Highland Park Dark Origins

Highland Park Dark OriginsDistillery: Highland Park
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 46.8%

Leaving the usual Viking theme aside for a moment, Dark Origins pays homage to Highland Park’s founder, Magnus Eunson. Magnus lived a bit of a double life, being a preacher during the day and a smuggler at night. He was rightly famed for his cunning, and there are many stories of him outwitting local excisemen, often in his guise as a servant of god. The Lord doesn’t seem to have minded very much, since fortune shone upon Magnus’s business, and Highland Park has become a very successful (legal) distillery indeed.

Dark Origins has been aged mostly in first-fill sherry casks, and these have not failed to leave their mark on this whisky. Dark Origins is much heavier on the sherry front than other Highland Park bottlings, with flavours of dried fruits and dark chocolate very prominent. As such, this dram has lost some of its maritime freshness, but instead displays a more sensuous complexity that fits the theme all the better. The same can be said of the packaging, which is stunning. The only drawback is that it keeps you guessing as to how much of that precious liquid is still in the bottle, but being enigmatic as he was, I’m sure Magnus Eunson would have agreed.

Colour: Dark amber

Nose: Deep, sweet and musty, much like an underground wine cellar. The sherry profile is positively bursting from the glass, exuding aromas of raisins and Christmas cake. The nose reminds me of Aberlour A’bunadh in that it’s a true sherry bomb. Fruity intertwines with nutty, as scents of blackberries and walnut tingle the senses. The maritime distillery character has been very much forced into the background by the influence of the cask, meaning this whisky is not instantly recognisable as a Highland Park. But I’m not complaining, this is compelling stuff!

Palate: Full-bodied, with an oily lushness to it. Dried fruit and nuts are in bountiful supply, eventually giving way to notes of allspice and cracked black pepper. Then dark chocolate and butterscotch take over, guiding this whisky towards the finish.

Finish: Pleasantly warming, with a lingering nutty aftertaste. Finally cracks appear in the facade of sherry sweetness, as Highland Park’s salty, smoky character breaks through and Dark Origins at last reveals its Island pedigree.

Verdict: This dram is right up my alley, as I am a fan of both sherry bombs and peated whisky. Highland Park Dark Origins provides a delicious mixture of these two styles. Admittedly the sherry cask has drowned out the peat character somewhat, but towards the finish the balance is restored. On top of this, the sherry flavours are so tasty that any lack of balance is easily forgotten. As much as I love this whisky, I’ve also seen some negative reviews. My advice is simple: if you like sherry finishes, this is an excellent dram. If you don’t, well, then better stay away. Dark Origins doesn’t come particularly cheap, but in my opinion it comfortably beats many other bottlings in this price range. It’s a truly terrific whisky that never fails to put a smile on my face 🙂

Highland Park Dark Origins


Scapa Glansa

Scapa Glansa Review 01Distillery: Scapa
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

Things have been pretty quiet around Orkney’s lesser known distillery for the past decade. Scapa’s 12 year old standard expression was changed to a 14 year old version (much to the dismay of Scapa’s loyal fan base) and more recently upgraded to a 16 year old bottling (much to the dismay of Scapa’s loyal fan base), but not much else was happening on the marketing front. Until recently, when owner Pernod Ricard decided to shake things up by introducing a new range. The 16 year old was discontinued (presumably to the dismay of Scapa’s remaining fans?), to be replaced by Scapa Skiren, a smooth, honeyed dram aged in first-fill bourbon casks. But Skiren now has some company, with the launch of its peaty brother, Scapa Glansa. While the barley used for Glansa’s spirit remains unpeated, it has been finisheded in casks that used to hold peaty whisky, giving Glansa a subtle smokiness.

While some people really dislike the notion of “second hand peat”, I have no particular beef with it. These days whiskies are aged in all sorts of different casks, from the weird to the wonderful. If distillers get to use casks that previously held rum, Sauternes or cloudberry wine, why not one that previously held whisky? In fact, this is common practise, as refill barrels are used everywhere, only this one just happens to have held peaty whisky before. It’s transparent, and the consumer knows what to expect. If you’d rather drink a properly peaty whisky, there are enough great Islay drams on offer 🙂

As an added bonus, Scapa Glansa comes in some very stylish packaging, making it a nice gift for friends or family. It’s certainly an interesting offering from a distillery that’s traditionally been a bit cautious, and I’m looking forward to seeing if there will be any additions to the core range in the near future.

