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.

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

Glengoyne 15 “Highland Fling”

Glengoyne might not have crossed your radar, yet they’ve managed to amass a steady following in the last few years. This former Edrington property was developed into a successful single malt brand by new owners Ian Mcleod, they banked on the beauty of the site as a tourist destination but also the sherry heavy maturation profile that former owner’s we’re know for.

They have quite a nice range of products most are age stated and thus far have managed to remain within reach of the average consumer.

This release is said to be composed of 50% ex-bourbon casks, 30% 1st fill American oak ex-sherry cask & 20% 1st fill European oak ex-sherry casks.

Enjoy this photo of the store where I tasted this whisky as I sadly forgot to take a photo of the bottle.

Nose: Funky sherry, dunnage notes, a bit of mustiness mixed with sweetness. Dried fruit cake wrapped in wax paper, there’s some sulfur in the form more of spent match but it is light. Vanilla, some yeasty notes, the oak brings a bit of spice, a touch of ginger and mace.

With time it becomes really waxy, with apples and chicory coffee notes.

Palate: Nice round entry, cake batter, malty, spicy gingery oak, a touch of autumn leaves, sultanas, toffee, a latte with too much milk, a bit of toasted almonds. The mouth feel is a little thin.

Finish: A bit of marzipan, grassy, green sap. crystallized fruits, a touch of pineapple. Whole wheat bread. Slight cured ham funk, a touch of meat.

Blab: It’s a good whisky, it offers some of the more potent sherry notes you find in more expensive or older whisky, yet still has zip on the palate. A good solid performer except for the texture and finish where the lower proof 43% might make it lose a bit of power. I have tasted most of the range barring the 25 yr old and I prefer the 15 I think it captures the best of what the distillery has to offer, the 21 is solid too. No surprise in today’s whisky world I believe this expression is going to be removed from the line-up.

Glengoyne 15

43% ABV

86/100

Bruichladdich Black Arts 6.1 “Arcane Rambler”

Black Arts has become the oldest regular expression of the Bruichladdich portfolio. It is basically composed of 20± year old pre-closure stock that had been matured or finished in various types of casks with a heavy emphasis on wine/sherry/fortified wines. It is then vatted into a secret recipe know only to the head distiller.

This is the second edition that has been crafted by Adam Hannet since he’s taken over the role of master distiller.

Nose: Old books, slight sulfur and dried berries, as it opens up you get grape syrup, fresh oak a bit of pickled ginger & waxed orange rind. There’s an interesting note like a cross between sour cherry and marzipan also present is this background freshness and something akin to peated rosewater?

This edition seems to start off not quite as tight and funky than past ones I’ve tried, there is some sulfur but it’s balanced with a touch of sea spray, it almost feels like that’s the element bringing the freshness.

Palate : Oily, bitter herbs, sweet cured ham & cold coffee. musky fruits like melon, grape skins, fresh pastry, a slight sherry vinegar sharpness and then that aged sherry barrel funk. A Musty Concrete Basement collides with broken jars of mustard fruits and grape jam.

Finish: Sweet, Water biscuits, marinated stone fruits and blackberries with saltwater and a trace of smoke. Cooked jam, a tinge of paraffin and cologne. Loads of yeast and tobacco in finish a good amount of oak and a trace of incense.

Blab: This is big whisky and yet it feels fun, unlike the 4.1 which I reviewed recently which was kind of heavy sulfury and messy. 6.1 has those heavy low end notes but all that is pulled up by this freshness on the nose that other versions don’t exhibit. There is an interplay between the sharp acidic wine elements and the fruit, It’s rather pleasant and prevents the whole affair from becoming too stodgy.

Expensive but I feel like this one is actually worth paying for, great blending a fairly unique profile as well that sticks with you.

Bruichladdich Black Arts 6.1

46.9% ABV
88/100

Glenrothes 18 – “Bazooka Joe Needs a Personality Test”

Part of the re-vamp of the Glenrothes line, it was recently sold back to Edrington group by Berry Brothers & Rudd. They have decided to move from using vintages to age statements.

Although if we follow Edrington’s Modus Operandi, a flood of NAS releases will follow they just need to find the right angle or hook. Pretentious fuckboys and overuse of the word luxury are already taken by Macallan. Viking porn and the raping of mythology is the domain of Highland Park.

I shouldn’t be so sarcastic, age statements are a good thing in this current era of whisky marketing and this current range could provide Glenrothes with a bit of needed sex appeal.

Nose: Grape gum, paraffin, faint spices, cloves and nutmeg, creamy vanilla and a bit of mint. Grapes on the stems, marshmallows, bazooka Joe gum including the waxed joke attached to it.

Palate: Spicy oak, sharp, full & sweet arrival. Canned peaches, dried figs, raisins, sticky toffee pudding, oranges, a bit of pepper and cocoa.

Finish: Quick, the texture is very light, very grapey, ginger, jasmine tea and creamy vanilla.

