was indeed a fino sherry butt, and possibly not a first fill at that. Happy Friday, everyone!

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - Oh my goodness
Rating - 90

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Randy Brandy drinks Malört

Kravitz thinks he's getting his revenge by subjecting me, Randy Brandy, to Malört. But the joke's on him. I'm going to take this review seriously.

What is Malört?

I actually have no idea, so you should watch this official video for more information. (Yeah that's right, I used a hyperlink. And italics.) All I know is that Chicagoans view Malört with a mixture of pride and utter embarrassment, as they do with their baseball teams, pizza, and Democrat mayors.

The Packaging

Gotta admire the graphic design going on with this six-shooter. The predominant yellow-green mucus, contrasting with the red almost-a-Nazi-emblem eagle.


Each mini has the classy plastic bottle and cap combo used for decades by failed brands that wind up in the 99¢ bin. And what is this? WHAT. IS. THIS.


Why is this legal? There's more alcohol in my cirrhosis medication.

Let's see what else these marketing geniuses put on the box.


Only "two-fisted drinkers"? What about one-fisted drinkers? Like all the people who lost an arm in a Malort fight?

Or a Malort fire?

Or a Malort fuck. Definitely a Malort fuck. I think you’re obligated to lose a limb in a Malort fuck.

Oops, I forgot to put the omelet over the Ö. (Kravitz, don't edit those omelets back in.)

The actual Malört part

COLOR - So the liquid has color to it. Is it supposed to have color? It's just ethanol and "botanicals". So where's that yellowish shade, like rusty water, coming fr......oh, that makes sense.

NOSE - It smells like hand sanitizers which smell like shit vodka which smell like hand sanitizers. Also ammonia.

PALATE - Wwwwwwwhat. Why. Why would anyone.

It's all chemical fires, copper wires, and junkyard tires. And hatred. Pure, radiant hatred. It's so hateful, Malört should review me.

FINISH - Vomiting after taking psilocybin or peyote may assist with the process (allegedly). But when taking Malört, vomiting won't help you because Malört tastes like bile. Early morning empty stomach dry heave bile, with the same yellowish tint, the color of impending death or cyborg piss. But I repeat myself.

Further thoughts

I'm going to go find some strychnine to get this flavor out of my mouth. Someone told me I'd taste grapefruit in Malört. Yeah, maybe if the grapefruit was raped by Mr. Clean. I'll drink anything once. Okay twice. Now Kravitz, you can have the other four shotskis of this Socialist poison back. A little Skål for your skull, you asshole. There better be an apology awaiting me. And some cognac.

RATING: Ö

Monday, August 23, 2021

Birthday Booze: Glenfarclas 43 year old Cognac Cask matured

I interrupt your regularly scheduled Highland Park cluster program with birthday booze! Sorry, folks, it's an annual thing. There will be both curios and sensible choices this year. Today's whisky fits into both categories.

Bottled in May of 2010, thus distilled in 1967 or earlier, this Glenfarclas comes with a label that doesn't specify whether the whisky spent its entire life in cognac casks or just a smaller portion of its maturation time (though it may be related to this bottling). Having now completed the tasting, I'm going to posit that it very well may have been the former. It is unlike any whisky or brandy I've tried.

Distillery: Glenfarclas
Ownership: J&G Grant
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: minimum 43 years old (1967? - 14 May 2010)
Maturation: Cognac casks
Outturn: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 40.7%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

It's a lovely, earthy, old hybrid spirit in the nose. At first, it's papaya, toffee, toasted walnuts and toasted oak. Then it picks up notes of Sauternes and dried cheese. (No I'm not going to say "rancio".) Then dried rosemary and coriander. After an hour it's funky honey and a worn out dollar bill.

The palate begins with gentle old oak, honeycomb and ripple of lime zest. Then, for almost twenty minutes, it is liquid honey. At the 43-ish minute mark, it shifts gears, taking on black licorice, dark chocolate and menthol, with hints of cigarettes, apricots and loquats in the background. The figs arrive, floating around in then honey after an hour.

It has a long full finish with the figs and honey arriving after the first sips, 30 minutes in. Bitter chocolate-covered pennies and sweet oranges appear later on.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I wonder if the whisky world will ever see anything like this again. If so, it would have to come from a relatively independent distillery like Glenfarclas. Hopefully someone tries it, because the resulting quality of this experiment was very high.

Like the ultra-aged G&M Glen Grants, this Glenfarclas registers gloriously rich even at 40.7%abv. It was almost profanely honeyed in the mouth; then fruits (figs and -quats), ancient oak and a puff of smoke join in, making each small sip fascinating. But that's nothing compared to the nose, where it was a glass-bound but puckish changeling, destined to sprout wings and fly away if I let it sit any longer.

