Tag Archives: islands

Compass Box Peat Monster Review

Producer: Compass Box. Distiller: various (see below). Region: Islay/Islands/Highlands. ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price: $55-65.

I have a special weakness with Compass Box whiskies. The Flaming Heart 2015 was my favorite whisky of that year, and I have yet to write a review. I went through an entire Christmas bottle of Compass Box Peat Monster without writing a review. The problem is that they’re so good, and in such a particular way–which I attribute to the blending genius of founder John Glaser–that I get too absorbed in them to take notes. I just want to enjoy.

But revisiting the Peat Monster, I managed to get my act together. This beauty is a blended malt (also known as a pure malt), meaning it’s a mix of single malts, with no grain whisky. The malts come from Laphroaig, Caol Ila, Ardmore, Ledaig, an unnamed Highland distiller.

The peat is intense, but there are many peatier whiskies on the market by far. The priority here is on balance and nuance.

Nose: lively, fresh, grassy, but with the density and richness that only come from a fair proportion of older malt in the mix. Minimal sweetness. Dark vanilla. Almond flour. Mesquite. Lemongrass. Dry vermouth herbaciousness. I could nose it all night.

Three kinds of peat intertwine on the palate: briny, toasty, and savory/BBQ. The Laphroaig brings the ashiness and brine; the Caol Ila light lemony fruits, tilting from lemon to lime to grapefruit. Charred pear and watermelon candy later on. The finish is very long, with grapefruit rind, grenadine, white ash, and salty sea spray.

The Compass Box Peat Monster should be a staple in any peat lover’s cabinet. Sure is in mine.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Compass Box whisky online from Mash + Grape

Scotch Malt Whisky Society 4.222 Review

Producer: Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Distiller: Highland Park. Region: Highlands/Islands. ABV: 56.2%. Age: 16 years.

This SMWS 4.222 “Ginger and honey sweet tea” (a 16-year-old Highland Park) is a classic example of why I seek out single cask whisky from independent bottlers.

Over a decade ago I fell in love with the standard Highland Park 18. The use of Orcadian peat and sherry casks strike a perfect balance for me when I’m not in the mood for an Islay peat monster or a dark sherried Highland. However, I’m always searching for that next bottle that will expand my whisky horizons, and this 4.222 fits the bill nicely.

From a single first fill ex-bourbon cask, this is Highland Park stripped of its familiar sherry notes. Laid bare on the nose are crisp, sweet heather, caramel, and gentle smoke. On the palate are fresh botanicals and a beautiful mix of sweet vanilla and saltiness. The signature light peat notes that I love then settle in and are the glue that keeps everything together. The medium finish adds cinnamon to the waning smoke.

A truly unique exploration of Highland Park. Cheers! – JTR

Highland Park Valkyrie Review

Distiller: Highland Park. Region: Islands/Highlands. ABV: 45.9%. No age statement. Price: $60-70.

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

Highland Park Fire Review

Distiller: Highland Park. Region: Highlands/Islands. ABV: 45.2%. Age: 15 years. Price: $300.

I’m always a sucker for a good whisk(e)y story, especially when it comes from a distillery I’ve loved for pretty much my entire whisky drinking life. Highland Park, on the remote Orkney Islands of Scotland (long a bucket list destination), has delved fully into the Viking heritage of that part of the British Isles with a series of special bottlings.

Several months ago, I sampled their Ice, named after the mythical Viking Ice Giants. More recently, the distillery was gracious enough to send a sample of the next release in this vein, the Highland Park Fire Edition.

A limited release of 28,000 bottles, the Fire is intended to honor the Fire Giants, foremost of whom was Surtr, who, in mythology, destroyed the world in Ragnarok. So, the main question: is this whisky worthy of a world-destroying giant?

In two words: Hell. Yes. Unlike most of the distillery’s products, the 15-year-old Fire was barreled not in the traditional sherry casks, but in a 100% refill port wine-seasoned cask. Now, mind you, I’ve always enjoyed the Highland Park, but the port has opened worlds to me.

The nose has hints of cinnamon, as you’d expect from the bottle, but also lovely and nutty dark chocolate, a flowing and mellow vanilla, and something reminiscent of the tail end of a hog roast. The palate just sings. More pronounced vanilla, to be sure, but I adored the rich roasted coffee, along with orange rind, very slight plantain, and tobacco akin to a Cuban cigar I once enjoyed. The finish is perfectly sustained. It teeters on the brink of fiery, but never tilts harsh. Instead, what you get is an ending you’ll want to savor until the last elements are fully gone.

Now, at this price and limited availability, there’s no way that it can be a staple, but if you can find a bottle, grab it. It’s an infinitely rewarding whisky and one I plan to savor for years to come.

Slàinte, friends, and grab the sublime when you find it. – TM

Highland Park graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Highland Park Dark Origins Review

Distiller: Highland Park. Region: Highlands/Islands. ABV: 46.8%. No age statement. Price: $80.

The Dark Origins is a velvety no-age-statement dram from Highland Park that doubles the sherry cask influence of the standard 12, and is meant to replace the 15-year-old in the near future.

The release is matured 80% in first-fill sherry casks, 20% refill sherry. Needless to say, the sherry is strong with this one.

There’s light honeyed smoke on the nose, plus stewed and candied fruits. The palate adds loads of bitter orange, plus more oak tannins than the Highland Park usually brings. Dark chocolate and lingering smoke on the finish.

It’s a more substantial and interesting dram than the 12-year-old Highland Park, but it struck me as a bit unbalanced overall. It’s not cheap for an NAS, but sherry fans will want to check it out. I’ll be revisiting this one myself, but in the meantime I’ll be pouring myself another A’Bunadh.

Sláinte, friends! -BO

Highland Park Ice Review

Distillery: Highland Park. Region: Highlands/Islands. ABV: 53.9%. Age: 17 years. Price: $300.

I’m always intrigued when familiar whisk(e)y friends take a stab at something new. One of my perennial must-haves is the Highland Park 12, a whisky that easily ranks in my top 10. So when the good folks at the Orkney distillery offered to send a sample of their special release Ice, I was thrilled to have the chance to try it.

Highland Park’s new whisky continues the distillery’s celebration of Orkney’s viking past. The release is inspired by the Norse ice realm, Niflheim, a land of frost and darkness. But there’s nothing remotely cold about this drink.

I caught pine and heather on the nose, but tropical mango too. The palate was pretty much perfect. Peat and grilled lemon mingle with vanilla, and they all get along with the clove notes just fine. The finish is terrifically sustained, and if you add a bit of water, you’ll coax a touch of espresso out too.

Not one I can afford every day, but a lovely one to have tried. Cheers, friends! – TM