Colour: Auburn

Nose: Exceptionally fruity, like an orchard in full bloom. Lush aromas of ripe apples and peach suffuse into scents of barley, much like a fruity muesli bar. Underneath lurks a layer of oaky complexity, as well as a tinge of salt. This gives way to vanilla custard and a sort of floral cigar smoke. The nose is friendly but not flat, displaying quite some character and enticing you to take a first sip.

Palate: Medium bodied, with a sweetness that carries over from the nose. The flavour of breakfast cereal recedes into honey glazed ham, with a small kick of peat at the back of the palate. After notes of steamed mackerel, a spicier character unfolds, with black pepper and cloves coming to the fore. Then the fruity notes return, reminding me of the gummy bears I used to eat as a child.

Finish: Medium in length. The peat is given more room to develop, but never truly breaks through. The typical Scapa sweetness reaches a crescendo, before a burst of spices comes rushing in. The aftertaste is rather flavourful, and is somehow best described as charred fruit…

Verdict: The more I drink this whisky, the more enjoyable it becomes. And what’s not to like? In many ways, Glansa is a typical Scapa offering: fresh and fruity, with plenty of complexity and more than a hint of the sea. But for a whisky that’s usually unpeated, the extra finish in peated casks is an interesting touch. Don’t expect Islay levels of peat here, that’s simply not the point of this dram. Instead, the subtle smoke complements the Scapa distillery character wonderfully well, enriching the whisky without ever overpowering it. Scapa Glansa is a remarkably pleasant dram that’s dangerously easy to drink. The only thing holding this whisky back is the fairly hefty price tag, but if you have the chance, I do recommend you give this dram a try.

Scapa Glansa Review 02

Talisker Port Ruighe

Talisker Port Ruighe ReviewDistillery: Talisker
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 45.8%

In the face of overwhelming demand, it seems that many distilleries are making changes to their range. Faced with finite stocks, it becomes harder for whisky makers to guarantee a continuous supply of aged whisky. Enter the No Age Statement (NAS) expression: often a vatting of whiskies of different ages, allowing distillers more flexibility to meet fluctuations in demand. Talisker is no different: while the 10 year old is fortunately still widely available, the 18 year old has increased in price dramatically. Instead, consumers can now choose from NAS bottlings such as Skye, (Dark) Storm and Neist Point. While in my opinion this new range is quite a mixed bag, Talisker Port Ruighe clearly stands out as one of the highlights, and an example that the negative publicity NAS whiskies receive is not always justified.

Port Ruighe is the Gaelic translation for Portree, the largest town on Skye, and once a centre of maritime commerce. This Talisker has received a double maturation in port casks, and is billed as “a toast to the Scottish traders who braved the high seas and were instrumental in the foundation of the port wine trade”. Marketing aside, with a whisky this enjoyable I am willing to raise a glass to whatever, whenever. Slàinte!

Colour: Copper

Nose: A healthy dose of sea spray bursts forth from the glass, accompanied by sweet, winey aromas. The Talisker distillery character is definitely there, but in a more sophisticated guise. Scents of hemp rope and brine intertwine with caramel, raisins and blackberries. These give way to an explosion of spice and vanilla, almost reminiscent of an aged rum. Very inviting!

Palate: Lush and full-bodied with sweet and salty battling each other in a tightrope display of exquisite balance. Red fruit gives way to a distinctly woody character, along with notes of toffee and milk chocolate. Belatedly, the smoke arrives on the scene in a sharp burst, gaining in intensity all the way towards the finish.

Finish: Long and warming, with a wonderfully oaky flavours and an aftertaste of heavily charred seafood.

Verdict: As a long-time Talisker fan, I have been disappointed with some of the recent No Age Statement releases (Skye and Storm chief among them). Port Ruighe is a definite exception though, as it’s fast becoming my go-to Talisker expression (particularly given the 18 year old’s price hike). Port Ruighe is a mellower version of Talisker, as if it’s been given a dose of patience and wisdom. It’s available in very nice gift packaging, meaning it’s now my favourite present for whisky loving friends. So far they have all been impressed, and indeed I think it’s hard not to like this dram. Given its relatively modest price, I believe this is one of the best bargains currently on the market (along with whiskies such as Fettercairn Fior and Laphroaig Quarter Cask). Warmly recommended!

