Distillery: Highland Park
Age: 12 years old
With names such as Einar, Svein and Drakkar, the Viking theme has always been strong with Highland Park. Indeed, Orkney was a Viking outpost for over 600 years, and their influence is found all over Orcadian folklore. Apparently it makes for good marketing too; recently Highland Park’s core range was given a makeover, with each expression gaining a new Viking-related subtitle and an elaborately carved bottle. I actually preferred the simplicity of the previous packaging, as the new look and feel is a bit over the top.
Packaging aside though, the whisky remains very much the same. And that’s a good thing: where many distilleries have mainly focused on NAS bottlings, Highland Park’s aged range is still going strong. The 12 year old is a classic, epitomising the honey sweet, smoky spirit that the distillery is known for. Highland Park is often referred to as everyone’s friend, and you’ll be hard put to find someone who severely dislikes the distillery’s drams. That doesn’t automatically make this a great whisky though, so let’s see what Highland Park Viking Honour is actually like.
Colour: Light gold
Nose: Fresh and floral, like a hay barn on a warm summer’s day. Underneath this somewhat vegetative character we find fragrant aromas of pineapple and orchard fruits. There’s some typical Highland Park here too, with that sweet, heathery smokiness we’ve all come to recognise as Orcadian peat. On the whole, this seems quite a friendly and inviting dram.
Palate: Medium bodied, with more herbal, malty notes. Oatcakes and a hint of sage give way to breakfast cereal sprinkled with honey. Viking Honour is quite light on the smoke, and dissipates into an earthy, leafy character, in which the heather from the nose makes a clear comeback.
Finish: Not overly long or warming, but the aftertaste is pleasantly dry and earthy, like hay smouldering over a peat fire.
Verdict: You can’t go wrong with Highland Park 12 year old. This is an aromatic, flavourful dram that combines a light smokiness with a sweet, heathery profile. But while this whisky is bound to please, it also doesn’t really excel. It’s friendly but not rewarding, a touch tepid even. I would love for this Highland Park to be dialled up a notch, and a higher alcohol percentage would be a good place to start. Given the price point though, this is perhaps asking too much. If you want a solid dram for a very reasonable price, you could certainly do worse than Highland Park Viking Honour.