Nov 022015

Highland Park Loki 042

48.7% abv

Score:  90.5/100


Loki was the second release in Highland Park’s Valhalla series, following on the heels of Thor.  When word started trickling down the pipeline that these releases were imminent some of us historically-bent, Norse god hailing whisky bums began salivating in anticipation.  We knew the prices would be prohibitive, the whisky would be middling (in terms of age statements, not quality, that is) and the outturn would be quite limited.  Enough to deter many of the great unwashed, in other words.  But c’mon…a cask strength HP packaged up in a mini Viking longship?  That’s pretty badass.

Gimmickry and inflated price tag aside, Loki is a really, really good whisky.  Quite different than its forerunner Thor, but about par in terms of inherent quality.  This one wears its 15 years well, seeming maybe even a little more mature than that, and man…what a palate here.  Great late evening malt for nights when the wind is howling and the fire is roaring.

Nose:  Floral notes.  Spice and tobacco.  Some peat and pepper.  A little bit of orange, and just the faintest hint of peach.  A whiff of very dry smoke and an earthy, organic edge.  Beeswax and honey.

Palate:  Great delivery.  Some peat and smoke arrive early.  More of those orange fruit notes here too.  Sugar cookies.  Poached stone fruit with spice.  Lemon and warm honey.  A nice smoky linger over great rich fruit notes.  Thick and oily.  Probably even better on the palate than the nose, and gets fruitier with time.

Thoughts:  I recall initially liking Thor more than Loki, but I think I’ve swung back the other way.  Let’s not split hairs over scores.  Different malts, but we’ll give ’em the same marks.


 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:44 am
Dec 182013

036Highland Park Thor

52.1% abv

Score:  90.5/100


The mighty Thor.  A rather impressive entry into the Highland Park echelon, to be honest.  If you’ve been following along with the distillery’s output in recent times you’ll likely have noticed a bent towards not just a tie to the Norse / Viking side of things, but an outright embracing of it.

Thor is the first release in what Highland Park has dubbed the Valhalla Collection.  This is to be a four part limited edition collection.  Now…let’s just hope the shoddy debacle that resulted from the execution of Highland Park’s Magnus series is not replicated here.  Said issue concerned the first release of that series being ~6,000 bottles, the second ~12,000 bottles and the third….a mere ~3,300 bottles.  As you can imagine, the net result was a lot of Highland Park fans being unable to round out their collections, and none the happier for it. 

In this case, Thor debuted with a huge production run of 23,000 bottles.  The second Valhalla release, Loki, came in at 21,000 bottles (uh oh).  Let’s see where the next two end up.  Hopefully there’s a form of redemption in this one.

I’m not here to gripe, though.  Merely to provide a bit of forewarning to those out there who may not have followed the earlier saga.  Caveat emptor.  That and, of course, to share a few tasting notes with those out there who are about to hand over their hard-earned dollars.  Is Thor a worthwhile purchase?  Depending on the price point you’re comfortable with…yes.  This is a really good whisky.  Highland Park firing on all cylinders, to be sure.   

Wanna know what this one is like?  Let’s get ‘er done.

Nose:  Smoky, peaty and malty.  Some straw or hay notes.  Pepper. Somewhat porridge-y or oatmeal-y. Honeyed ham.  More thick honey and a meaty, almost marmite-like, note.  Beef Ringolos (like Beef Oxo almost).  Old cigar box.  Pretty sure there is some older whisky vatted in here.

Palate:  More peat and smoke than expected.  A little less forgiving on the palate.  Astringent almost.  Sponge toffee with spice (??).  Anise.  Smoked wood at the back end.  16 year old malt must be the youngest in here.  There definitely seems to be notes of more mature whisky in this vatting.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:52 am
Dec 022013

Master Of Malt – That Boutique-y Whisky Company

Late last year (2012), the good folk at Master of Malt launched a new line of independent bottlings.  Perhaps it was a retaliatory gesture aimed at the creative geniuses behind the Dali-esque naming conventions and abstract tasting notes of the SMWS.  Or maybe it was a shot at Edradour in the way of ‘Aha!  We too can dupe the public into spending much on wee 50cl (500ml) bottles!’  Or maybe, just maybe…it was simply because they had access to some really good whisky and wanted to provide another alternative in the ever expansive market of independent bottling.   

