Whisky is more than a drink. It’s the land that produces it, the clash of terrain and season against those who wrest greatness from oft-unforgiving landscapes. Whisky is the stories swirling around the glass. The tales of those long gone, the shouts of current aspirations, the hushed reverie of future dreams. It’s working yourself to a nub, then wrapping your hand around the glass and luxuriating in the pleasure of a job well done.
This, as much as the flavor, is what I love about whisky–and there’s not a distillery out there that does a better job of drawing all thee strands together than the classic Orkney distillery, Highland Park.
In recent years, the distillery has sought to celebrate is heritage through special limited releases. This year, HP is releasing The Dark, which hints at the violent autumn and winters seasons on the Isle, and The Light (due to be released later this year) which will symbolize spring and summer.
For The Dark, they’ve matured their malt in first-fill, sherry-seasoned European oak for 17 years. The experience brings to mind the end of those long walks in late fall or early winter when the biting cold and cold, fading light seem to give an otherworldly hue to the woods.
There’s a truly autumnal nose. Dried cranberries, dark, rich plum are layered among sage, rosemary, and a very faint roasted pork loin. Rich leather and loam round it out.
The palate becomes more wintry. Dried sage mingles with sherried plums. Espresso and peat come in strongly, reminiscent of mornings on the North Sea. Faint pipe tobacco. The finish recalls the end of March, when winter refuses to go. Bittersweet chocolate and black currant tea arrive, alongside light pekoe. It’s not a long finish, but it leaves you smiling.
I was greatly anticipating this, and it’s superb. There will only be 4,500 of these released stateside. The price point is high, but if you’re in a position to splurge this year, this very well might be the one.
Glenmorangie Tarlogan – Distiller: Glenmorangie. Region: Highlands. ABV: 43%. No age statement. Price: $110.
And just like that, we’re into December. A month of joy, togetherness, and the first McDram family trip to Scotland. And it couldn’t come any sooner, as I’m down to the last dregs of my favorite whisky of 2017, the Glenmorangie Tarlogan.
Initially launched as part of the distillery’s travel retail market (which means I can only get it while traveling in that neck of the woods), the Glenmorangie Tarlogan is matured in a combination of virgin oak and ex-bourbon casks.
Given that it’s a no-age-statement whisky and bottled at only 43% ABV, skepticism at the high price tag is understandable. And to be honest, there are moments when I question my whisky judgment. But when I saw Brendan McCarron, GlenMo’s head of maturing whisky stocks, this past summer, he said his own favorite GlenMo of the year was the Tarlogan. When Dr. Bill’s heir apparent gives it that kind of stamp, I know I’m on to something.
To paraphrase the Sex Pistols, never mind the bollocks, here comes the review. There’s a lovely, creamy vanilla full on the nose, but so much more. A delicate caramel slow tangoes with honied almonds and a bit of marzipan. It’s the rare nose that has me dying to dive in.
The palate has chocolate and honey, which brings to mind the best Cadbury bars. There’s also spice and a peppery nutmeg, along with splashes of cinnamon.
Then there’s the finish. Dark cherry gelato, rich walnuts, and a lovely buttery caramel. I mean, thank the whisky gods I’m going back to the old country soon, because I can still taste the remnants.
I’m not usually one to pay more than a Ben Franklin for a whisky, but in a few weeks, I’ll gladly hand over the cash for another bottle of this gem. Happy Christmas, and cheers, friends! – TM
Old Pulteney Navigator – Distiller: Old Pulteney. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price: $45-50.
I have emotional responses to certain whiskies that go deep. I can’t have a dram of the Lagavulin 16 and not remember the night before we had to put our Yellow Lab down. I see Macallan and I flash back to my wedding, where Mrs. McDram’s father had stashed bottles of the Macallan 10 all around the reception room. And there’s been one on my mind a great deal as we prepare to take our kids to Scotland for the first time.
In 2002, I was in Edinburgh on a rainy, wind-torn day. I’d climbed all over Arthur’s Seat. I descended into the encroaching dark, soaked, knowing that I’d feel my exertions the next day and that I needed a good dram to start the recovery process. I hauled myself into the White Lion and asked for a whisky. The bartender pulled out a bottle of Old Pulteney and poured a healthy dram. It’s been love ever since.
The Old Pulteney is a Highland malt from the remote town of Wick. In the distillery’s earliest days, the town was inaccessible by land, and the barley had to be brought in by sea. The “Maritime Malt” still retains that characteristic hint of brine. I’m always thrilled to see what the distillery will next create.