Which is to say, I kinda liked the stuff.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - About 3x-4x its original price. Time machine, people!
Rating - 92

Friday, August 20, 2021

Highland Park 28 year old 1988 Cadenhead Small Batch

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

Welcome to the 1980s, the decade that never ever goes away! I'm going to duck in and out of the '80s over the rest of the cluster. I'm hoping that's a good thing when it comes to Highland Park single malts.

The 1988 Highland Park vintage releases have been well received by the much-read and much-supplied online reviewers. A few of these '88 HPs made it to The States, though all I know about them is that their color was dark and their prices high, and often the latter is linked to the former. I won't deny that I dreamed of someday trying one. And now look at me living my dreams! This whisky was sold in the US, is of a color that would tickle the fancy of many, and was priced somewhere between $300 and $400. As if I could restrain my expectations...

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead
Range: Small Batch (as in one cask)
Age: 28 years old (1988 - 2016)
Maturation: sherry butt
Outturn: 480 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 55.5%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

Yeah, it does what it says on the label. The nose starts off with salty peated toffee pudding, then chocolate melting in the double boiler. Then there's the white fungus growing all over Cadenhead's dunnages, followed by a bit of meat, and a hint of burlap. The peat stands up to the hefty cask throughout. Reducing it to 46%abv brings out plenty of new characteristics. There's whole cloves, fruity cinnamon, barbecue smoke, toasted seaweed, and cherry pie (filling and crust!). There's even a hint of watermelon Jolly Rancher in the background.

This whisky reminds me that I have not had many 25+ year old sherried whiskies recently. Nuts, briny peat and mild cigar start off the palate. Fresh berries and black cherry soda (essences, not the sugar) arrive later, followed by fresh in-season black plums. At 46%abv the big smoke stands up to the big sherry cask, and they align nicely. Oranges, serrano chiles and yellow nectarines fill out the background.

The peat continues to build into the finish. A charcoal barbecue at the park. Machine shop. Plums and sea salt. At 46%abv the finish holds onto that mix of chiles, sweet fruit and muscular smoke.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Now if Highland Park's contemporary single casks were like this......they'd be $1000. But this is great. The cask is loud, but it's a honey. And the smoke is impressively fierce at this age. This style would probably appeal to Glendronach "single cask" and old Macallan fans, if they're not afraid of smoke. I don't foresee ever spending this sort of cash on a bottle (don't look at what the 1988s go for on The Secondary), but if I did it would have to meet this standard at minimum. If you picked up a bottle when it first came out, please enjoy your indulgence and spread the love.

Availability - Not in the primary market
Pricing - It's not real money, right?
Rating - 90

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Highland Park 22 year old 1990 AD Rattray, cask 577

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

Let's bid the '90s adieu with today's sherry butt from the AD Rattray folks. I'm not sure what my expectations are for this whisky. ADR has had awful sherry casks and excellent sherry casks. This particular liquid has a moderate gold tint (ignore the terrible pic below), so perhaps it wasn't a dead butt, and perhaps it won't be ultra-tannic. Perhaps I'll just be moderately geeked for this.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: A.D. Rattray
Age: 22 years old (3 December 1990 - 17 April 2013)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask number577
Outturn: 565 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.1%
(from a purchased sample)

NOTES

The nose has so much burn that I have to leave it alone for 30 minutes. After that I find toasted nuts and Corn Nuts. Ocean and caramel. Hints of flower blossoms and Chambord. There's also some butterscotch and apricot, but one has to plow through the heat to find it. Diluted to 46%abv, the whisky is more navigable. Green apples, dried apricots and vanilla pudding up front, toasted oak in the back.

The palate is very hot and very salty. Limes, raspberries and cayenne pepper fill in the midground. Winey tannins in the background. Again, it's more accessible at 46%abv. It's still peppery, salty and tart, but there are some new sweeter apple notes. It's more dusty than smoky.

My notes for the finish match those of the palate. At 46%abv, it's all black pepper and sweet apples.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This one underwhelmed, especially compared to the Highland Parks that precede and follow it in this cluster. It reads like a second- or third-fill butt that was not re-seasoned like many "refill" sherry butts today. It's reminiscent of those brutal green glass Cadenheads from days of yore, not in terms of quality, but in terms of burn. Once diluted, it's more comfy, but never more than that, reading like something that could have gone into a batch of Famous Grouse. For a different angle. see the Whiskybase community's enthusiasm.

