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Friday, 25 November 2011

Vintage Trouble


Since our time visiting the superb Highland Park distillery on Orkney, two more expressions from their Orcadian Vintages selection have cropped up. Like the original 1964 and 1968 and then the magnificent 1970, this brace of vintages were matured in differing cask types, with the older 1971 vintage maturing in Spanish oak and the 1976 American oak. The result is two distinctly different whiskies, but each with something to say for themselves.

Joel and I often argue about seminal bands or records and with a remarkable amount of symmetry, these vintages represent two distinctly important events of musical significance.

1971 saw the very first 'proper' Glastonbury Festival launch, with David Bowie headlining. Personally speaking, I kind of wish Michael Eavis left it there, as every experience I have had of this festival has been one of feeling fleeced, cold, pissed off and very wet. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, but it's impossible to successfully operate a Corby Trouser Press at an event like this; I should have known from the moment I saw the swathes of tie-dye that it wasn't really for me...


Any how, one significant event which occurred later that year was the release of Led Zeppelin's opus - IV - the one with the symbols on. As it's Friday and i'm super excited about breaking out a brand new guitar i've just purchased, I decided to blast out 'Rock and Roll', whilst reviewing this - perhaps the equivalent of Led Zeppelin IV in the catalogue of other Orcadian Vintages?
Highland Park - Orcadian Vintage - 1971 - 46.9%

Nose: An instant mossy/earthy note hits first, then into some burnt caramel notes, a soft fragrant peat, powder paints, dried strawberries with vanilla cheesecake, toasted pecan nuts and a drying oak, no, actually more leafy. Think about going for a walk this sunday in a wood, strewn with oak leaves and you'll get the picture. Given time, the strawberry and vanillas come to the fore.

Palate: Powerful, with some initial sweetness, then earthy tones, some cigar-like spice, rich caramels and lingering fresh vanilla pod. Not sure why, but the last few whiskies i've reviewed have really given this fresh vanilla pod note!! Maybe I have some stuck betwixt my incisors. The sherry notes are muted, but there is so much complexity going on, this is a whisky you have to take a step back from to get your head around. With water, it all becomes a lot clearer; the viscosity opens up, golden syrup comes through, alongside an unmistakable HP smoke, a tart blackberry fruitiness, some aromatic vermouth and some clean sweet malt.

Finish: A very herbaceous note lingers, some distinct Oloroso/Palo Cortado sherry dryness, alongside the sweet cereal and vanilla.

Overall: Unquestionably a whisky of quality, but it makes you work to find it. This is more 'The Battle Of Evermore' than 'When The Levee Breaks' or 'Rock and Roll'. When you do fall under its spell, you'll be lost in a fruity/peaty abyss for a long time.


Next up, the 1976. I was one year old when this whisky was made and judging from the now fading pictures my parents took of my birthday that year, it was hellishly hot. Our lawn was completely brown, counterpointing the dark blue of my father's denim flairs and the cream cheesecloth shirt they had fitted me in for some reason. 1976 was also the year that the Sex Pistols played one of their seminal shows at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Halls, where they were proclaimed to be the saviours of British music by some and the spawn of the devil by the establishment.

U2 also began their tentative steps towards superstardom in the same year, although it took them a little longer to get to the point... Will the 1976 Orcadian Vintage cut through like the the abrasive chords of Anarchy in the UK, or wash over the palate like The U2's chiming, echo soaked I Will Follow.

Highland Park - Orcadian Vintage - 1976 - 49.1%

Nose: Quite a contrast to the 1971. Initial notes of butter scotch, peanut brittle, fragrant talcum powder, some very gentle peat and light sweet vanilla notes. It's not as brooding as the '71, with hints of zest developing as the glass warms up. With water, the floral notes positively explode from the glass - lilies, rose notes and scented candles. Lovely stuff indeed.

Palate: Hot initially, but then some lovely candied cherries, sweet vanilla, coconut creams (macaroons) the return of the floral peat, which really intensifies as the palate dries. It is particularly buttery too, with some sweet milk chocolate notes creeping in at the last minute. With water, the palate becomes a little blurred, not quite as direct, but the sweetness and fruity cherries very much remain the driving force. Whereas, the 1971 needed a little water for some real direction, this is absolutely sensational with only the merest hint of the stuff.

Finish: Cherry sherbet and coconut linger, with a little prickle of lemon zest.

Overall: Stunning for a multitude of different reasons to the 1971. This is bright, very direct, with all the hallmarks of the younger expressions of Highland Park.

Both chalk and cheese really, but fortunately, I love street art and Ploughman's lunches...