Either way, all three scenarios are met head on with the new brand ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company’.  The niche here is how utterly ridiculous these bottles look nestled amidst the shelves of austere single malt Scotch whisky packaging.  Each label is adorned with comic book-esque drawings artistically reminiscent of a cross between ‘Where’s Waldo’, ‘Tintin’ and ‘Beavis And Butthead’.  The images are not random bits of artistic tomfoolery, however.  They are rather cleverly reflective of the distilleries captured within the glass, and depict some subtle secrets and whisky geekery, sure to have the whiskily-inclined salivating at unraveling all of the hidden meanings.

Now…much like the old adage ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’, it would be a big mistake to dismiss these releases as novelty items.  I mean really big mistake.  As much as the purists may prefer a more…ummm…elegant outward appearance for our snooty tipple’s daily wardrobe, the simple fact of the matter is as mentioned above:  there is some damn good whisky in these bottles.  As soon as these are naked in the glass, all doubt disappears.  We’ll come to some actual tasting notes and details in just a moment.

A little on the bottings themselves…

Each release is wax-sealed, cask strength and non chill-filtered.  Further, in a rather interesting move…they are also non age statement (NAS) whiskies.  If I understand correctly though, these are not single cask releases.  Rather they are built in small ‘parcels’ to a specific desired quality.  *(If I’m wrong here, please correct me).  Either way…the NAS approach will allow Master Of Malt much greater future flexibility in regard to batch variance.  Rest assured, friends…if any of you are naturally cynical about the whole NAS concept (and I know many of you are, especially in light of the whole 1824 deal) …these are not young whiskies.  You can tell just by nosing.

One other point to note:  While other independent bottlers seem to be struggling for some variety in their portfolios, MofM have managed releases from Port Ellen, Brora, Ardbeg, Macallan, Caperdonich, etc.  Neat stuff. 

At this point I am won over.  Can’t wait to see where they go from here.

Forgive the quality of photos (or lack thereof).  They were thrown together rather quickly in the  shop.


Secret Distillery (Batch 1)045

55.4% abv     486 bottles

Score:  89/100

Nose:  Tobacco and raisins.  Cinnamon and fresh scones.  Some floral notes.  Baking spices.  Fudge and caramel macchiato.  Honey.  Creamy caramel with fruit.  Rich, rich, rich.

Palate:  Surprisingly tart up front.  Followed by big, dark intimidating fruitcake notes.  Then some apple.  Think a’bunadh meets amaretto with a wee splash of Southern comfort.

Thoughts:  A neat one.  Both in character and out of character at the same time.  Like seeing this distillery in another dimension.

*Secret Distillery’s real name rhymes with Ben Schmarclas.


Macallan (Batch 3)048

43.4% abv     245 bottles

Score:  86.5/100

Nose:  Bread dough.  Nice spices..and lots of ’em.  Some apple pie, heavy on the cinnamon.  Some old library notes.  Buttery sauce.  A little atypical of Macallan.

Palate:  Creamy and spicy.  A fair bit of dry oak.  Over-toasted marshmallow.  Grape skins.  Bitter chocolate.  Fairly tannic.  Zippy with spice and very pleasing apple notes.

Thoughts:  Not a bad whisky, but the low, low abv makes me think this one cooked in the warehouse for a while.  If this is indeed and older dram…I’m a tad underwhelmed.


Clynelish (Batch 2)042

50.6% abv     319 bottles

Score:  92/100

Nose:  Lavender and perfume.  Some pepper.  Nougat and honey.  Lemon poppyseed muffins.  A little orange juice.

