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Thursday, 11 February 2010

Highland Lark

Bloody hell it's cold.

We're sat at HQ in South London as the icy northern breeze whistles through our fresh Shoreditch haircuts. It's certainly time to warm up and there are only two ways we really know of upping our internal thermometer;

Pour a large dram or book a holiday.

Well, as luck would have it we've managed to kill two birds with one stone (don't worry, readers... this isn't Ipswich c.2006...)

After a warming £2.99 Weatherspoon's lunchtime special, we picked up the post and what should we find, but 3 very new and exclusive Highland Park bottlings, especially for the Duty Free market. They will be commercially available from April onwards, so keep an eye out.

The Vintage Editions come off the back of the St Magnus bottling, which Highland Park have just released and which we reviewed here.

4 expressions make up the range, dating from 1998, 1994, 1990 and 1973, (which we don't have a sample of) with the emphasis on the difference between maturation in European and American Oak. Apparently the sweeter characteristics of the distillery are prominent in both the '94 and '73 versions, whilst the '90 and '98 expressions detail the more smoky notes.

Fortunately for us, that trip to Heathrow Airport 's 'World Of Whiskies' can wait a little longer.

Let's see how they fare:

Highland Park - Vintage Edition - 1990 - 40% (but we'll get the info asap) 70cl

Nose: Classic fragrant Highland Park, with a tiny hint of sweet smoke and buttery richness. It has all the hallmarks of a well balanced whisky, which Highland Park seem to do so well. Dig a little deeper and some slightly fruity notes (with almost a Ribena like syrup) emerge.

Palate: Sweet malt, barley sugar, swirls of spice, Cream soda, vanilla ice cream and back to sweet sherbets all in the space of a few seconds. Very good indeed. A dryness descends after a little while, revealing some slight parma violet notes, but nothing out of character.

Finish: The dryness continues into the finish, with a resonance of slightly milky coffee, spices and wood smoke.

Overall: Very, very Highland Park. If, like me, you have a huge soft spot for this distillery, you'll sniff this out a mile off. slightly dryer in the finish than, say the 18yo, but there's certainly masses of flavour to recommend it. I feel like jumping on the Gatwick Express right now and grabbing a bottle.

Highland Park - Vintage Edition - 1994 - 40% 70cl

Nose: A very different beast to its older brother. Notes of butterscotch sauce hit you first, followed by just-baked apple crumble, freshly starched linen and some demerera sugar. The sweetness certainly comes through!!

Palate: Slightly spiced, with the unmistakable flavour of Highland park squarely underneath. This distillery has so much character, they'll never be able to stray far away from it, which is a great thing. Hints of fresh fruit, (apples) and some hazelnuts round of a pleasing flavour.

Finish: Relatively long, with the fruity notes outlasting any drier characteristics.

Overall: A close second to the 1990 IMHO, but still worth exploring, especially for that crumble on the nose.

and finally....

Highland Park - Vintage Edition - 1998 - 40% 1L

Nose: Slightly soapy sherry cask notes are immediately apparent, but tame, with an sweeter aroma of foam banana sweets and some oak smoke following up immediately. Not as characterful as the 1990 or the 1994. Most definitely the smokiest of the 3.

Palate: Ooh, some lovely vanilla hits your tongue, with a pleasant sweetness. But it's only fleeting, as a drying wood note takes over the palate. Tiny hints of cream soda fight to come through but the wood keeps a firm grip.

Finish: Dry, with and relatively short, with a hint of rye bread on the death.

Overall: The least impressive of the trio and the youngest of the bunch. It has a way to go before it eclipses its older brothers, but is certainly not the runt of the litter.

To use a simple analogy- each of these whiskies represents a certain grade of flight.

The 1990 has all the hallmarks of 'First Class' travel
; Elegance, variety and refinement.

The 1994 still has the luxury, but without some of the trappings- perhaps akin to a seat in Business Class.

The 1998, whilst not in the 'Easyjet' category, lacks the finesse of the previous 2, but does the job well- you also get a little more for your money with a 1 litre bottle. Shall we say
Premium Economy??

As we didn't taste the 1973, we can only surmise that it's like owning your own plane.... hopefully we'll be able to take it for a test flight very soon!