Talisker Port Ruighe Review

Isle of Jura Turas-Mara

Isle of Jura Turas-Mara 01Distillery: Isle of Jura
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 42%

Located next to its more famous neighbour Islay, the Isle of Jura has only one road, one pub and one distillery. Fortunately, this distillery produces far more than the island’s 200 inhabitants could ever hope to consume, meaning there is lots left over for whisky aficionados like you and me. This particular expression of Jura is quite a special one, and is the sole member of Jura’s Travel Exclusives range. Turas-Mara means ‘Long Journey’ in Gaelic, and pays tribute to the many Diurachs who left their Scottish homeland behind as a result of the Highland Clearances in the 19th century. Indeed the name is fitting, as this whisky is quite the piece of international synergy. Matured in a mix of bourbon, sherry, port and Bordeaux wine casks from the USA, Spain, Portugal and France respectively, and sold at airports all over the globe, this whisky has travel written all over it. The result is an enticing, complex dram that I personally can’t get enough of. Well worth a try!

Colour: Marigold

Nose: Rich and fragrant, with an immediate  rush of  raisins and dried fruit. Mellow and heavy somehow, yet also flowery, with hints of nectar and heather. This gives way to pine oak and a whiff of that slightly musty Jura smell. Notes of praline and vanilla mingle with a pinch of cinnamon. There’s such a wealth of aromas on the nose, it’s quite intriguing!

Palate: The maritime distillery character pushes to the fore, but is joined by a barrage of earthy, oaky flavours. These are exquisitely balanced with notes of marzipan and slightly overripe blackberries, giving this whisky a sweet yet sophisticated personality. Roasted lamb and a light smokiness guide this dram towards the finish.

Finish: Looong! Aged oak and black fruits ease out into a rather dry, spicy aftertaste. Not overly warming, but does leave a long, lingering experience on the taste buds, as if you’ve just finished chewing a wine cask. Great stuff!

Verdict: Can you overdo the number of cask finishes on a whisky? Having tried the Jura 2014 Tastival bottling (7 different casks!) I have to say yes, but the Turas-Mara is another story. Essentially a more balanced version of the Tastival, it combines an immensely rich bouquet of flavours with the more rugged Jura distillery profile. The result is a whisky that is exceptionally drinkable and will always have you coming back for more. Good thing then the Turas-Mara comes in a litre bottle: it’s a lovely whisky and good value for money besides.

Isle of Jura Turas-Mara 02

Talisker 10 year old

Talisker 10 year old reviewDistillery: Talisker
Region: Islands
Age: 10 years old
abv: 45.8%

Talisker may have been “made by the sea”, but there is nothing fishy about their whiskies. Being the only distillery on the Isle of Skye, Talisker is a perfect reflection of the island on which it was produced. Rugged, windswept and utterly breathtaking, Skye’s favourite drink has weathered the storms since 1830.

Despite a flurry of No Age Statement releases in recent years, Talisker 10 year old continues to hold its own as one of the distillery’s finest expressions (the same coincidentally can be said for the 18 year old). Bottled at the distillery’s customary 45.8%, Talisker 10 has taken on many of Skye’s coastal influences during the maturation process. The result is a bold whisky that packs quite a punch, despite being only mildly peated.

Colour: Deep amber

Nose: At first overwhelmingly salty, with pungent briny notes. Then subtle wood smoke comes to the fore, giving way to the scent of toffee. Underneath linger the rich aromas of apricot and dark chocolate.

Palate: An eruption of peppery smoke, dissipating into earthty malt flavours. Smoked kippers accompany this whisky throughout.

Finish: Bitter, with an intensely woody aftertaste. Warms you like the glow of a peat fire on a cold Skye night.

Verdict: A great dram for in front of the hearth fire. Not overly complex, but this was never meant to be a delicate whisky. Warming, intrepid and no-nonsense, this whisky delivers exactly what it should.

Talisker 10 year old review