Palate:  Wow!!  Old wax and dunnage warehouse.  Just extinguished candle.  Oil lamp.  Charred oak.  Some smoke.  Sooooo old school.  Cinnamon.  Apple juice and skins at the back end.  One of the all time great palates.  Loved it.

Thoughts:  Some disconnect between nose and palate, but they are at least complimentary.  The palate though…gad!…extra points for sure.  Just wow!


Springbank (Batch 2)053

53.1% abv     450 bottles

Score:  88.5/100

Nose:  Pickle.  Dust and pine.  A bit of peat, yeah.  Flinty.  Winter wood fire.  Clove and pepper.  Pine sap.  So odd…so unique…so intriguing.

Palate:  Now there’s the smoke.  Kinda oily.  Notes that should only be found in older whisky (wonder how old this actually is).  Some great sweetness meets the machine smoke.  Some figgy notes with honey.  Smoked fruit skins.  Pear, apple and currant.

Thoughts:  Very different for a Springbank.  The pine and pickle notes really threw me off, but surprisingly…worked out just fine in this one.  I liked it.


Highland Park (Batch 1)047

44.7% abv     241 bottles

Score:  88/100

Nose:  Sweet nose with a great composition.  Tangy jam note.  Peach, orange and lemon.  Warm leather and a very inviting salty note (makes the mouth water just inhaling it).  A touch of oil.

Palate:  Smoke and earthy notes.  Hay.  A mix of green and purple grapes.  Walnut.  Old school heft and some moderately subtle sherry-like tang.  Tart marmalade.

Thoughts:  Balance, balance, balance.  Again…a little out of character, but not too far off the path.  Not bad at all.


Bowmore (Batch 2)038

49% abv     292 bottles

Score:  89.5/100

Nose:  Farmy and iodione-heavy.  Rubber, smoke and other such.  Lemon zest.  Damp soil.  Smoky fruits.  Gravel dust.  Dry ash.  Sultanas.  Develops a bit of orange and some creaminess, surprisingly…but only if you give it a bit of time.

Palate:  Oh yeah!  Oily..smoky…earthy, and rich in dark red and purple fruits.  Think Laimrig meets motor oil.  Plum and purple grape.

Thoughts:  A well-earned 89.5.  Maybe even closer to a 90.  This is a neat Bowmore.  These recent profiles that combine jammy fruit notes and industrial oiliness…win.  Just win.


Caol Ila (Batch 1)039

45.8% abv     732 bottles

Score:  88/100

Nose:  Prickly and briny.  Peat and smoke.  Sweet and citric at the same time.  Orange oil.  Olives.  Candy sweetness.  A dusting of salt and pepper.

Palate:  Very Caol Ila.  Some melon with citrus.  Toffee and smoke.  Oyster with salt, pepper and lemon.  Wet rock.  Ocean shoreline.  oil.  There are some notes that make me think of Kilchoman (if that distillery’s malt were a little more mature).

Thoughts:  Damn decent Caol Ila, but definitely not the best of the indies I’ve tried.  Particularly liked the oceanic notes and oily saltiness.


Look forward to future releases.

Thanks to our mate, Andrew Ferguson at Kensington Wine Market, for the chance to try these. 


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:19 pm
May 072013

Highland Park Earl Haakonbarry's place pics 090

54.9% abv

Score:  91.5/100


Third of the Magnus series.  18 y.o. from 2011.  Limited to 3,300 bottles.

Concluding the saga…

The final chapter of the Magnus series by Highland Park.  Here  we have an 18 year old release, and wow, did this one stir up some consternation.  HP released the Earl Magnus expression in a limited run of 5,976 bottles.  The follow-up was Saint Magnus at 11,994 bottles.  Now, here we are with the third, and final, edition in the series, released in a run of 3,300 bottles.

Yep…you can see where I’m going with this.

So…first release does ok.  More than ok actually.  It sells out quickly, with quite some buzz behind it.  Time for edition two…let’s make more this time around.  Double it maybe!  Well…doubling the batch worked well.  All ~12,000 or so sold out.  Happy guys (and gals) at Highland Park, I would imagine.  Alright…let’s close out this story with a lovely 18 year old and release…a third as many bottles as we did with the second release!  Great idea!  Wait…what?

