Translate Caskstrength!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Brave Hjarta...

Today, as I was walking down my south London street, 2 youths passed by and paid me perhaps the ultimate compliment by calling out- "wow, you is WELL Miami Vice".

I presume this was a certain response to my splendid new cream linen blazer, with additional white piping. So holding my head up a little higher and adopting a walk only Don Johnson could muster, I hopped onto the train with an imaginary Jan Hammer theme tune springing my step.

I had 2 parcels in my possession- an older bottling of a classic cabinet favourite, Highland Park 12 year old and a sample of the hottest release on the the whole of Orkney right now- the new cask strength Highland Park expression- Hjarta. I was excited to try both these whiskies side by side. Knowing the former so well, I felt its elegance is defined perfectly by a modest 40% and wondered how the bigger, bolder Hjarta would fare.

Hjarta, which is Norse for 'heart' was timed to celebrate the the total refurbishment of Highland Park's visitor centre and will only be released from the distillery shop and in Scandinavia (which seemed a little ambiguous, seeing as it's such a fairly large place)

What we do know is that it's limited to 3,900 bottles so, HP fans better grab one now before they become 'broken Hjarted'. (sorry, couldn't resist that...)

Hjarta - 12 yo - 58.1% - ltd to 3900 bottles

Nose: Rich caramelised apples, lots of spice, (clove and cinnamon) rolled oats and a big hit of dried fruit. It's hugely reminiscent of the 18 yo, but with a massive kick from the extra power, which rears up to remind you who's in charge. Given a little time in the glass, some of the classic HP smoke comes wafting through on the breeze, with a surprisingly sweet floral fragrance emerging, which tops off a very tasteful start. Lovely.

Palate: Lingering chopped hazel & brazil nuts are the first flavour on the tastebuds, followed by some lemon and orange zest, then sweet vanilla and fizzy lemon sherbets. Less influence from the obvious sherry wood than I imagined. refined and not at all overpowering considering it's strength. with water, more fresh summer fruit comes through, rather like a fruit compote with apple, raspberry and gooseberry.

Finish: Peppery notes from the alcohol sit well on the palate as it dries, with some of the initial caramelised apples from the nose returning for a lengthy finish.

Overall: Certainly no Hjarta attacks here, just a damn fine whisky, which is extremely drinkable. I suspect that there won't be many bottles opened due to it's collectible status, but it sits well among the already excellent HP expressions.

Next up, its slightly less-masculine twin brother:

Highland Park 12 yo- 40% - 70cl

Nose: After the Hjarta, the 12 yo gives a much more delicate aroma, with fresh vanilla, white chocolate and hints of freshly diced apple come through. Hints of Heather honey on the back end. Still one of my favourite noses (alongside the 18 yo)

Palate: Very silky with summer fruits including those gooseberries, sweet apple pie with vanilla custard. What it lacks in strength, it makes up for by sweet talking your taste buds into submission.

Finish: Much less direct and lingering than the Hjarta, leaving traces of vanilla and apple on the drying palate.

Overall: Still a flagship whisky for HP and (alongside the 18 yo) one I feel my cabinet shouldn't be without.

I would urge anyone to try a side-by-side tasting of these whiskies. Although they're a similar age, they really are hugely different beasts, each with their own qualities, but both impeccably dressed. Rather like Crockett and Tubbs.