There are moments when this Axis gig isn’t too shabby. As, for example, when Highland Park’s senior brand ambassador, Martin Markvardson, walks you through some new expressions over dinner. I dig pretty much all Highland Park (though Baldo found the Harald and Dark Origins less than stunning), and I was very happy to see that the distillery continues its winning streak with the Valkyrie.
It’s the first in a “Viking Legend” series that will have two more releases over the next two years. This one is distilled from half peated barley, a considerably higher proportion than with the HP 12 or 18, which are about 20-25% peated. Orkney peat, which HP uses exclusively, contains no wood–it’s a different peat beast altogether than what’s used in other parts of Scotland.
The Valkyrie is aged in a mix of American oak and European sherry casks, and continues the no-age-statement trend. (HP is in the process of phasing out its 15- and 21-year-old releases entirely.)
The nose hints of beeswax and honey. There’s that less woody peat, then glorious honey. On the palate, slow-cooked smoked pork. Warm apple fritter. A seemingly mildly abrupt finish, but it’s sneaky, because half an hour later, you’re still catching the remnants of the peat and honied heather. It was one dram, but I can’t wait to try more.
Here’s to experiences that delight. Cheers, friends! – TM
Speyburn Bradan Orach – Distiller: Speyburn. Region: Highlands. No age statement. Age: 10 years. Price: $25.
Speyburn Arranta Casks – Distiller: Speyburn. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price: $35.
We all love the fancy pours when a buddy is buying, but it’s crucial to have some value drams in the cabinet–everyday standbys, the kind of single malts you can bring to the party to enjoy yourself without feeling something die inside when some knucklehead mixes it with Sprite.
Speyburn is a Highland single malt that’s solidly in value dram territory while having plenty to offer a seasoned whisky lover. (It’s been picking up some award recognition recently.) Their core line consists of the 10-year-old, the no-age-statement Bradan Orach, and the Arranta Casks release. Let’s try ’em out!
Speyburn 10: Nose of fresh malt, field grass, heather. Coconut. Toasted almond. Fresh baguette. Palate adds lemon and grapefruit. Tart. Fairly tart. Toast with marmalade. Finish has a little smoky barrel char and dry grapefruit rind.
The Bradan Orach has lemongrass and wildflower honey on the nose, then candied orange and lemon wedges. The palate’s unexpectedly substantial for its 40% ABV. Wildflower honey. There’s less complexity than in the 10–the impression is of a quality blend: Loch Lomond, say. Dry, tart finish. Wet cinnamon stick.
The Arranta Casks release is so named for its all-first-fill bourbon maturation. It shows. Boldest and most robust of the line at 46% ABV. Big orchard fruit on the nose: apple, pear, peach. Hints at a young bourbon. More vanilla and sweet oak with time in the glass. The palate has fresh vanilla bean, toasted tobacco, and a white grape note. Finish brings more sweetness: vanilla cake with white frosting and toasted almond. Just enough bite.
Amid the numerous overhyped and overpriced letdowns these days, Speyburn is a welcome discovery. Hope your weekend’s been a good one!
Cheers, friends! – BO
Speyburn graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.
Wolfburn Northlands Single Malt – Distillery: Wolfburn. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%. No age statement (3+ years old). Price: $55-60.
Wolburn Aurora Sherry Oak Single Malt – Distillery: Wolfburn. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%. No age statement (3+ years old). Price: $55-60.
Even before my first taste of Wolfburn, I had questions. Why go through the massive expense and effort of setting up a new Scotch whisky distillery at a time when even the big boys have to fight to keep their market share?
“Fortune favors the brave,” Wolfburn founder Andrew Thompson told me. “Put it all on black and spin the wheel.”
Once I’d tasted, the question became: How did they make whisky this good this fast?
“I spend my life doing two things,” Andrew said. “One, convincing people to try a 3-year-old whisky–well, now mostly 4, but only just. Two, then explaining why it is good. The first one is irritating but the reward comes with the second one after they try it.”
They don’t have a secret, but they do have a method. Andrew’s full explanation deserves a staging as a one-man show–or at least a trip to the far-northern Highlands distillery, opened in 2011, to hear it yourself.
In a nutshell, it involves custom stills from legendary coppersmith Richard Forsyth, zero automation, 25-year industry vet Shane Fraser (ex-Oban, ex-Glenfarclas) as distiller manager, and a relentless focus on producing the best new make they can.
A little more than 3 years later, they’ve got a product that is changing people’s minds about just how good a very young single malt can be–mine included.