I saw a video with Highland Park brand ambassador, Gerry Tosh, explaining this very issue, wherein he acknowledged that they upset some people with this release.  He said it was a mistake.  They made too little and realized too late.  Hmmmm.  I don’t buy it.  This distillery produces lots of 18 year old whisky.  There is no reason they couldn’t have vatted another handful of casks in to beef up the production run.

I think there’s more to this one that we’re hearing.  Egregious error in judgement either way, I’d say, when you upset that many collectors and loyal fans.  The worst part of it?  This release is the best of the bunch.  Ok…maybe that is the second worst part of it.  The worst might be the price jacking we saw with this one.  Ouch.

Anyway…enough grousing about what is, in all honesty, one of my favorite brands.  I am a big fan of this distillery.

This particular whisky, Earl Haakon, is a rather exceptional 18 year old, full of beautiful depth and a wide bouquet of sensory treats.  As with the others in the range, this is a big, bold cask strength whisky, rather typical of the Highland Park profile, if not necessarily typical of their usual method of delivery (here we have it natural…cask strength…nekkid…novel).

The story of these ‘Magnus Series’ releases can be found in the review for the Earl Magnus.  I won’t deign to repeat myself and bore you again.  You’re only here for the tasting notes, right?

Nose:  Dusty, but sweet and sexy.  Very big honey notes.  Orange.  Smoke.  Lovely mature peats.  Some dusty grain silo.  Old leather gloves.  Back to honey and cherries.  Wow…what a great nose!

Palate:  Sweet honeyed fruits.  Gawd!…really, really nice fruits.  Maybe slightly orange-heavy.  Some smoke and coal.  A bite of pepper and clove.  Anise.  Graham cracker.  Very nice finish, long on smoked granny smith apple skins and honeyed barley.


– Reviewed:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:23 pm
May 072013

Highland Park Saint Magnus088

55% abv

Score:  88.5/100


Second of the Magnus series.  12 y.o. from 2010.  Limited to 11,994 bottles.

Here we have the second release in the Magnus series, following on the success of 2009’s Earl Magnus.  For this edition, we’re looking at a slightly younger malt than that edition, clocking in at a mere 12 years (possibly plus an older cask or two in there for good measure).  The first release was 15+ years old.  Seems like a slightly illogical succession, especially seeing as how the third in the series was an 18 year old.  Hmmmm.

In following the Magnus tale, at this point our hero had taken an axe to the noggin, met his maker and been canonized.  And now, Sainthood seeming to suit Magnus just fine, we find ourselves curled up with a bottle of Highland Park’s 2010 follow-up release…Saint Magnus.  I provided the history lesson in the review for the previous release, Earl Magnus, so let’s skip on ahead to the whisky itself. 

I like this whisky.  I don’t, however, like it as much as I did the Earl Magnus.  I’d venture further to say it is certainly the least spectacular of the three.  What you’ll find here is a much dirtier drink.  More ‘workingman’, by nature.  That, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, but it simply doesn’t seem to have the refinement of the others in the range.  As contrary as this may sound…it is the right selection for the series though.  I simply would have released this one to the market before the other two.

Nose:  This is a maltier and meatier dram than Earl Magnus.  Typical Highland Park flares of honey.  The other HP hallmark, heather floral notes, is quite dialed back.  Some pepper and a hint of matchstick.  Smoky and slightly earthy or peaty.  A bit of mildly vinegary bbq sauce (perhaps this ties back to the olfacory meaty connections I am drawing).

Palate:  Very much in line with what I would expect based on the nose.  Barley.  Very dry smoke and peat.  Certainly the most old school of the three.  Quite reminds me of an older style blend.  Organic and natural in its development.  Quite long on the grains as it fades.

I should note here…they essentially doubled the production run on this one.  I note this as it will be a talking point in the write-up for the third edition, Earl Haakon. 