Availability - Long gone
Pricing - ???
Rating - 82 (diluted only)

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Highland Park 21 year old 1992 Gordon & MacPhail (my bottle)

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

I had to open up something for this cluster, and this bottle had "FFS, Open Me" written all over it. I found this thing sitting on a shelf six years after it arrived in the US, at its original price. It wasn't cheap, but it also wasn't much more expensive than the rebranded official 18yo "Viking Pride". That's a win, nowadays. It's from a refill American hogsheads, which was the main reason I was able to find it at all. Scotch taters ain't climbin' over each other for a hoggie.


Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Range: Cask Strength
Age: 21 years old (2 September 1992 - 14 January 2014)
Maturation: Refill American Hogshead
Alcohol by Volume: 56.1%
(from my bottle, from the top third)

NOTES

The nose begins with so much fruit: guava, grapefruit and apricots. Then soil, wet sand and kelp. A little bit of dunnage in the background. Horseshit. I mean, actual horse poop. Diluted to 46%abv, the nose is positively loaded with stone fruits and tropical fruits. Gravel, citronella and ground cloves in the middle. Almond extract and dunnage in the background.

Oh my, the palate has the nose's guavas and grapefruits. And mango! And yuzu (you knew that was coming)! The fruits merge with minerals, hay, toasted sunflower seeds and almonds. At 46%abv, the palate is slightly peater and tarter, more of a fighter. A swirl of sweet mango and tart guava juices in the background.

Perfect balance of sweet and tart fruits in the finish. Then there's gravel, crisp smoke and a farmy hint. It gets smoker once reduced to 46%abv, with plenty of tart limes and yuzus to back it up.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Was this one of those secret casks we weren't supposed to talk about? Well, it's been seven years, so...

This is fabulous. This is the American oak cask to beat for the whole HP cluster. It's exactly what I hope for when trying a non-sherried Highland Park. The nose has all the good things working together in unison, then somehow the palate mirrors it. It's probably the guava-est whisky I've ever had.

How much did I like it? Well, I consumed it so enthusiastically during the tasting that I had to delay this post for a day. I wanted to write about it with a clearer head, but here I am raving about a whisky coming from my own cabinet.

Availability - USA, though it might be sold out
Pricing - $180-$250
Rating - 91

Friday, August 13, 2021

Undisclosed Orkney Distillery 21 year old 1999 Infrequent Flyers, cask 5743

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

I tend not to review whiskies that were solely aged in Pedro Ximenez casks because that style does not appeal to my palate. So what I have here today is a whisky doubly aged in Pedro Ximenez casks. Yes, this is a single cask (a debatable phrase to begin with) that was aged first in a PX cask, and then aged for a second period of time in a second PX cask. As in Yo Dawg I Heard You Like......etc.

It's also maroon colored. So all I have to say is

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: Alistair Walker Whisky Company
Range: Infrequent Flyers
Age: 21 years old (1999 - 2020)
Maturation: PX Sherry Puncheon, then PX Sherry Finish
Cask number5743
Outturn: 674 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 52.0%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

I find nothing but prune juice and Worcestershire sauce on the nose for the first ten minutes or so. Smoky ham and grape jam follow next. Then milk chocolate, rosewater and pickle brine. Once the whisky is diluted to 43%abv, the nose turns both meaty and sugary, and slightly farty. Ocean brine, copper and bubblegum linger in the background.

Meanwhile, the palate isn't too sweet. It has a decent HP peatiness, notes of ginger beer and table red wine perch in the middle, hints of grilled brined poultry and herbal bitterness in the background. At 43%abv, it's salty and smoky with tart berries up front, savoriness and sweetness in the back.

The finish is sweeter than the palate. It also has both tart and bitter citrus notes and a little bit grape jam. The smoke seems to have vanished. When reduced to 43%abv, it gets ashy and savory.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

At least this was an experience. The nose was even loonier than The Dark, making me worried about about the palate. But the palate turned out to be straight-laced in comparison. It was savory and gamey rather than grape jammy, if you'll allow the words. The smoke integrated well, and the finish wasn't half bad. I would even considering sipping it again. But maybe not a third time. And that's about as high of a compliment as you'll find me paying a PXed whisky. 

Availability - Probably sold out
Pricing - €150-€210 (I think)
Rating - 84

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Undisclosed Orkney Distillery 20 year old 1999 Infrequent Flyers, cask A324-4

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

I was going to start this post with a paragraph-long diatribe about how disappointing this cluster has been, but then I went back and actually looked at the reviews and realized I had nothing to be disappointed about. What did I really expect from those three 64+%abv sherried creatures? Meanwhile, this series has already included three 89-90 point whiskies, and the cluster as a whole averages well above this blog's mean score. So I should save my complaints for something more important, like my terrible electric cooktop. It's terrible.

