Highland Park 12 year old – Viking Honour

Highland Park 12 year old - Viking HonourDistillery: Highland Park
Region: Islands
Age: 12 years old
abv: 40%

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.

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Scapa Skiren

Scapa Skiren ReviewDistillery: Scapa
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

Mention Orkney, and to many whisky drinkers Highland Park will come to mind. But that’s doing a disservice to Highland Park’s southern neighbour Scapa. Because the lack of attention for Scapa has nothing to do with the quality of their whiskies, it’s a matter of availability more than anything. With an annual capacity of just 1 million litres and the distillery having been mothballed until as recently as 2005, Scapa will need some time to replenish its stocks. The fact that all of Scapa’s spirit is now bottled as malt whisky will help, but even so, the shift to NAS whiskies has been inescapable. In 2015, Skiren was the first entry to Scapa’s brand new range, followed quickly by Scapa Glansa. Old Norse for glittering, bright skies, Skiren is unpeated and matured exclusively in first fill American oak casks. The result is a soft Island whisky that gives many Speyside distilleries a run for their money. Gorgeously packaged, Scapa Skiren is as good a gift as it is a temptation to keep it all to yourself. Time to enjoy this oft-overlooked Orcadian!

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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 enigmatic as he was, Iā€™m sure Magnus Eunson would have agreed.

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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 šŸ™‚

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.

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