Distiller: Highland Park. ABV 40%. No age statement. Region: Islands. Price: $90-100.
Highland Park’s a first-rate distiller, Scotland’s northernmost, and one of just two distilleries on the Orkney Islands. Their 12-year-old is an excellent introduction to single malt for the uninitiated, and 18-year-old is the nectar of the gods.
Then there’s the Harald. This Duty Free-only release from their Warrior Series struck me as thin, raw, underpowered, and muddled. There are hints of familiar Highland Park flavors–baked apple, baking spice, and light peat–but they’re barely detectable at such a low ABV (40%). Which, at this price point, I find a bit baffling.
It’s the mixed blessing of the no-age-statement trend. You get home runs like the Aberlour A’Bunadh, then dribblers that go foul of the third base line.
When it comes to HIghland Park, at least, I’ll be sticking to the standard age-statement releases. – BO
Buy Highland Park whisky online at Mash + Grape
2015 Axis of WhiskyFest Tasting no. 7. Michel Couvreur Peaty Overaged Malt Whisky. 43% ABV. 12 years old.
If there was a standout at inaugural Axis of WhiskyFest, this was it. A sherried blend by recently departed Belgian legend Michel Couvreur, who took new make spirit from top Scottish single malt distillers, then aged them in his hand-picked sherry casks in caves he dug in Burgundy.
They might have been lost with his untimely passing in 20014, had his protege not taken up the task and started releasing them to selected sellers — including the unsurpassable K&L Wines.
Huge sweet creamy unfiltered mix of peat and sherry. The latter, from fresh Jerez casks Couvreur picked himself in Spain, takes the lead. Like a sherried pre-closing Bruichladdich? A peated ultrarich Macallan? Whatever it is, it’s damn good.
Hats off to Couvreur and K&L — in this and all things. -BO
2015 Axis of WhiskyFest Tasting no. 2. Distiller: Heaven Hill. 45% ABV. 7 years old. Price: $30.
Brought to the Fest by the great-grandson of Isaac Bernheim himself. (See the excellent Atlantic article “The Jewish Origins of Kentucky Whiskey” for an eye-opening look at the little-known history.)
One of the few wheat whiskies on the market, with a mashbill consisting of at least 51% soft winter wheat. It has a rich, toasty, Maker’s-like palate. The body’s on the lighter side, but with great balance and mouthfeel. Honey. Light molasses. Begging for some BBQ.
Mild and maybe a touch underpowered compared to its corn-based cousins, Bernheim is still worth appreciating on its own terms. A modest but worthy tribute to the long-neglected legacy of old Isaac. – BO
Distiller: Balblair. 46% ABV. No age statement (10 years old). Region: Highlands. Price: $70.
This light, sweet, fresh-smelling dram was a natural to start off what would be a long, packed night of tastings at the inaugural Axis of WhiskyFest.
Founded in 1790, Balblair is one of Scotland’s northernmost distilleries, perched next to the Dornoch Firth. The distillery moved from age statements to vintages a number of years ago, selecting, as it says, for “optimum maturation,” rather than attempting a consistent aged profile year after year.
The 2002 vintage, bottled in 2012, is a light straw color in the glass. Very sweet nose with vanilla and honey. Surprisingly viscous for the low proof. Quite sweet palate at first, following the nose, with just a wisp of white smoke. With a drop of water, light spice emerges.
A delicate, highly enjoyable first dram of the night, any night. – BO
Buy Balblair whisky online at Mash + Grape