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Highland Park The Dark Review

Highland Park The Dark – Distiller: Highland Park. Region: Highlands/Islands. ABV: 52.9%. Age: 17 years. Price: $300.

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.

Cheers, friends! – TM

Buy Highland Park whisky online at Mash + Grape

A company representative graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Highland Park Magnus Review

Highland Park Magnus – Distiller: Highland Park. Region: Highlands/Islands. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Price: $40.

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

Buy Highland Park whisky online at Mash + Grape

Compass Box Peat Monster Review

Compass Box Peat Monster – 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

Highland Park Valkyrie – Distiller: Highland Park. Region: Highlands/Islands. 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

Buy Highland Park whisky online at Mash + Grape

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

Highland Park Fire Review

Highland Park Fire – 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.

Buy Highland Park whisky online at Mash + Grape