It’s fair to say that there are some distilleries you tend to avoid after a solid year of writing reviews. The monotony and rigor mortis can take hold rather too quickly. It’s not helped when a certain producer seems to release more editions than Scotland drinks Irn Bru. Meaning yet again you’re faced with having to find the motivation at the keyboard and when the bottle is opened. There goes the fear again. Let it go. Let it go.
I should explain this intro. Apart from being a fantastic song, it inspired me to grab this whisky and review it. Yes, its a mysterious bottling from one of our favourite whisky sellers in Abbey Whisky. The mysterious Anon name may tick the box when it comes to removing the distillery that produced this cask, but we know better readers. The devil is in the detail after all.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or Donald Trump to work out where this whisky has come from. Let’s inspect the evidence prior to moving into the main body of this review. Orkney isn’t the Speyside of the north so we’re already dealing with a limited number of candidates. Sadly, Orkney’s greatest distillery in the form of Stromness stopped producing many generations ago. Yes, fact hounds, the whisky at hand has a peated dimension. Then Orkney’s next fabled distillery – Scapa – didn’t start producing peated spirit until more recently resulting in the No Age Statement Glansa release. The whisky we have here is 17 years old. This only leaves a certain distillery, which is close to my heart. Yes, come on Donald work it out, what’s left?
Are more clues required?
There’s a certain Orkney distillery that prides itself on still performing a modest percentage of its own floor malting. This provides an important element of its DNA whether its an element of heathery peat with a touch of smoke. It’s the same distillery that is now dumping a huge amount of casks onto the independent market of varying ages. This underlines a change in brand and tact for that Viking longship. We’ll come back to this point shortly, but if you’re still struggling then head over to Abbey Whisky and save the image we’ve utilised on this article and look more closely at the file name.
The first part of your lesson is over. Now we move onto the interesting aspects around Highland Park currently.
In recent times we’ve seen a change at Highland Park. Discovering like so many other distilleries that there was demand for whisky outside of the core offerings, Edrington initially tapped into these with a small cluster of collections. As the demand for limited editions has grown – arguably fuelled by the secondary market with investors, flippers and auctioneers – so has the rush to seize the initiative. I can still recall when the Thor release arrived at retail too much criticism around its packaging and price tag. The end result being it sat for ages on store shelves prior to selling out. Nowadays there are lotteries for such releases prior to release; how times have changed.
In April 2017, Highland Park announced a radical redesign of its range. This was the cementing of its brand as a Viking offshoot. Bottles and packaging sculpted with ancient apparel and minimal details. The groundwork was performed and quoted to highlight the historical relevance of the designs and thus underline the quality of the brand. Except nowadays when you’re sitting down with, or thinking of purchasing a bottle, I’m often left thinking what the hell am I drinking?
Sadly other distilleries I’m sure are watching the success of this Highland Park revamp with great interest. In the eyes of younger consumers, many whisky brands look a little tired and obsolete. We’ve seen similar work by Moet Hennessey around its Ardbeg and Glenmorangie distilleries. Both have achieved greater sales and success but arguably at the expense of the whisky with increasing retail prices and fewer details other than fashionable cask finishes. I’ve already been told of a notable distillery that is totally revamping its core range in 2018 and quoted Highland Park as its inspiration.
Underlying this change in tact from Highland Park and new brand is what we’re seeing and hearing from the independent sector. There are reports of vast quantities of whisky from this distillery being offered up for sale. The majority of it being of a decent age in excellent casks. Some have considered this a sign of overproduction that has prompted some distilleries to scale back their hours of operation during 2017. Upon reflection, I feel it’s more to do with the brand itself or more specifically the new brand. What is selling currently at Highland Park are concoctions using younger stock wrapped up in ancient myths and fancy packaging, with very few details provided. These are selling at price points where previous aged core releases were resident. From an external viewpoint why bother waiting for whisky to mature when there are opportunities to bottle young and on a regular basis? It sells after all. The consumer can vote with their wallet (or purse) but the current market is being propelled by the aforementioned secondary demons.
For many I know today including myself, the official range is a wasteland that holds very little interest. I’ve grown weary of scant details and average whisky. Thankfully the only positive knock-on effect of this situation is those casks being snapped up by independent bottlers. Last month I enjoyed the 2002 Orkney Whiskybase Gathering bottling and we have another here from Abbey Whisky. Edrington seems to be on the defensive when it comes to the Highland Park name – I presume refusing these independent examples to utilise their name. I don’t agree with such a restrictive practice that until recently was associated more with Balvenie, Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie plus not forgetting Glenfarclas. We can tap into the debate of informing the consumer, but until this hurdle is overcome, bottles with such non-descript names will be highlighted – as much as possible – as to their source. The funny thing is looking back over all of this, is that these independent releases are often cheaper and of better quality than many of their official brethren. Perhaps that’s why the names are withheld?
This Abbey Whisky 1999 Anon Batch 2 was bottled a day before its 18th birthday, at 53.8% strength from a refill sherry butt with an outturn of 294 bottles.
Anon Batch 2 1999 Orkney – review
Colour: a light sand dune.
On the nose: a gentle smokiness with dried cranberries, honeycomb, red apples and crackers give a prominent cereal note. Marzipan and Madeira cake bring elements of sweetness and spice. A plump blackberry jam with aniseed adds body, tobacco lingers towards the end. Adding water reveals oranges, mango and an oiliness.
In the mouth: a lingering charcoal finish, cinder toffee and a barbecue glaze with a touch of soy sauce that brings the added salty dimension. In the mix is an element of sweetness that never bursts through. The balance is excellent and the interplay between sweet, smoky, earthy and salt is captivating. Water delivers a sherry creaminess and red liquorice with a dryness on the finish.
Incredibly satisfying would be my synopsis. A good degree of harmony between the refill butt and distillery itself. Bottled a day short of its 18th birthday, it offers enough complexity and style to keep you occupied. Happily recommended and without the ridiculous branding that adorns the official range nowadays – meaning its a bit of a steal.
Colour: yellow gold.
On the nose: very coastal: salty air, with citrus, a light layer of smoke. A predominantly cereal and fruity affair – apricots, fresh green apples, with floral honey, digestive biscuits and dried tea. Vanilla comes in again, with mead, baked pears, and orange marmalade.
In the mouth: there’s a lovely viscosity and intensity to the spirit. Brine and citrus as per the nose: lime marmalade, hoppy, with a nice malty core. Toffee, and then some gentle smokiness – which merges with the maltiness very nicely. Assam tea, blackcurrants, and overall a lovely balance. Ginger on the finish, heather honey now, and the smoke peeps through.
That’s a bit nice, that one. The flavours are very complex and incredibly balanced for a single cask whisky. I think this will appeal to quite a broad spectrum of whisky lovers too – it’s not too peated, it’s not too sweet; there’s a gorgeous density to the spirit. Invigorating stuff – and yet another good release in the Anon series. Bravo. Buy it.
Note: image and sample provided by Abbey Whisky. Any commission-based links help with our hosting costs, and do not influence our reviews.