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Saturday, 6 April 2013

May The Nose Be With You: Highland Park Loki, Duty Free and European Editions Single Malt Whisky

The Beatles: very much considered to be one of the greatest bands in musical history. Stop anyone in the street, anywhere in the world and chances are that they’ll know a tune or two by the Fab Four.

Correctly lauded for writing some of the best songs of the 20th Century, their legacy of hits will live on as long as we consume music which, given the example shown to us by the past, will be forever.

I studied business at university, with a focus on the music industry (involving interesting aspects such as copyright law.... *yawn*) and whenever I think of the Beatles, one decidedly ignorant chap from those days springs to mind.

He claimed that any band who can release 12 studio albums of original material, plus b-sides, in just a 10 year history, “would write something decent, if you put that many records out”.

This man was, of course, an idiot.

Keeping a flow of consistently high quality output and cementing your place in modern popular culture as a result, is not easy. The road to longevity is scattered with those who burnt brightly on their debut album, but were unable to keep up their quality and consistency.  Take a bow Kula Shaker.

Seemingly as busy as the Beatles, those chaps up at the Highland Park distillery in Orkney have been hunkering down to release not just one, nor two, not even three new products, but a whopping nine new whiskies this year, thrusting them into the world in support of their ever-present core range.

Hidden away in two European markets, two new little releases were quietly being consumed by the Swedes (who get a cask strength, 56% abv, no age statement offering, pictured above left) and the Dutch, who get a tasty new 10 year old. Both these releases come in a nifty little 35cl bottle.

Highland Park – 10 Years Old – Holland only – 35cl - 40% ABV

Nose: This is certainly on the peater side of the Highland Park spectrum. In fact it is on the coastal side, too with peat, sea salt, chamois leather, some grapefruit and a hint of tinned peach coming through on the nose.

Palate: Sweet and almost heathery, with some peat (not as much as the nose) which gives a good basis to some notes of lemon meringue pie, tinned pineapple chunks and salted caramel milk chocolate.

Finish: short with a punch of peat and salt, lingering elements of the lemon meringue pie and then some light toffee tones.

Overall: At under 20, I wish we had an offering like this in the UK (but I’m sure the Taxman would have something to say about this). 35cl bottles would be a great way to get malt-ready drinkers into the category. For the money, a fantastic offering which showcases the lighter end of Highland Park very well indeed. I wonder if they’ll do one for Norway, matured in ‘Norwegian Wood’...

Next up for Highland Park is a complete overhaul of their travel retail range. Duty Free is a major area for whisky and Highland Park has taken the bold move to release six new products over the year, under the banner “The Warrior Series”.

The six bottles are all named after famed Viking warriors, with the first three of Svein, Einar and Harald all hitting the shelves soon in your local airport, priced at €40, €53 and €70 and increasing in European oak influence as you move up through the range. A further three will be released later this year.

Highland Park – Harald – 40% abv - 70cl

Note: A mix of around 50% European oak and 50% American oak

Nose: A hit of peat at first, backed with soft vanilla ice cream, some fresh ginger and then spices of cinnamon, cardamom and fresh pine.

Palate:  There is a lightness about the palate without it being thin, shown again the vanilla but also underpinned with the peat smoke, spices and some figs and toffee.

Finish: Smoke and spice give way to dried figs and cloves.

Overall: Again, a smokier whiskies than I would normally give Highland Park credit for, but this does not unbalance a palate which gives good flavours and a nose which packs a punch.

Finally, Highland Park have added the second release to their Valhalla Collection in the form of the shape-shifter Loki.

Hot on the heels of Thor, last year’s sell-out first release from this innovative collection, Loki has been developed to mirror the characteristics of this Norse spirit. A dark and mysterious character, Loki was known for his mischievous tricks which he would play on the other gods, often getting himself into much trouble with the other residents of Asgard.

The whisky itself shows off an age statement of 15 years, comes at the higher-than-normal strength of 47.8% abv and is limited to 21,000 bottles around the world, weighing in at £120.

Highland Park – Loki – 15 Years Old – 47.8% abv – 70cl – £120 here

Nose:  Hummm… there is some peat smoke in there, but it’s really hidden behind some toffee apple, a hint of mango and passion fruit and some boiled sweets. I’d be hard pressed to pin this down as a Highland Park from the nose.

Palate: Ah! There we go. A hit of peat and the tropical fruits come rushing through, leaving a peppery and leathery finish of cloves and antique furniture. This is an odd one, with the palate almost flipping the nose on its head.

Finish:  A sweeter finish, with the smoke right on the pack of the palate and a cinnamon spice ending.

Overall: A very strange sensation, this whisky is almost like three different Highland Parks, from the nose, the palate and the finish. Very drinkable, this is a different whisky to the earlier Thor release (which was bigger and more powerful on the palate) as this dances around, being hard to pin down but in a good. If you buy a bottle, open it and drink it.

So a busy start to 2013 for the most northerly distillery in Scotland. I’m sure tasting all these whiskies before they were bottled proved to be a Hard Day’s Night in Kirkwall, but it all really seems to have Come Together  for a Helter Skelter ride of flavours and stories.