Well, it's bloody hot today. At this time of the year in the UK, it's clearly impossible to predict any kind of temperature in advance. A day ago, I was sheltering from the howling gale and rain under a tree (wearing a hooded top) beside a tennis court, thinking why did I decide to peruse such a stupid outdoor pastime. In an hour, I shall be slipping into the comfort (!) of a woollen dinner suit and bow tie for an evening event. Why?? Damn You Mother Nature!
Anyway, with such complete contradictions afoot, it's probably a good time to review some arguably un-summery whiskies that we have sitting in our office, probably waiting for a cold snap to take hold.
Recently Highland Park launched a brand new expression called Dark Origins, supposedly to celebrate the unorthodox working methods of the distillery's founder, Magnus Eunson, who operated his shady business as an illicit distiller largely in the shadows, away from the prying eye of the exciseman.
Dark Origins comes complete with a hooded chap on the label (who, if we're honest, looks a little more 'urban' than the likes of a Hebridean distiller) and the whisky itself is comprised of twice as many first fill sherry casks than the classic formulation of the 12 year old, aiming for a richer, darker and altogether more muscular whisky. Have they succeeded?
Highland Park - Dark Origins - 46.8% - NAS - RRP £65
Nose: Certainly an abundance of full bodied sherry notes on the first sniff: caramel, chopped nuts, a little mustiness, molasses, all balanced with a waft of smoke. It is reminiscent of the 12 year old, but has more depth. So far so good.
Palate: Very tarry, sooty and oily. The peat gives this a charred, slightly bitter approach, taking it away from the classic floral, honeyed sweetness of the 12 year old. There is lingering wood, a slight creosote and a bold menthol undertone, but one can't help but be overpowered by sootiness. The most smoky HP to date? Very probably, but it will certainly take some getting use to. Given time, a sweeter note develops, helping to balance out the proceedings.
Finish: Lingering wood, a little pepper and charred meat notes round out a very dry finish.
Overall: A hard to understand beast, this one. The nose reveals a lot of real complexity, alongside all the clearly intended darkness, but the palate is full-on beat-you-about-the-head-and-neck-with-a-fence-post stuff. Put it this way, it's like walking through Croydon late on a Saturday night. In the shadows lurk danger: Terrifying, but just a little bit exciting at the same time. They should start producing hoodies at the distillery shop...
Next up and the latest instalment in Bowmore's well received Tempest series. Now five batches in, the series sees no sign of slowing down, nor changing direction, short of the subtle differences between the batches. It is bottled at 55.9% and rocks up around £50 as a price point. Not too shabby considering what else lies at this price point. In terms of maturation style, this should be a sharp contrast to the Highland Park above, as it is drawn from first fill bourbon casks, giving a lighter, brighter note. Less hoodie, more boating blazer? We reviewed the last batch here - and if this turns out any where near as good, Bowmore will have done it again.
Bowmore - Tempest - Small Batch - Edition 5 - 10 Years Old - 55.9% RRP £50
Nose: A subtle floral/fruity peat emerges first, alongside fresh sponge cake, golden syrup a touch of almond oil and marzipan. Dig deeper and you'll find ripe banana, a touch of plasticine and a surprising mossy/leaf note.
Palate: The peat is kept in check by a zesty lemon note, some soft brown sugar, fudge topped muffins and very creamy coffee. In fact, this could be the most confectionery- influenced batch yet. Another sip reveals more marzipan and a touch of menthol tobacco, the floral peat returning right at the end.
Finish: Slightly dry, but with bags of underlying, lingering floral smoke.
Overall: Another tick in the 'excellent' box from this batch. Again, it offers balance, character and accessibility, but is robust enough for those who are looking for a peaty whisky to ooze additional character.