There’s this common belief that most countries keep the best liquid for themselves. The wines, rum, cognac and whatever else remain firmly within the national border for their own consumption. Perhaps a grain of truth does exist to justify this belief and foreign travel does open your eyes to the possibilities.
Except that is when it comes to whisky or Scotch to the foreign contingent. We love to share. This includes some of our best distillery wares; going so far as exclusive casks or specifically themed releases. For instance, the sheer amount of Springbank fans resident in the UK who have lamented the loss of bottles being shipped abroad. This ill feeling for want of a better phrase – I doubt death threats or acts of violence have been issued yet – comes about with the struggle to acquire your own bottle fit for consumption.
A single cask or a limited release is exactly that. You cannot produce more bottles when the outturn is stated. Divide that figure by the number of stores and international markets you need to support – each clambering for more bottles – and it is a difficult situation for any producer. Fuelled by the current vogue for investment and flipping, or with some enthusiasts stockpiling several examples thereby denying others. Demand is good for business. Trying to satisfy and ensure a fair allocation for all is a pain in the butt.
Helping my sister do a foreign store shop underlined the limited choices abroad and the sheer cost of the bottles on display. Sure, I agree, an American may stumble across a single cask exclusive in a random store and hasn’t fought tooth and nail for the same opportunity that you or I would in the UK. But truthfully who cares? I don’t and luck has a way of evening itself out. I’ll find that bottle when I’m not looking for it or a friend casually offers me the opportunity. I’m forever saying you cannot have them all. Look after yourself, your bank balance and your liver.
Specific market exclusives are a growing opportunity for whisky distilleries. Edrington has already mastered the art often by releasing specific Macallan’s in a timed fashion across the globe. Whisky is an international business now and this includes collectors and investors and flippers who will seizure on the opportunity to buy first and sell ahead of the curve. The same logic applies to Highland Park who has been releasing country-specific single casks and even state specific exclusives.
This spreads the Viking love juice as far and as wide as possible.
For the collectors it’s another hurdle but one they delight in overcoming. For Highland Park, the cask becomes a vessel to new publicity and revenue. Casks that have been idly maturing in Orkney or elsewhere without a predetermined destination can now be deployed. Eventually, we’ll have exclusives for housing estates or a free bottle when you purchase that Viking themed armchair or barbeque.
Except the type of exclusive we have here is one that potentially breaks the norm. A North American exclusive without an outturn or an age statement. Basically, the whisky equivalent of a Viking raid. A young fiery spirit that can be produced on a large scale whilst denying the customer any knowledge of what is contained within. Already these potential consumers are aware of the brand itself or even loyal to it. The fact that this is a Highland Park for their own market brings a sense of pride, or to the cynic a degree of whisky blindness.
Step forth the Highland Park Magnus. There are no details other than this one is for you. It has a natural colour and features a combination of sherry-seasoned American oak casks and refill ex-bourbon casks. There’s a Viking story of course but lets skip that as it means nothing.
Those with a long memory will remember that we’ve previously had a Magnus collection from Highland Park before and this release bears no relation to it. Arguably could this be a sign that finally, the Vikings are running out of tales? Those previous Magnus releases were reasonably enjoyable and a particular bottle holds a special memory for me. I actually donated one to a friend who worked in the industry and had at the time lost a relative to cancer. Extremely impressed by the care from the Marie Curie nurses he wanted to say thank you by raising some much-needed cash. The bottle was valuable and my generosity overshadowed many companies and distilleries who offered very little or nothing at all when approached. So whenever I think about the Magnus name I recall that good deed and my friend’s reaction to my donation. A good memory and cause. Let’s hope this Magnus keeps the flame burning.
As a North American exclusive, this is firmly out of reach for many onlookers, which might be a good thing once we’ve tried it. Retailing for $39.99 it’s far from expensive but is bottled at a tepid 40% strength and is a No Age Statement release and that’s pretty much it for whisky details. A crying shame given the Vikings were likely exponents of transparency and yet here the consumer doesn’t really know what’s in the bottle. MALT is all for a bit of mystery and intrigue but at some stage, details need to be provided.
My thanks to Rose (@fromwhereidram) for the opportunity to review yet another Highland Park and the stunning photographs. To share the joy she’s contributed her own notes upon my request.
Highland Park Magnus – Jason’s review
Colour: Fresh pine wood.
On the nose: Honey vanilla flapjacks and flower petals. Oddly wet socks and a mild cheddar take over. A really badly made i.e. timid marmalade bought from a Primary School fete with a weak and vapid sense of orange. Then more vanilla and honey – is this a bourbon in disguise? Washing up liquid and vomit residue from the day after i.e. something really offensive at the core of this nose.
In the mouth: Oh my god. Almost nothing, zilch, zero, feck all. Criminal. Like a cheap blend that’s been watered down to 20% to appreciate the core vanilla characteristics except no one is home in flavour town. Murdered. A rich tea biscuit so a cereal note, a sense of Grouse grain with a murky faded peat edge and wisp of smoke. Don’t add water ‘cos at 40% we’ve already abandoned any sense of detail.
Highland Park Magnus – Rose’s review
Colour: Bosc pear.
On the nose: A whiff of diluted vanilla and caramel, weak mint tea and a fermented funkiness like bread and butter pickles and rotting golden delicious apples. Untoasted Wonder bread straight from the bag sitting on the counter on a warm day; almost moldy.
In the mouth: A very thin and watery mouthfeel. At first, the taste is indistinguishable but with some time, subtle floral smoke moves in slowly, a taste of a candle fragrance named Leather & Vanilla, then lemon cupcakes drizzled with a powdered sugar icing dusted with fresh cracked pink peppercorn, finishing with a drying earthiness.
Mixed thoughts here regarding this Highland Park. Firstly, it is shit. Almost an anti-HP or HP-lite it offers nothing to suggest what once made this distillery great. I’m actually raging. Especially after reading an article today where a brand ambassador was exclaiming about the premiumisation of the brand and how it has become a USP. Come on seriously? There’s no defence here.
We ship this stuff to North America as an exclusive and I’m surprised a war hasn’t kicked off. I wouldn’t blame Trump if they did take up arms; this is seriously bad and offensive. But Edrington seems quite happy to ship out this young, flavourless liquid under the Highland Park name.
My initial reaction was to score this a big fat Viking 1. I rarely score whisky this low yet the palate didn’t offer the bizarre elements of the nose. If it had, then it’d be disgusting and warranting such a score. Rose also felt a 2 was generous, but that she could drink something worse in the future and as such it just scrapes…