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:05 pm
May 072013

Highland Park Earl Magnus

52.6% abv

Score:  90.5/100


First of the Magnus series.  15 y.o. from 2009.  Limited to 5,976 bottles.

Some history from the packaging:

Earl Magnus Erlendsson was born in 1075 when the Orkney Islands belonged to Norway. His Viking ancestors were terrifying warriors whose code of heroism, hatred and honour through vengeance framed their brutal lives. Into this world came Magnus, a man unlike any other Orkney Earl, spreading Christianity.

The peace-loving Magnus was unlike his cousin Haakon who remained imbued with the fighting spirit. Haakon was envious and ambitious, striving for self-glory. Their history is a classic tale of the struggle of good versus evil; the treachery and tragedy of the life of Earl Magnus accounts for his prominence in northern literature.

Magnus reigned jointly with his cousin Haakon from 1108 until 1115 when their followers fell out. Peace was negotiated and the Earls agreed to meet bringing only two ships each. The treacherous Haakon arrived with eight ships and captured his saintly cousin. The Norwegian chieftains decided that one of the Earls must die. After the refusal of his standard-bearer to undertake the task, Haakon ordered his cook to kill Magnus which he did by striking him on the head with an axe.

The life of Magnus is celebrated in two Icelandic Sagas and in the Orkneyinga Saga; he was buried where he died and legend has it the rocky area around the site immediately became a green field.

The fame of Magnus, canonized only 20 years after his death, has been maintained by the stunning cathedral built by his nephew in Kirkwall; St Magnus Cathedral was referred to as ‘incontestably the most glorious monument of the Norwegian dominion to be found in Scotland’ by J. Moodie Heddle, Orkney and Shetland, 1920.

Work began in 1137 and continued over several hundred years. In 1917 a secret cavity was found in one of the columns; in it was a box containing ancient bones including an axe-wounded skull. The influence of Earl Magnus spread far and wide; the forename became popular in Orkney, notably in the case of Magnus Eunson, a man forever associated with the founding of Highland Park distillery in 1798.


A little late, but please forgive the long-winded nature of this review.  There is simply too much to compress.

Starting in 2009, Highland Park began releasing the ‘Magnus Series’.  These were young-ish whiskies (between 12 and 18 years, depending on the edition) that were bottled at cask strength in snazzy old school packaging.  The bottle itself is a tribute to days of yore. It replicates the hand blown flawed vessels of the 1800s. It leans, it is bubbled and it is perfectly imperfect. The bottle comes packaged in a hinged wooden frame and sports a suitably archaic-looking label. Stunning visually.

But…here the foray into times of replication comes to an end.  The whisky itself is a fairly contemporary dram, really.  Nothing of the more raw nature I’d expect in an attempt to recreate an old school style of malt.  Having said that…I don’t believe Highland Park intended to create any sort of profile that was an homage to the past.  They wanted to play to marketing and simply release a fine dram.  And they succeeded.

Highland Park brand ambassador, Gerry Tosh, referred to this as being 15 years old, but with some older whiskies in it as well.  Not surprised.  There is a hefty bit of fruit here that I would associate with a few more years in the cask.  Either way…nice bit of cask selection and vatting by our friends at Highland Park.  They’ve created something unique, but still comfortable and recognizable in their stables.

At 52.6% abv this whisky is hefty, but surprisingly mellow.  Nice sipper with a great delivery and very pleasant lift and denouement.

Nose:  Honeyed and floral.  Cowsheds.  Pepper.  A touch of cherry.  A little of both orange and lemon.  Dry smoke…like burning fields.  Herbal and meadowy.  Lovely and quite a bit fruitier than I would have expected from Highland Park at this age.

Palate:  Farmy right off.  Some smoke and apple notes.  Sweet arrival, slightly creamy, then bittering just a bit.  Dries to the sides of the back of the tongue.  Nice sipper, if not as in depth as the nuances on the nose would hint at.