Welcome the Old Pulteney Navigator, the distillery’s latest core expression. It’s matured primarily in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, but also incorporates first-fill ex-Oloroso sherry casks. It’s non-chill filtered and bottled at 46% ABV.
The nose recalls a Midwestern fall harvest. Honeycrisp apple, pear, and the tang of a good breeze off Lake Michigan. Very slight Cadbury chocolate on the back. The apple in the palate shifts from fresh to caramelized, atop a roasted pork loin. Very faint pine swirls around a more pronounced dark chocolate, along with tufts of oak and sherry fruits. The finish lingers, bringing the apple-pear-chocolate combination back in full for a lovely encore.
Too soon to tell whether this will be my favorite OP, but it’s absolutely in the conversation. What OP expressions do you all enjoy, and if you’ve tried the Navigator, where do you rank it? – TM
A company representative graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.
Lost Distillery Auchnagie(Archivist Collection) – Producer: Lost Distillery Company. Distiller(s): undisclosed. Region: Highlands (in theory–see below). ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price:
Lost Distillery Stratheden(Archivist Collection) – Producer: Lost Distillery Company. Distiller(s): undisclosed. Region: Lowlands (in theory–see below). ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price:
Lost Distillery Gerston (Archivist Collection) – Producer: Lost Distillery Company. Distiller(s): undisclosed. Region: Highlands (in theory–see below). ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price:
There’s no shortage of independent bottlers finishing, bottling, and/or blending big-name (or obscure) single malts in interesting ways. The Lost Distillery Company takes a different approach.
The name suggests they might be about tracking down malt from shuttered distilleries and bringing it to market. What they actually do is more interesting: giving shuttered distilleries a speculative life-after-life by sourcing and blending malts meant to approximate their styles.
We don’t have a warehouse full of old forgotten whisky, we don’t have a secret recipe or DNA analysis and we don’t have plans to reopen any of these lost distilleries. The answer to what we do lies in the history books…
An “Archiving Team” headed up by Professor Michael Moss from The University of Glasgow determines what it can about the key components that would have made up a given lost distillery’s products: era, water, barley, still, wood, etc.
Our Archivists and Whisky Makers, along with a panel of selected ‘noses’, attempt to bring to life the evidence before them. They create a blend of single malts from different distilleries and with different flavour profiles, tweaking the composition to sit easily with both the evidence of the archivist and the interpretation of the whisky makers.
Naturally, there’s quite a bit of guesswork in the process. And there’s no one around from 1910 to say, “Eh, you need about 10% more peachiness on that Towiemore, mates.”
That said, the Lost Distillery Company does impress with the depth of their research into the distilleries whose names they use, presented in great detail on their website.
The big question, of course, is whether they impress with their malts. Read on…
Lost Distillery Auchnagie
Auchnagie had a century-long run in the Highlands from 1812-1911. The nose of the Lost Distillery Company’s recreation has lovely canned fruits in light syrup, with something salty and savory behind it–smoked ham?–and a fragrant wood note.
The palate is quite intense , with a play of light (bourbon-cask fruit) and dark (mature wood) notes. Quite sharp at first, though it softens with time and a few drops of water. There’s a hint of white smoke that suggests a very small peated component (this, like all LDC releases, is a blend of single malts), or healthy barrel char. The finish is pleasantly sooty. Salt lick. Lemon peel. Leather.
Very enjoyable, distinctly old-fashioned. Recommended.
Lost Distillery Stratheden
Stratheden (1829-1926) was a Lowland distillery founded by one Alexander Bonthrone, who was so dedicated to the craft that he ran the stills nearly to his death–at the age of 92!
The nose on the LDC Stratheden has a rubbery, tarry note that’s quite unusual in the absence of peat, but not unwelcome. A little heat. Sweet mustiness. Freshly polished shoe leather. Orange saltwater taffy. I enjoy the nose so much that I’m in no rush to sip.
Palate is salty, with blackberry syrup and balsamic vinegar reduction. The finish is long, complex, and intriguing. Think mulled wine with heavy dry spice, especially allspice, and clove.
Every bit the equal of the Auchnagie.
Lost Distillery Gerston
Gerston is a recreation of the malt of two Highland distilleries, Gerston One (farm-scale, 1796-1882) and Gerston Two (industrial-scale 1886-1914).
The LDC Gerston comes on with quite a sweet nose. Vanilla, marshmallow, cotton candy. Distant hint of peat. Butteriness that gives a strong suggestion of some Pedro Ximenez influence in there. Musty, old fashioned in a way that’s familiar now after the Auchnagie and Stratheden.
