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Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Final Chapter... or is it??

The first instalment in a classic trilogy of films is usually an absolute classic, defining the story, the hooks and the main characters. The 2nd one reinforces the interplay between relationships, often leading to a slightly darker, more introspective set-piece. The 3rd and final instalment drops a gear, hits top speed and ends in a crescendo of action, passion, pathos and ultimately victory.

The more I delve into the story of Norse/Orcadian Inca Saga, Which Highland Park have adopted as their own, the more the it reminds me of one of the great cinematic trilogies of the last few decades- Star Wars, before the dreadful prequel films and Jar-Jar Binks. The brave, young, fresh faced hero and the dark, sinister antagonist. When you begin to think about the story and the whiskies it has influenced, the characters start to come to life with even greater intensity.

The first release, Earl Magnus is perhaps redolent of Luke Skywalker before he completed his Jedi training. He was young, brash, but with a heart of gold - sweet, with a mop top of tousled hair and huge potential. We loved it- and so did you, this inaugural release selling out faster than Han Solo could say 'Punch it Chewie'.

Then came St Magnus - one could argue perhaps better represented by Obi Wan, but let's say an older Skywalker, when his Jedi knight training was complete in Return Of The Jedi; wiser, developed, but slightly darker, the swathes of smoke becoming thicker and heavier.

our sample came in a plain bottle,
so this is how we imagine the bottle might look...

The final release - Earl Haakon not only completes the trilogy, but does it by celebrating the dark hearted and fearsome warlord himself. To re-cap, Haakon was the cousin of Earl Magnus-A beserker, violent and probably prone to bouts of irrationality (and irritability). In ordering the death of Earl Magnus, Haakon sealed his infamy- and the resulting Canonisation of his cousin. Now what was the immortal line?? "If you strike me down Darth, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." Wise words, Obi Wan. (courtesy of 'Wookiepedia...')

The final release has done its damnedest to be as dark as possible. According to the press release, it comes in an entirely black glass bottle. Give it a cape, a shiny helmet and the booming voice of James Earl Jones and its transformation into Lord Vadar would be truly complete. We've charted the making of this whisky since its sneaky unveiling at Whisky live last year where the first draft of Haakon was given to a lucky few attending the Highland Park masterclass. Now it is finally ready to wreak havoc on the palate. But how has it developed? Our initial notes can be viewed here. The final release is bottled at cask strength (54.9%) and the batch size the lowest yet at 3,000 bottles and an RRP of £160.

Will it be Vadar, at his most bad-assed, i.e here?

Or has he mellowed out like this version?

Highland Park - Earl Haakon - 18 years old - 54.9% - 3,000 bottles

Nose: Firey ginger beer mixes with powder paint, some dairy fudge, faint swathes of smoke (weird, as I kind of expected this one to be the smokiest yet?) blackcurrant leaves and some cocoa notes. With water, the smoke develops, but it's superbly soft and aromatic.

Palate: Hot, with white pepper spiciness, but immediately extinguished by vanilla essence, lemon sherbet and some more subtle gentle wood smoke. With water, we have an almost perfect HP. The 18yo we all know and love is back, but with more heather honey sweetness, mint humbugs, blackcurrants, Lockets throat sweets, spearmint, malt extract and a slight savoury note.

Finish: Aromatic heather/ almost floral notes linger, alongside the smoke and a lasting sea salt.

Overall: Compared to the St Magnus bottling, this isn't as full-on and smoke-driven, but it is all the better for it. The smoke is certainly there, but restrained, refined. As an 18yo at cask strength, it gives us a terrific glimpse into a classic turned up to 11, but doesn't head into unchartered territory. Another great HP and the end of a highly entertaining and gripping trilogy.

Please guys, no prequels!!