Limited edition.  If you didn’t get one right away…you probably won’t.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:52 pm
May 042013

Highland Park 16 y.o.108

40% abv

Score:  87.5/100


I’ve heard some rather mixed thoughts on this one.  Perhaps ‘mixed’ is the wrong word.  None of the watercooler gossip seems to be disparaging, but all of it makes this one out to be rather…mundane, or lacking in personality at the very least.

Hmmm…respectfully, I think I’ll dissent.  This is a very, very enjoyable dram.

While seemingly much more restrained than Highland Park’s usual fare, this one still carries that heavy floral honeyed note HP is so famous for.  The mild, but omnipresent, smoke and peat that usually permeates Highland Park is, if present at all, merely an afterthought here in this 16 year old.  The fruits make me think this one’s pulling the cougar act; telling you she’s one age, but actually maybe a little bit more mature than letting on.  That’s ok, though.  That sort of dishonesty in age is acceptable in malts and MILFs.

40%, huh?  Hmmm…why?  Wonder why the team at HP would elect to neuter this one to such a degree when most of their range is 43% and higher.  Let’s not get worked up about it.  We still like this one.  Like a stone that’s spent a healthy amount of time in a rock tumbler; smooth and polished.  Aesthetically appealing all around.

Nose:  Honey.  Cherry.  Heather.  Pepper.  Creamy vanilla and scones.  Some light latex.  Floral notes.  Orange.  Notes that seem a little more mature than 16 years, almost as if there may be an older csk or two buried in here.  Very smooth and round on the nose.

Palate:  Orange again.  Pepper.  Slightly jammy with honey.  Sugar cookies.  Maybe some green tea.  It’s the oak and fruits that linger.

Very, very pleasant.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:42 am
Feb 102013

OLD & ROUND vs. YOUNG & FLAT 18, 21, 25 and 30

If you change the looks of the packaging does the product in the packaging change?  Being on the wrong side of midlife, I firmly believe that all things older are better, but hey, that’s just me and I can’t remember the last time I was wrong…except for the time I thought Jim Murray was qualified to pick the whisky of the year.  We, the gang of four, all have our opinions on this smoldering whisky question of which version of the Highland Park is better.  So rather than debate this uncertainty we decided that we should just have a tasting to define the answer.

For the benefit of the Great Unwashed, the Highland Park distillery and its brother from a different mother, the Scapa distillery, are located on Mainland, the largest Island in the remote northern Islands of Orkney.  Highland Park is considered by regional experts to be a Highland Malt, which would make it a Highland-Mainland-Island-Highland whisky but not on the Mainland, not a Park and not part of Highlands.  Highland Park first started producing single malt with a license in 1826 but it is said that the smarter locals were cooking whisky there long before that date.  The distillery is currently owned by the upscale Edrington group which also owns the Macallan and the Glenturret distilleries.

On August 18, 2012, we, the gang of four, gathered to celebrate Denis Leary’s (Sarcastic Irish genius) Birthday and to bring to light the truth behind the bottle change.  We collectively pulled from our vast storehouse of liquid salvation to come up with a selection to accomplish this momentous task.  After much discussion we ended up going with two 18, two 25 and two 30 year old, round & newer flat standard bottle range expressions, the original 21 year old from duty free in a flat bottle and the new standard release 21 year old again in a flat bottle.  We didn’t include the 21 year old at 40 % ABV which was released between these two. We voted for best malt between the same aged contenders and also for our two favorite overall malts of the night.


Barry HP RVF18

18 Year Old, Round Bottle 43% abv   (AGE WINNER 18 YEAR OLD)   (#2 FAVORITE DRAM OF THE NIGHT)

NOSE:  Uber fruit, oranges, pineapple, banana.  Floral and honey sweet.

TASTE:  Creamy caramel, milk chocolate, touch of peat and little tart at the end.

FINISH:  Long, very warm throughout and drying.

ASSESSMENT:  Wow what a great start, does drinking whisky get any more enjoyable, I think not?  The character of this whisky is very, very complex as well as being very well rounded (This whisky is so old that when it was made Captain Crunch was still a private).


