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Tuesday, 27 July 2010

A Walk In The Park....

Another hot London day and another hot new whisky launch are always fondly welcomed here at Almost a year since announcing the inaugural 'Orcadian Vintages', Highland Park have unveiled details of their 3rd bottling in the series... and the good news is it's a cracker.

This afternoon, we joined the irrepressible Gerry Tosh at the Albannach bar in London's Trafalgar Square for a sneak preview of this monumental release. Gerry bought us up to speed on the history behind the previous Orcadian Vintages (reviewed here) pointing out the wonderful quirks which made both the 1964 and 1968 bottlings so very different from each other.
Apparently in 1964, the Orkney winds weren't as powerful when gusting over the barren coastline and as a result, the peat smoke had a greater opportunity to have its wickedly smoky way with the maltings. However, Gerry pointed out that it was a very different story in 1968, with regular gales playing havoc with peating levels, blowing the smoke skywards from the kilns, thus producing a less pronounced smokiness in the malt.
Surely this will become a whisky-based pub quiz question classic in the future... (if such a thing were ever to exist...)

Anyway, the 1970 Orcadian Vintage sits somewhere in between the previous releases, balancing the rich fruity sweetness from the sherry casks with a delicate swathe of peated goodness. The basis for this bottling comes from a vatting of 7 casks, a mixture of butts and refill sherry hoggies.

Here's what we thought when the cork was finally removed from the ominous black bottle !

Highland Park - 1970 Orcadian Vintage - 48% - 1,800 bottles

Nose: An initial cask mustiness greets the nostrils and you're drawn into a beguiling mix of vintage wine notes, drying oak and a slightly sticky-sweet port aroma. As the whisky hits the air, the mustiness disappears and you're presented with classic Highland Park- sweet heather honey, slightly jammy notes (plum and cherry), hints of scented wax and a faint whiff of fragrant peat smoke. It's brilliantly balanced and another indication of just how good the older stock has been maturing. Sublime stuff.

Palate: Sponge cake notes hit the palate first, followed by mint humbugs, cherry brandy, golden syrup, soft malty cereal notes and again, a little whisper of that smoke. It coats the whole mouth and totally demands your attention. Give this time (at least 30 minutes) and it will reward you ten-fold with further rich fruit notes and even sweeter honey developing on the palate. Pretty good then? You bet.

Finish: Waxy, with lingering black cherry notes and an oaky dryness, but absolutely no bitterness whatsoever.

Overall: The first 2 releases of the Orcadian Vintage series were real eye openers, not only because of the quality of cask selection, but also as an exercise in how a distillery has, for decades, managed to create and maintain a perfectly balanced house style. This new bottling sits comfortably next to the 18yo as well as its older brothers and perfectly highlights just how rich the seam of great whisky making runs deeply within Highland Park. Long may that continue.