Travel. An unfortunate element of life. The daily commute to the place where you’ll spend a large proportion of your existence working for someone else. Your employment might not be enjoyable or stimulating, but as I say to colleagues it enables you to be the person you want to be outside of the building.
Travel does have its pluses as my daily commute ventures across the Forth and the famed Forth Rail Bridge. Gazing out across the other bridges or towards the North Sea helps put things in perspective. Then, we ease past Edinburgh airport where others – arguably more fortunate – are travelling further afield, or arriving in Scotland to start their own personal journey around whisky.
Travel also means the joys of travel retail and if you’re here reading this now, whisky. The current situation in duty-free – or whatever terminology you wish to use – is that most of what’s on the shelves is fairly tepid and true bargains or worthwhile experiences are as rare as a free upgrade to 1st class. My own fortunes in this environment are mixed as you can see from my 2 recent purchases of the Glen Grant 10 year old and the Grant’s Elementary Carbon 6 year old. This underlines the risks and rewards of impulse purchases and why quite possibly you’re reading this article standing in an airport looking for pointers.
We’re well versed in all things Highland Park here at MALT with a thriving assortment of reviews from this iconic Orkney distillery. And if there’s one thing that the owners, Edrington, know how to do is brand and utilise retail channels including travel retail. The Warrior series that has been a staunch presence in this sector since 2010 is being retired from active service. Instead in its place, we have 4 new bottles created by master blender Gordon Motion. Based around an animal concept this caters for a trio with the 4th being an 18 year old travel edition of the Viking Pride bottled at 46% strength. The animals will be making their debuts across Europe now and venturing into Asian and Middle Eastern airports by September, which is when we’ll be seeing the elusive 18 year old.
The team at Highland Park kindly sent over the animal theme representatives although an error at the fulfilment centre means the 14 year old Loyalty of the Wolf has escaped our clutches for now. When it has been hunted down we’ll review it for you. In the meantime, we have no age statement Spirit of the Bear and the 16 year old Wings of the Eagle to sit down with. The Bear is the odd bottle out as it lacks an age but we must acknowledge the general move by Highland Park back towards stating the age of their whisky. This can only be a good thing for us all.
Details on the specifics including price are missing from my information pack, which is disappointing as the price is a huge factor for us. Instead, all I can advise is the Bear has been designed to underline a smokiness thanks to the Orkney peat and is mainly matured in sherry-seasoned American Oak casks – PR speak for rinsed – and bottled at 40% strength. The Eagle meanwhile is matured in a combination of sherry-rinsed European and American Oak casks before being bottled at 44.5%. Both whiskies are naturally coloured and as there’s no comment around non-chill filtered we’ll leave that down to you to decide.
Upon some investigation reveals that the Spirit of the Bear will cost you £44 for a litre and the Wings of the Eagle £79.
Highland Park Spirit of the Bear – review
Colour: white gold
On the nose: there is a floral peat here but not the massive smokiness I was expecting from the blurb. Time reveals more of a wisp of smoke. Olive oil, margarine highlight a slight oiliness followed by dried apple slices, wood shavings, a decayed vanilla and plain popcorn. It’s a bit meh and inoffensive which takes me back to how much? Maybe things will improve with water? Not really, some ginger and a baked potato if that’s your thing and a light honey.
In the mouth: this is very vapid and fleeting, almost neutral for a whisky. It just does very little and then its gone. I’d have never picked this out as a single malt from Highland Park. It is 40% to water down the youthfulness of the spirit and that alcohol edge that tries to stomp through the limited flavours on display. Vanilla biscuits, a light caramel and a puff of smoke at a push. With water it really suffers, suggesting this youngster is taut and fragile at 40% and is a real disappointment.
Highland Park Wings of the Eagle – review
On the nose: toffee and chocolate with playdough and hazelnuts. I’m digging deep here, as it’s not offensive just rather pedestrian. A nice touch of honey, that wisp of smoke again, an expired cinnamon spice, maple syrup and dried apricots. Adding a touch of water reveals tobacco and an earthiness.
In the mouth: a better texture and immediately, it has more to say than the whimpering bear. A chocolate brownie, crushed walnuts and a medium peppery finish. More honey and nutmeg but not a massive development. Water delivers a more resinous quality, toffee apples and chocolate notes.
The least said about the Spirit of the Bear the better. It gives the aforementioned Grant’s Carbon a run for its money. I can only envisage it’s been created to fill a market gap or an annoying retail void. Like a massive chasm in a sewage plant it’s not somewhere you should venture nor recommend.
Unsurprisingly, the Eagle is a step forward but not a huge improvement and still suffers because of the cask implementation and lower strength. There are flavours but these don’t entice or land any throat punches if you truly know what Highland Park can deliver. Would I pay £79 for it? It is debatable, so not an outright no from me.
Here’s hoping the wolf has more gusto when its captured.