18 Year Old, Flat Bottle 43% abv

NOSE:  Cotton candy, mint.  Dark ripe cherries and melon and apricots.

TASTE:  Liquorice, oily, some peat smoke.  Pears and tart green apples.

FINISH:  Short to medium.  Disappears so quickly.

ASSESSMENT:  The character of this whisky is not of the same makeup of the older 18 (This whisky is so young that it needs to be drunk from a sippy cup).


SCORING THE 18 YEAR OLD:  The old 18 round bottle was the clear winner between the two contenders.  It was also the clear winner of “2nd FAVORITE DRAM OF THE NIGHT” with the most number one votes of the evening.


Barry HP RVF21

21 Year Old, Flat Bottle First Release Duty Free 2008 47.5% abv

NOSE:  Big floral notes and vanilla.  Earthy, honey and citrus fruit.

TASTE:  Spicy with cloves, floral with a bit of lemon.  Oaky and lite peat notes

FINISH:  Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT:  Always find this version of the 21 the most floral HP I’ve ever tried (This whisky is so old the candles on its birthday cake raised earth’s temperature by 3 degrees).


21 Year Old, Flat Bottle Standard Release 2012 47.5% abv   (AGE WINNER 21 YEAR OLD)

NOSE:  Oranges, grassy and waxy.  Some floral notes

TASTE:  Rich spices including pepper and cinnamon.  Fruity, oranges, nutty and a hint of peat

FINISH:  Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT:  The fruit reappears nicely on this newer version of the 21.  (This whisky is so young that the casks in the warehouse sleep with a night light).


SCORING THE 21 YEAR OLD:  The winner between the 21 year olds was the newer standard release edging out the first release.  Also the new 21 got one 2nd place vote for the overall favorite dram of the night.


Barry HP RVF25

25 Year Old, Round Bottle 50.7% abv   (AGE WINNER 25 YEAR OLD)

NOSE:  Lots-o fruit.  Old sherry with oranges.

TASTE:  Dark roast coffee, rich jammy fruitiness.  Dry tannins, liquorice, and some peat.

FINISH:  Long and keeps going.

ASSESSMENT:  Interesting in a nice way, very balanced (This whisky is so old its birth certificate has expired).


25 Year Old, Flat Bottle 48.1% abv

NOSE:  Honey, bananas, melons and dates.

TASTE:  Mocha cappuccino, bananas both on the nose and taste, rich tannins and some lite smoke.

FINISH:  Long and dry.

ASSESSMENT:  Really, really different, falls outside most HP I’ve tried. (This whisky is so young that the bartender serves it with a coloring book and crayons).


SCORING THE 25 YEAR OLD:  The old 25 routed its challenger but failed to be the 1st or 2nd overall choice of the night with honorable mention of a single number one vote for the overall favorite dram of the night.


Barry HP RVF30

30 Year Old, Round Bottle 48.1% abv

NOSE:  Floral and honey.  Mint, caramel and oranges.

TASTE:  Creamy milk chocolate, spices like nutmeg and pepper.

FINISH:  Medium and little drying at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Not overly complex (This whisky is so old the distiller that made this babysat for Jesus).


30 Year Old, Flat Bottle 48.1% abv   (AGE WINNER 30 YEAR OLD)   (#1 FAVORITE DRAM OF THE NIGHT)

NOSE:  Beautiful nose, tropical fruits, pineapple and coconut.

TASTE:  Very fruity lots of oranges, spices with pepper and some liquorice & mint.  Blueberry tea.  Chocolate.

FINISH:  Long, rich and complex.

ASSESSMENT:  Tastes like 40%, it’s so easy to drink.  Dark sherry colour with lovely fruity sherry notes (This whisky is so young that the distiller that made this still had a bell, basket and training wheels on his bicycle).


SCORING THE 30 YEAR OLD:  Well…the newer 30 kicked ass in both dispatching its older competitor but also winning the number one position of the “FAVORITE DRAM OF THE NIGHT” with one number one vote and three number two votes.


