Highland Park Valknut “Sweet Home Valhalla”

Everyone loves to talk trash about Highland Park, more so than Macallan. I think it’s largely in part to how far they’ve leaned into this whole Viking mythos, coupled with the sheer volume of new releases.

I personally don’t mind the whole Viking thing that much. What’s at issue along with other Edrington properties is that one feels as though the marketing department has taken over all aspects of the product. Anyone who’s watched early episodes of Mad Men will be familiar with the kind of cynical marketing techniques that cares very little about the actual product itself.

With this series they’ve combined several tried and true marketing techniques. “limited” editions (15,000 to 20,000 bottles isn’t really that limited), creating a new series of 3-4 scheduled releases and finally a story or myth to bind them all together. With the promise of more “sherry” and more peat what could go wrong? Let’s lean into this one.

Nose: Burnt hay, peameal bacon, it’s a bit closed at first, then opens up with vanilla & seaweed. The sherry eventually shows up and takes over the proceedings. Lots of dried grape, and grape candy, yeast, a bit of ink and plasticine and sulfur.

Palate: Ashy, mineral very sweet like glycerin and honey. Further time brings, vynil, old books, wine gums, faint smoke a touch of BBQ pork. Sour oak, stir fried broccoli, then the return of a lot of sweetness.

Finish: yeasty, grape reduction, a touch of balsamic and seaside. The finish is medium in length but mouth drying.

Blab: Underdeveloped nose. Sharp and stuffy peat. There’s sulfur but no depth to the sherry. Plenty of that weird plum/grape sweetness that is almost cloying like PX. I never thought I’d say that I missed dark origins but I do.

Benromach Peat Smoke 2006/2016 “Orchard Fire”

While Benromach has won over many with their old school style malt, it hasn’t quite stirred up the frenzy that each Springbank release has caused. It might seem unfair to compare them but I believe them to be related in many ways. Family owned, longer fermentation styles, less automation, good cask policy, both are the distilling arms of Independent bottlers. The 10yr old and it’s Imperial strengths counterpart are confirmed winners, let’s dive into the range.

This 2006 Peat Smoke is part of what they’ve dubbed their contrast range, peated malt in the 67ppm range (no source listed), first fill bourbon casks, 46%, no mention of chill filtration though.

Nose: Farmy, earthy peat when first poured, then abruptly a surprising note of pears, apricot paste, it’s very unusual. Underneath all of that the it’s very close to the grain, a touch of old lemons, glycerin & talcum powder.The smoke is there but not overwhelming once it subsides there is a bit of oak and vanilla but surprisingly isn’t dominant for a first-fill bourbon. A nice nose, very round, the peat doesn’t dominate.

Palate: Sweet, dark, jujubes, that instant peaches & cream oatmeal with smoke blown over the top. There is a bit of citrus, linseed oil & powdered sugar with loads of grain and a touch of oak, the texture is a bit thin.

Finish: It keeps bouncing between earthy tones, plantain, mezcal and a strange sweetness, almost artificial, like those swirled strawberry and yogurt candies. The oak is most present at the end.

The Blab: It’s a nice take on the genre (young heavily peated bourbon cask) its different than the Islay style in that it has no maritime influence but I think it’s much closer than peated whiskys by Glendronach or Balvenie for example. Yet it’s not distinct enough, it doesn’t really pull you in like the 10 yr old, perhaps if it was at higher proof like some of their single barrel releases it would be more effective. The 10 yr old is a tough act to follow, it’s a testament to how well it is vatted together.

Benromach Peat Smoke 2006-2016

46%ABV

83/100

Mortlach 12-The Wee Witchie “Basic Witch”

Mortlach is one of those Diageo stepchild distilleries that was used mainly as blend fodder, for years it had no regular output under its name save one lonely 16 year old Flora & Fauna release.

It gained notoriety as a darling of the Indie scene, many praising the almost meaty, full bodied characteristics of it’s distillate especially when applied to ex-sherry casks. It’s precisely this trait that made it such a great asset to use in blending.

The distillery engages in a complex distilling scheme where the tail runs from its first two wash stills are accumulated and distilled several times in their smallest spirit still (the eponymous Wee Witchie). This is done in order to produce a small quantity of heavy style distillate that will be then included with the other two stills spirit runs. Add to that the use of worm tub condensers which also contributes its unique sulfury character and it explains the meaty, heavy adjectives that are often used to describe Mortlach.

Let’s see if we get any of those signature flavours in the new 12 yr old.

Nose: initially a bit feisty, stone fruit, Yellow plums, a bit of gooseberry. Underneath that first wave there is barley, gristy cereal notes, a good dose of vanilla. There is a touch of sulfur and a phenolic feeling overall & sweet citrus. As the nose opens up further I get a kind of sweet, red delicious apples, a touch of cardboard.

An interesting nose, there’s lots of spirit left attached to it but it’s got a lot to keep you interested.

Palate: Lemon lozenge, astringent, sharp oak, a bit sour, overproofed bread, mineral, chalky. Almost gritty, a feeling of dry vermouth.

Finish: Sour oak, a bit of vanilla, lemon scented cleaning products, fades fast leaving mostly a slight mustiness

Blab: The nose is rather full and round but overall this isn’t memorable. The finish is short and leaves behind the more cardboard like elements. It starts of promising but overall this is a let down I don’t get much in the way of what we think of as sherry character either.

Mortlach 12-The Wee Witchie

43.4% ABV

81/100