Started by Alistair Walker (formerly of Tobermory, Benriach, and Glendronach distilleries) in 2018, the Infrequent Flyers range has rolled at least forty single casks into the market in just over two years. Like most indie bottlers, Walker has been burdened by the whole "Undisclosed Distillery" situation; with about 18% of AWWC's whiskybase listings showing that U-word on their labels. I will be reviewing two of the Orkneys, one today, one on Friday.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: Alistair Walker Whisky Company
Range: Infrequent Flyers
Age: 20 years old (1999 - October 2019)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask numberA324 #4
Outturn: 303 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 52.1%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

At the start, this cask shows it's related to Monday's HP, with Frosted Flakes and toasted grains and nuts on the nose. But then it turns directly to a salt+pepper+ocean note that reads Talisker-esque. More character appears with time: roses, citronella, cotton candy, white peaches and stroopwafel. Dropping the abv to 43% neither damages nor improves matters. The roses, white peaches and stroopwafel remain. Some kiwis show up, as does a hint of incense smoke.

Dried oregano and tangy lemons appear first in the palate, followed by peppercorns, barley and moderate smoke. Hints of wort and ultra-bitter IPA hide in the background. Again, nothing changes much once the whisky is reduced to 43%abv. There's a little more smoke and dried herbs, and perhaps a hint of metal, but otherwise it's the same.

Black pepper, herbal bitterness and a slight yeasty worty note make up most of the finish, with a lemony smoke aftertaste. At 43%abv, this finish matches the palate, aside from a little bit of tart stone fruit.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

When tried side-by-side with Monday's 18yo Orkney, this 20yo won out. This one actually read younger, not like a dead cask, but rather closer to the spirit, a thing I like. As noted above, it felt like Talisker's cousin with its coastal peppery style. If the palate had some of the nose's fruits, I'd be drooling all over my keyboard. Without those fruits, this whisky stalls at the Quite Solid Stuff stage. It's a decent altitude, but Highland Park can frequently fly much higher.

See what I did there? Yeah, I know, amazing.

Availability - Pretty close to selling through in Europe
Pricing - €135-€190
Rating - 85

Monday, August 9, 2021

Stones of Stenness 18 year old 1999 Single Cask Nation, cask 453

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

This week brings three we-can't-call-it-Highland-Park Highland Parks distilled in 1999. I think all the cluster's HPs after this week were deemed satisfactory enough to carry the distillery's name, or were bottled before this no-name foolishness began.

Today's bourbon barrel-aged Highland Park was bottled by Single Cask Nation. Since they couldn't call it Highland Park, the fellas named it after an ancient Orkney henge, Stones of Stenness, not to be confused with the Stones of Dennis.

Stone placement is ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting by a simple majority.

Now onto another farcical aquatic ceremony.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: Single Cask Nation
Age: 18 years old (November 1999 - May 2018)
Maturation: bourbon barrel
Cask number453
Outturn: 186 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 54.8%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

The nose begins pleasantly. Grains and nuts. Apple pie, Frosted Flakes and a snuffed cigar. After 20+ minutes, it gains a briny peat note, and some peach peels. Reducing it down to 43%abv, brings out more fruit, specifically peach juice and dried apricots. No smoke, maybe some almond extract. Reminds me of Glenburgie.

Black pepper dominates the palate, with barley and herbal bitterness somewhere in the middle. Lime popsicles and ash in the background. Sadly, the palate does not get fruiter when diluted to 43%abv. Instead it gets bitterer and tarter, with a metallic note in the background.

There's more smoke in the finish, less pepper, more lime popsicles. At 43%abv, it's bitterer, smokier and drying.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

The nose engages at full and reduced strength, holding onto its vibrancy even after 45 minutes. It was a cool, retro choice not to finish this whisky in a juicy second cask, instead releasing it as is. But (I can't believe I'm saying this), I don't think a secondary maturation would have hurt it. The palate needs a boost. It could have used some of the nose's fruits and nuts, or maybe a few years in a moderate sherry cask, or even a rich bourbon cask. I'm not sure that more time in this particular barrel would have added anything positive. Still, kudos to SCN for bottling a nude Highland Park.

Availability - Sold out?
Pricing - $190-$210 (wat?)
Rating - 82

Friday, August 6, 2021

Highland Park 20 year old 1999 Duncan Taylor, cask 501101

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

My lone dip into the '90s during the first half of the Highland Park cluster was a successful one, my favorite single cask of the cluster so far, an 18yo bourbon barrel from G&M. Now I'm going back to that decade for the next six reviews, four of which are for the same vintage: 1999.