Personally, I’ve always considered Highland Park 18 as one of top single malts in the world but also found it guilty of some big batch variation regardless of round or flat bottles design.  I also consider the standard release 18 as one of the best buys in the range and should be a must try/buy for all serious malt fans. But………………..should you happen upon an older round bottle 18 sitting on the shelve of your favorite retailer, make like a hockey player and get the puck out of there with it.


– Your humble Drudge, Maltmonster


PS – It’s ok to swirl your glass and not chew your whisky if you choose so, in fact after (well during) a GIT* tasting a few years back, I now make it a habit to swirl my glass just a little.

PPS – Dear HP please don’t kick me out of the Inner Circle for the GIT comment, after all I never mentioned anything about the overpriced Magnus series and the surprise that purchasers got as they ** reduced the amount of bottles for the final release making it almost impossible to find and purchase this last overpriced bottle of a very rare 18 year old.


* Gerry Intense Tosh

** ‘They’ refers to the marketing assholes at HP

 Posted by at 9:02 am
Jan 272013

Highland Park 12 y.o.

43% abv

Score:  86.5/100


This is where it begins in the Highland Park range.  A young – but not too young – malty, peaty, smoky, heathery, honeyed dram that bears all the hallmarks of this windswept Orkadian distillery’s profile.

Oops.  Did I just give you all of the tasting notes in the first sentence?  Not quite, but those are most definitely the core of this dram.

From the Northern fringes of Scotland hails one of the greatest single malt whisky distilleries in production.  Highland Park is a distillery built on, and intent on retaining, its traditional practices.

I found, as do most others, I believe, that the single greatest attribute (among many) of Highland Park is the astonishing balance they have created in juggling the softer, sweeter nuances of sherry…the organic essence of peat and smoke…and the malty old school face of whisky from ages past.  This is great harmony.

You’ll read it all over any HP review…heather and honey and smoke and peat.  Hate to be predictable, but yep…

Notes of peat and smoke are bold, but not over-powering.  There is a nice build of sherried dry fruit, tobacco and oak, with notes of honey, leather and salt.  Orange sauce.  Hints of sour plum and the whole picture rounds off nicely with a creamy caramel finish and wisps of smoke.  Fade is vaguely tannic woods and honeyed fruit.

Really a great 12 year old, but if you’re looking to find Highland Park at its apex…try a little older.  All of the pieces are here, even at this young age, but the refinement hasn’t been fully realized.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:49 pm
Jul 292012

Highland Park 40 y.o.

48.3% abv

Score:  92/100


Though a mere decade has lapsed between Highland Park’s 30 year old and 40 year old expressions, the price point has soared by more than 400%. Now…anyone familiar with aged drams knows that it is not necessarily a directly proportional ratio between age and price. More importantly, it is also not a directly proportional ration between age and quality.

While I won’t speak too much to the first point (as I believe both are expressions are actually quite fairly priced), I do want to address the second.

Odds are a distillery of renown and repute is not going to deliver a sub-par expression when it reaches the point of multiple decades in the cask. It simply compromises reputation to a degree that far outweighs any possible profit.

This Highland Park is no exception. Though by no means a ‘young 40’, this one is still able to toss a ball with the kids, but just ain’t likely to be knockin’ ‘em into the upper deck anymore. In simplest terms…this could have been pulled from the cask a little earlier, I think, but only by a hair. Unfortunately (or some might say fortunately) I have only ever tasted this alongside the more vibrant and robust 30 year old expression, where it simply falls short.

The hallmarks of maturity are all present and accounted for. The nose is deep and changing. Full of burnt rubber and spent candle. Dry wood smoke. Woody and waxy notes. Sharp clove and burnt sugar meet sweet plum and echoes of a very old rum.

Those wax and oak notes tag along to the palate as well. Delivery is somewhat salty and characterized by tannic fruit skin tartness and dried fruit flavors. Tendrils of smoke swirl around the mouth.

Maybe my expectations were just a little too high here. Great drink though. I simply expected a little more.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:38 pm