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Highland Park Magnus

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.

Conclusions

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…

Jason’s score: 2/10

Rose’s score: 2/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar
    James Allsop says:

    So disappointed with anything Highland Park recently. It’s sad that they don’t seem to have realised that today’s whisky drinkers are interested in the details and that we’re wanting to spend money on tangible quality, not marketing crap. They do seem to be going through something of a stock crisis at the moment though, with so many NAS bottlings coming out and even the 12yo not being what it was 3 years ago.

    Maybe they’ll come back around in a decade or so when their levels of mature stock increase!

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi James thanks for dropping by and commenting. I share your disappointment with these releases that are brand over content. And aren’t being called out for what they are by the larger community.

      We do have a very good official single cask Highland Park review lined up later this week that restores some faith. For now. Cheers, Jason.

  2. Avatar
    NOTNICE75 says:

    Aye up, Jason! I actually live in the US – have done for nigh on twenty years now – and I can assure you that we are not privy to a lot of one-off single-cask bottlings, or really anything much beyond your standard Diageo/Edrington/Pernod output, at least not in my neck of the backwoods. This offensive HP “Magnus” is everywhere like a nasty rash though. Even on sale at <$35, it's a rip-off. I still buy most of my malt from the UK, either directly from the seller, or via my mum if I can't get reasonable shipping to the US.

    F**king Vikings, my arse.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hiya, that’s good at least you can source some quality produce from Scotland. I’m still taken by surprise by how poor this was. It’s not representative of what HP is truly about as you well know. Thanks, Jason.

  3. Avatar
    Anders Larson says:

    It is a shame about this one. Highland Park was one of my gateway distilleries and I’ll always have a soft spot for it. Being a Minnesotan of Scandinavian ancestry, I actually enjoy their new branding while also recognizing that it has no impact on the taste (and could mean that the money is going to marketing rather than the quality of the product itself).

    If Magnus was closer to $25-30 it could easily be a nice daily dram of something that you don’t feel like analyzing. But with the HP 12 at about $5 more than this, it is really difficult to choose Magnus over that. Plus I can get Talisker Storm for $30 near me, and that makes for a much more interesting and tasty daily drinker.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Anders, thanks for dropping by and commenting. Yes, its pretty competitive out there now and stuff like this which isn’t justifying the price will eventually be caught out. The HP12 is a major upgrade on the Magnus for little more. I’m sure you’re not alone in acting that way either. Cheers, Jason

    2. Avatar
      NOTNICE75 says:

      Anders Larson? In Minnesota? Of Scandinavian descent, you say? No, really? 😉

      Anders, I’m in Iowa (moved here from the UK in the late nineties), but I spend a fair amount of time up north for work, mostly in and around the cities. I like to stop in at Ace, and sometimes, mostly for nostalgic reasons, at Blue Max. You have some very decent selections up there…much better than the terrible distribution we have in Iowa.

      Cheers!

      1. Avatar
        Anders Larson says:

        Ha ha, you got it. I’m like a dime a dozen up here with my roots, but yeah, there are lots of great options for bottle shops. Ace is nice, but on the opposite end of town from me, so I don’t often get out there. Surdyk’s and Haskell’s are some of my go-to spots. Blue Max is also on my list to check out. Do they have decent prices?

        Skål!

  4. Avatar
    Greg Beaulieu says:

    Like their sister Edrington operation at Macallan, it seems HP has also lost their way. Such a shame; they used to be my favorite of all, but I have not bought their product for many years now.

    II was going to say this was their Talisker Storm, but that does the Storm a disservice, which is really saying something.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Greg, I feel your pain around Highland Park. A great distillery that has sold its Viking Soul for sheer profit. Much like Macallan. Perhaps Glenrothes will go the same way? As difficult this piece was to review and write, I do think its important that Rose and I, underlined how poor this is. Yes, I’m not huge on the Talisker NAS preferring the classic 10 or 18 for little more. Thanks, Jason.

  5. Avatar
    PBMichiganWolverine says:

    Speaking totally as an amateur photographer…these are some amazing shots. Yeah, the whisky sucks, but the pictures made up for it. For me at least 😉

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi PBMichiganWolverine, I’m sure Rose will appreciate your delight in her photographs. She’s a fantastic photographer like Noortje (@whiskylifestyle), who also writes for us. I’m amazed at what both can do with the camera.

      From my point of view when I have to write the words to accompany these stunning photographs, I feel an added sense of pressure to do them justice. Thanks, Jason

  6. Avatar
    O.W says:

    Indies are the way to go I recently enjoyed a.d Rattray cask orkney and a 15 year old creative whisky expression. The reviews for the valknut have been okay. Malt review needs go for the indies and stop the self flagellation! 🙂

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Thanks, OW, it been eventful and difficult with these official releases. For the remainder of October, we have an independent Orkney reviewed (might be a Scapa?) and an official single cask that delivers. Cheers, Jason.

  7. Avatar
    bifter says:

    I recently tried a couple of the myriad new HPs – Valknut and Dragon Legend. The Valknut was horrible, bitter and funky and worthy of a similar score to the one you guys gave Valkyrie. The Dragon Legend was, in the vein you allude to ATL, an ‘exclusive’ to Tesco stores. It was more interesting, sweet and smoky, but so young it shouldn’t have been deflowered, and certainly not deserving of a £40 premium (let alone £32 to clear).

    It’s a disappointing trend from HP. Even the 18 hasn’t been itself in recent years. Gordon Motion is a great guy to talk to at events and will profess lament at the marketing of the brand, which is no biggie if the standard of the product is being maintained. However the recent releases I’ve tried have simply been very poor, there’s no other way to put it.

  8. Jason
    Jason says:

    Hi Bifter, thanks for dropping by. Yes, I believe these releases have a certain brief. It’d be great if Gordon had an open brief to create something truly memorable.

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