You don’t come here for justification of the philosophies that support NAS whiskies. And that’s good. ‘Cause you wouldn’t find it. However…if we have to have NAS whiskies, let Highland Park Magnus be an example to all.
Magnus is the latest cutesy HP to hit our shores (nosing out Full Volume by just a short bit). It arrived with little fanfare, but quickly garnered a bit of a rumbling in the malt spheres. Not because it was a spectacular dram (it’s not), nor because it was a bad dram (it’s not that either). But because it was much more than decent and the price point was enough to have us all scratching our heads in bewilderment. Is this the same brand that nearly doubled the price of the iconic 18 year old over the last few years? Magnus landed and almost immediately hit LTO, retailing at about $35. Even at full retail it’s rarely over $45.
While I have trouble getting excited over most young malts like this, I can’t help but be pleasantly surprised at the product’s placement. It immediately ratcheted up my openmindedness and tolerance for imperfections. Now this all seems like a case of ‘damning with faint praise’, but trust…at this sort of price it’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed. It’s young, aggressive and almost certainly recognizable as Highland Park. Even a modicum of malt experience should be enough to ensure the buyer knows what they’re getting into when the product lacks an age statement and has a sticker price that rubs shoulders with the lower tiers of Johnnie Walker.
A reluctant ‘well done, Highland Park’. I’m still not on board with NAS (and never will be), but I get what you did here.
At the end of the day, though, if we’re going to call NAS whiskies a necessary evil (which I won’t), then at least this is the way to do it. Dump it at the bottom of your range at an entry-level price point.
Nose: Definitely a young’un. Feisty and bearing all the hallmarks of what our beloved Iain MacArthur (he of Lagavulin fame) often refers to as ‘baby whisky’. Malty and honeyed. Not surprisingly, rather floral. And sorta creamy. Little bit of pepper. Little bit of ginger. Just a faint earthiness that hints at the pedigree.
Palate: Now here’s where things get a bit rockier. Some lemon curd. A touch of rubber. Some peat. Drying citrus pith (but not overly citric in terms of flavor). A tad minerally (like sucking on a pebble. More ginger and pepper. Surprisingly oaky back end. And something akin to dry grape skins.
Thoughts: All told? This is too young. BUT…and it’s a big but (hush up with the bad jokes)…for this price point I’m okay with it. Outprices many blends, and definitely more interesting than most too. Definitely needs some time to mellow in the glass.
– Image and words: Curt