The Blab: It’s a pretty good whisky, it doesn’t have any major missteps, the flavors tend towards bright sherry, lots of almost grape juice concentrate. You will find none of that dark, savory, leathery sherry here, it felt like it was a bit sherry by the numbers, very muted, it doesn’t have much in the way of personality. Despite it being 18 yrs old you would be just as well served by any number of 12-15 year old expressions from Glengoyne, Tomatin or Glendronach for example. which have more dynamics and vigor.

The Glenrothes 18

43% ABV

83/100

Laphroaig – Triple Wood “Fewer calories, thrice the oak”

This is basically the quarter cask with an additional rest time in refill sherry casks. I know many reviews panned this for being less brash and in your face than other Laphroaigs, now that it’s discontinued, it might get more love?

Nose: Cough lozenges, black licorice, antiseptic, that note of germinating grain, vanilla, loads of sweet oak, salty, the nose feels a bit closed.

Palate: Oily, astringent grain, smoked fish, and carbolic give way to sweetness, currants, dried fruit & spices. The palate is soft, all in vanilla, menthol and earth.

Finish: Rich, oily, grassy, licorice & strawberry candy with sweet smoke.

The Blab: The medicinal elements seem to sit tight amidst the successive oak treatments, the ashy smoke is what is replaced by the sweeter elements. Not the one for those looking for that Laphroaig slap in the face but if you like the the distillers editions of Lagavulin and Talisker this is a winner.

Laphroaig Triple Wood

48%ABV

84/100

Kavalan Whisky review part two: Solist Bourbon & Sherry

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Let’s return to part two of last Thursday’s SAQ tasting session. We move on to the big guns, the muscle if you will.

I will spare you a regurgitation of the Kavalan history or their press kit materials, I would rather give you food for thought.

Two points are of particular interest to me, the fact that Kavalan has been bombarding spirit competitions with their single cask releases and the massive expansion they’ve underdone. The former while not a concern for most malt geeks (maniacs, anoraks…no term is great) since they tend to put little weight in those type of awards is mostly about the kind of misleading marketing it can cause with the average consumer.

I’ll explain, all whisky is subject to variances, even with the best quality control lab and intentions. The Solist series are all single cask releases, therefore it allows Kavalan to cherry pick their best casks when sending them to competitions. Again, no one would be against the producer choosing their best product in order to enter a competition. The problem is unless the consumer is able to get the exact same barrel as the prize winning malt or the one you read that awesome review about, what you will end up buying is a veritable Russian roulette, a small matter but nonetheless a concern.

The latter is interesting because King Car Group (makers of Kavalan) is a family owned business, generally a good thing in this era of conglomerates, ostensibly it means a company with the right spirit (no pun intended) can focus on quality and not only the bottom line. They have just undergone a massive expansion bringing their output to somewhere in the vicinity of 9 million liters. That’s massive, Diageo huge, putting them in the big leagues, I don’t mean to say big is bad. What I’m concerned about is how are they going to get their hands on the volume of first fill ex-whatever casks required to cope with that without resorting to some sort of tomfoolery (see MAO’s Glendronach single casks issues for example). I wonder with that gigantic volume how much longer will they be able to resort to their scarcity/luxury pricing scheme, I know, they will do whatever the market will support and the whisky sphere certainly has a hard-on for Kavalan right now.

Nuff’ talk

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Kavalan Solist Bourbon: 58.6% abv. Cask#B111209009A

Nose: the nose is hot and pointy right from the gate. Apples, I get that weird copper note like on Glenfiddich. Pears, honey, sponge cake, creamy vanilla, a touch of bubblegum and gummy candies.

With water the sharpness of the nose becomes rounder, more honey and pastries.

Palate: Hot, creamy and sweet at once, the attack is pleasant. Coconut, beeswax, there are herbal touches floating in the middle, like fresh cut grass or plants then it extends into jujubes & grape gummies.

With water, sweet, kind of flat, honey, vanilla and more caramel, loads of waxyness

Grade: B+ This is pretty solid, I liked the Palate more than the nose

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Kavalan Solist Sherry cask: 59.4% abv. Cask# S081224022

Nose: Coffee, dates, burnt chicory, Alpine bitters. Grape reduction, slight balsamic edge, all things umami and it’s sharp. This isn’t a Christmas spice type sherry, it’s a dirty big bodied sherry. After a while there is dry cured ham and pepper.

Water brings sulfur forward on the nose, more coffee, wet wool. Lots of meatyness, the nose is big and really pleasant.

Palate: Oh! Sweetened coffee left out on counter overnight, date purée, ginger, gunpowder, an almost metallic, plastic note. It’s very much on tannic, oversteeped tea, stewed prunes. There is more traditional spices in the mouth, nutmeg and allspice. Very dark and extractive.

Palate with water is very thin, dates, plasticine, light roast coffees. Really all on chewy dates, spices and cake batter, you get more or that oxydized sherry nuttyness

The sherry lingers a long time. It’s big stuff, maybe even a little tiring in a way.

Grade: A The cask strength along with the extractive nature of high temperature maturing certainly creates a potent delivery

The Blab: Clearly the Solist editions are the ones to look out for. While that sherry cask haunted me for a couple of days, I’m not sure what I think about these whiskies, it seems that the casks (or the previous contents) are perhaps doing most of the heavy lifting. Oh and yes the price…just saying.

Franck