I had thought this Duncan Taylor was from a hoggie, but the bottle count tells otherwise. 708 750mL bottles is quite an outturn for one vessel. That's 531 liters of liquid, after 20 years of maturation. So that's bigger than a butt. Perhaps it was a puncheon. Duncan Taylor's usual "Aged in Oak Casks", remains deeply unhelpful, so let's go with "Giant Sherry Cask", unless they seasoned a gorda with bourbon.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: Duncan Taylor
Range: Dimensions
Age: 20 years old (June 1999 - August 2019)
Maturation: ???
Cask number: 501101
Outturn: 708 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 53%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

The nose shows more oak than sherry, specifically a layer of toasted oak right on the top. Yuzu candy and ocean/brine float through the midground, with hints of roses and pilsner in the back. It leans more towards earth and stones than smoke. It develops notes of brown sugar and walnuts with time. Once reduced to 46%abv it takes on a lovelier funkier fruit note, like that of stone fruits getting overripe on the kitchen counter in summer. The brine, yuzu and earth notes remain, while a malty note shows up later on.

The palate begins with smoke, sugar, almonds, pecans and tart oranges. After 30 minutes, it takes an almost dire turn towards an aggressive woody bitterness. Woody smoke and tart berries in the background. It improves when diluted to 46%abv, picking up more tangy citrus and Juicy Fruit gum. The bitterness and smoke calm down.

It finishes tart, bitter, peppery and smoky. It gets tangier and saltier at 46%abv, and much less bitter.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This Highland Park puzzled when neat. The nose was great, the palate/finish was not. Something seemed to have gone awkward with the (likely very) refill cask and its very pale whisky. Dropping it to 46%abv fixed many of the issues. It still nosed much better than it tasted, but at least it was a solid drink when diluted. It's not an HP I'd hustle after, but I can see how (at 43%abv) it could fit into a batch of the official 18 year old.

Availability - Possibly still available
Pricing - $170-$200
Rating - 84 (diluted only, probably in the 70s when neat)

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Assessing the Highland Park cluster at the halfway point

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

"Distillery character" is a term tossed about by writers who know what they're talking about, and writers who don't. As My Annoying Opinions detailed six(!) years ago, the term is fluid, a construction, and certainly not clear cut. Styles at some distilleries, like those who focus on sherried whiskies (Macallan, Glendronach, Glenfarclas, Dalmore, etc.), seem to be driven by cask sourcing and management programs, rather than what comes out of the stills. Some shift with ownership changes, like Ledaig/Tobermory and Bowmore. Others seem to be running away from a once famous style, like Ardbeg (towards dog and pony shows) and Laphroaig (towards......?). Then there's Glenmorangie, where Bill Lumsden is the distillery character.

That brings me to Highland Park. Back when the official releases centered around the 12yo, 15yo (R.I.P.) and 18yo, I thought I had a sense of HP's style: soft peat and citrus peels merging flawlessly with mild sherry casks. Today's its character is......Nordic? In the process of tossing out dozens of releases, the distillery seems to pushing for branding more than consistency. It doesn't seem to have hurt their sales (though who's rushing out to buy their NASes?), so I doubt they'll switch tracks any time soon.

If (or when) I reference HP's distillery style during this cluster, I'm referencing something close to the spirit. Not the naked new make, but rather a whisky not overwhelmed by its maturation vessel. That's my preference in general, which is why this cluster isn't just a bunch of Orkney sherry bombs.

Out of the six high-strength sherry cask Highland Parks I've tried during this cluster so far, I'd only buy one, with cask violence being the main issue with the others. Meanwhile, I'd be happy to chase after three out of the four bourbon cask HPs thus far. That trio mixes fruit, earth, minerals, salt and a little smoke just right. But my favorite of the first 15 Highland Parks may be the official 18yo that was bottled back in 2010. It's kind of perfect, with that style I thought I'd find more often during this cluster, a style that may not actually exist.

As with the Port Charlotte cluster, my expectations have been blown to bits, though much earlier in this cluster. There aren't as many through-lines connecting the whiskies as I'd thought there would be. I'll keep my whisky antennae up for the style I thought I'd find, as well as the good stuff I actually did experience in the bourbon casks. But the second half of the cluster leads to older things, whiskies that have drawn character from the cask over more years than the younglings from the first half. I'll have to say goodbye to the spirit and indulge instead in my adventures in time. I'm willing to make that sacrifice.

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