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Friday, 1 October 2010

The Orcade Fire

When it comes to shopping, I’m usually set on “default”. For food it’s Tesco, Sainsbury or Morrisons, depending on where I am in town. For clothes, it’s H&M if I’m feeling brassic, Zara if it’s looking good on the work front and something special... when the sales are on! But I never venture in to Harrods.

Actually, I did once. It was the first place in Britain to have a Krispy Kreme outlet. Anyone who knows me, knows that if you’d have put that first KK outlet anywhere, I would have made the effort to go. Even, gasp... Swindon.

However, tonight Harrods was to play host to the most wonderful of events; a whisky launch. And a whisky which was certainly not to be missed... Highland Park 50 Year Old.

Arriving at the little corner shop in Knightsbridge, we were ushered through the food hall to the wine and spirits department where a small room had been set aside for the unveiling of the bespoke bottle and a tasting of the rare liquid.

As is now so often the case, the bottle design for top end whisky is taken very serious. Anyone who has ever ventured into the world of eBay whisky will be familiar with their legislation that sellers (and buyers) are trading “the bottle, not the contents” to enable them to circumnavigate local licensing laws. It begs the question which came first, eBay rules or the ultra-premiumization (and we’ll get on to that hideous word in another post soon) of whisky where a four or five figure sum must be overly justified...

In the case of Highland Park, they have called on the services of Maeve Gillies, a talented young Scottish designer based in New York, who worked alongside a silversmith to create what can only be described as a masterpiece. Recent forays into this sector of the market have thrown up some interesting bottles. Macallan’s Lalique series. Bowmore’s beautiful handblown bottle for their 40 Year Old. But if I was to choose to have one of these three on display at my house, it would be the Highland Park.

Encased in silver “seaweed”, the distillery logo is etched onto a piece of Orkney Sandstone. On the reverse, a picture of a stain glass window from the St Magnus Catherdal in Kirkwall can be viewed from the rear once the bottle is empty. One hopes that at least one of the 275 bottles will be emptied at some stage, so this can be seen in it’s full glory, but at £10,000 a throw I’m not sure how likely that is. (Oddly, this price is the same for 70cl and 75cl bottles... given the price per cl, you’d be daft not to get the “bigger bottle”!).

It’s a shame, as the stuff inside is pretty bloody good (as you’d expect...). Distilled in January 1960, the first detailed record of the whisky’s make-up being in 1978 when it was filled into first -fill sherry seasoned hogshead casks, until 2009 when it was filled into five refill casks to allow the flavors to ‘vat’ and marry together. The natural cask strength of 44.8% has been retained for the bottling.

It also comes in a massive wooden box with a sort of “port hole” on the front.

So, what about the liquid. Let’s take a peek:

Highland Park – 50 Years Old – Bottled 2010 – 275 Bottles – 44.8% vol

Nose: Initially some sweetened, spicy Java coffee, Damson jam, Madeira wine and a wisp of delicate smoke. Then it develops- leather, mint/menthol lozenges, fruit compote and something slight fishy/seaweed- Lobster pots perhaps? All wrapped up with plum jam richness.

Palate: This is where the age plays it’s biggest card, with woody dryness being the first thing to hit, but followed up with hazelnuts, light peat, liquorice, hints of musty casks, polished mahogany and some salt. Unmistakably HP. It sticks to the glass like glue. Very, very rich in texture.

Finish: lingering heather notes, dry sherry, sea salt and a little coastal spray.

Overall: A fantastic dram. Having been immensely privileged over the last two weeks or so to try the Bowmore 40 Year Old (£6,500 a bottle), the Dalmore 45 Year Old (just £3,000 a bottle) and this Highland Park 50 Year Old (£10k per bottle), I find myself in the relms of the utterly ridiculous. If money was no object, then you’d buy all three. But if I could only have one, it would be the Highland Park. Delicious, but utterly, utterly ludicrous.

This whisky has been released before, 15 years ago in 1995 when a few bottles were made available to mark the retirement of a key member of the Highland Park team (good luck finding that bottle. If anyone has that and buys this and wants to do a comparison tasting, our email is info@caskstre.. Oh, forget it. It’ll never happen.)

Back to reality now as I sit down to write this piece. I’ve nothing over £100 a bottle in the cabinet and even that seems expensive. Today in Duty Free I pushed by bank balance over the edge with a £70 bottle of Douglas Laing Platinum Selection Caol Ila 25 Year Old (260 bottles, 54.9% Vol, Duty Free Only), down from £90 due to a 20% off promotion on malts. Reality will really bite tomorrow when I finally open the two utility bills that are sat on my desk… but until then, I shall sit here and nurse a Four Roses Single Barrel. I don’t want to pretend it’s anything other than what it is, as great whisky can come at any price, in any guise and can be whatever you want it to be.