“There really are no secrets at Wolfburn, hence people like Ichiro Akito from Chichibu, amongst others, send their people to chat to us and learn,” Andrew said.
“A fully automated system creates one kind of consistency. A man using his nose and hands creates another. By no means a better one, just a different one. For us, as a new start up, obsessed with looking after the whisky above all else, with no pre-programmed set of rules, it’s the later type of consistency we look for.”
“So now we have our new make–it’s really good new make,” Andrew said, “Let’s now put it in the best casks we can possibly find and then put it in our own warehouses and stack it, dunnage style, ourselves.”
On to the results. Both current releases are 46% ABV, $55-60, just over 3 years old (the minimum by Scottish law).
“Would we have delayed if it wasn’t ready?” Andrew said. “Absolutely. Look after the whisky and it will look after you.”
Wolfburn Northland is matured in Quarter Casks that previously held peated Islay whisky. Nose: fresh grain. Salted caramel. Almond croissant. Faint lime custard. Palate: sweeter than the nose. Nice spice. Lemon tart with graham cracker crust. A suggestion of toasty peat from the cask, which compliments the brashness of the young malt wonderfully. Finish: salty. White chocolate. Charred baked apple bottom. Very, very tasty.
Wolfburn Aurora is matured in ex-sherry casks. Nose: fresh malted barley. Blueberry and blackberry. Mocha dusted with nutmeg. Palate: juicy, alive. Raspberry jam, restrained sweetness. Shades toward orange marmalade closer late on. The finish has white chocolate, bananas foster, and a little lemon pepper.
What a start for Wolfburn! The Northland is my favorite of the two, but both show huge promise–and are ready to be enjoyed right now.
What’s next, apart from steadily more mature releases?
“We have a lightly peated whisky coming out in September of –just 10ppm,” Andrew said. The original Wolfburn distillery, which was founded in 1821 but had long since been a pile of rubble by the time the new team came along, would have used exclusively peated malt, “so it would be a shame not to have tried some.”
Beyond that, “the warehouse has mainly American Standard Barrels, quarter casks, and sherry butts in it, so lots and lots to come in the future. And the maturation is going very well indeed.”
I’d say. Here’s to taking chances. Cheers, whisky friends! – BO
Wolfburn graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.
Released in 2011, the Glenmorangie Artein is the third release of the Glenmorangie Private Edition series. It’s a rich blend of 21- and 15-year-old whisky finished in Super Tuscan Sassicaia wine barrels.
The Artein has a lot of depth and complexity, which makes it one of my favorites among the Private Editions. Loads of sweet berries and peppermint are on the nose. The palate is creamy with notes of peach cobbler, vanilla, honey, spice and shaved milk chocolate. The sweet finish has just the right amount of warmth and length.
If you come across an old bottle of this, definitely snatch it up. Cheers! – JTR
Distiller: Macallan. Region: Highlands. ABV: 48.2%. No age statement. Price: $80-100.
I think I’ve got a new favorite Macallan. Got an overdue taste of the excellent Edition No. 2 with my friends at Jay’s Bar recently. I’d heard raves about this no-age-statement release from Mark good folks at Scotch ‘n’ Sniff and Malt Review. Now I know why.
The Edition No. 2 is a collaboration between Macallan Whisky Maker Bob Dalgamo and Catalonia’s legendary El Cellar de Can Roca restaurant. In terms of profile, it’s square in Macallan’s sweet spot: dense sherried goodness balanced by just the right amount of darker, drier tannic notes.
On the nose there’s blood orange, marzipan, marshmallow, sweet old oak, and a whisper of mint. The palate adds sponge cake, toasted coconut macaroons, candied ginger, and fig. Full body. The finish has clove-studded Christmas orange with musty grapevine and more sweet oak.
BIG success, this one. Looking forward to adding a bottle to my collection–and trying it alongside the Edition 1.
Oban is part of Diageo’s Classic Malts line, and is beloved in the U.S. for being rich, versatile, and approachable. And for being easy to pronounce.
Chicago’s weather calls for very specific whiskies in the spring, and I’d say the Oban 14 fits the bill perfectly. The nose has gentle heather, with hints of toffee, pine, and pear. The palate is more of this gentle wash, with an underlay of pan drippings. And the sustained finish is a minor miracle, one that grows in strength, only to ease away for a rolling delight. It’s one of my faves and fits our ever-changing weather beautifully.
If you’re looking to explore the distillery further, there’s an excellent annual Oban Distiller’s Edition, as well as a no-age-statement Little Bay, which has both fans and detractors. We’ll bring you a review of the latter soon.