The palate is more savory than sweet: mustard barbecue chicken. Quite mild peat that registers mostly as spiciness. Dried apple with cinnamon. The finish balances dying embers with lingering spice.
You could call the LDC mission quixotic, but the results are undeniable. When you’ve had your fill of the rivers of young, bright, uniformly honeyed malts from the big names–when you’re in a bit of a musty, old-fashioned, leather-library-binding mood yourself–try a Lost Distillery Company release. I think you’ll be glad you did. And be sure to share your thoughts.
Slàinte, friends! – BO
A company representative graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.
Glenmorangie Astar – Distiller: Glenmorangie. Region: Highlands. ABV: 52.5%. No age statement. Price: $90-100.
The relaunch of the Glenmorangie Astar hit Los Angeles in high style this month, with Dr. Bill Lumsden–GlenMo Director of Distilling & Whisky Creation–hosting a dinner and tasting at the Moet Hennessy House in the hills above West Hollywood.
Glenmorangie has quite a robust lineup. It ranges from the Original 10-Year-Old, which provides the based for just about every other release, to wine-finished staples like the Nectar D’Or and Quinta Ruban, to limited Special Editions like the Milsean and Artein, up to the luscious 18-Year-Old and NAS masterpiece Signet.
If the Original is heart of the Glenmorangie line, the Astar is the heart of the heart–the purest expression of what defines the distillery.
The Original is defined by brightness, silkiness, elegance, and a balance of fruit and floral notes that Dr. Bill attributes to two things: the unusual height of Glenmorangie’s stills, and their cask selection.
The Original uses a certain proportion of GlenMo’s so-called “designer casks,” made from slow-growth Missouri oak, chosen for porousness, seasoned for 2-3 years in the open air, charred, filled with Jack Daniels for 4 years, then dumped and shipped to GlenMo.
The Astar uses 100% of these “designer casks.” It’s also bottled at 52.5% ABV, adding to the intensity. (The first Astar was bottled at 57% ABV, but Dr. Bill felt the extra heat did more to obscure the whisky than reveal it.) All in all, Dr. Bill’s description of it as “Glenmorangie Original on steroids” is apt.
On to the tasting!
The nose has pear, green apple, marzipan, orange peel, candied banana, coconut milk, and light toasted oak. For my money, it’s a bit closed at full strength, but comes alive with a few drops of water. Faint cacao nibs. Toasted almonds.
On the palate, both the fluffy vanilla and the juicy fruit notes bloom. Blood orange, ripe pear, pineapple. Fresh coconut. Over time, a pleasant toastiness emerges.
The finish is long and robust, with spice leading the way–lemon pepper, ground ginger, lemon rind–before a wisp of cotton candy at the end.
I frequently hear from whisky lovers who lament the proliferation of wine cask finishes, and yearn for purer manifestations of their favorite distilleries: straight ex-bourbon cask maturation, high ABV, no funny business. There are lots of wine-finished whiskies I love–including from GlenMo–but it’s a beautiful thing to have so pure a manifestation of GlenMo’s core character.
It takes time and patience to appreciate the nuance of Astar, but it’s worth the effort.
Slàinte, friends! – BO
Glenmorangie graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.
I’ve been waiting on this one for a special occasion. I’ve been in love with Highland Park’s line for as long as I’ve been drinking whisky, and I’m always excited for new beginnings from old friends. So on a day when I recorded a very fun voiceover (a new career-ish move), I knew I wanted to celebrate with the newest permanent addition to the line.
The Highland Park Magnus is named for Magnus Eunson, a Scot of Norse descent who allegedly had an illegal still in 1798 on the site of the current distillery. Highland Park used Orcadian malt in the making of this no-age-statement release, and it carries through what is a light, lovely, and delicate whisky.
The nose has a heathery peat right up front, which quickly fades into Scottish honey, North Sea brine, and a subtle toffee note.
The peat continues to be at the forefront on the palate. It is, to be fair, on the watery side due to the low 40% ABV, but it lets through flavors of raisin, black tea, and peppery ginger snaps. Later there’s more heather and a vague hint of briny oyster that I loved.
The finish was where I most noticed the low ABV. It has an initial fiery blast that fades too quickly–with a complex profile like this, I wanted to savor it more.
But I’m not gonna complain. Any single malt distiller who’s offering a truly solid whisky at this price point gets my respect at a time when we’re seeing so many brands demanding prices that are simply not justified by the product.
Here’s to Highland Park for making a quite lovely whisky that everyone can afford, and here’s to all of you, friends. Slàinte! – TM