Clutching our battered suitcase with glee and delight, the public address system welcomes us back to Orkney once again for more whisky spoils. Excluding Scapa, this is a regular destination for MALT of late, underlining the quantity of whisky that is being shipped from this distant isle.
We’ve talked biblical lengths about what’s happening to a certain distillery on Orkney and their pursuit of the dollar or another foreign currency. Propelled by their eager masters in Edrington who see this as a perfect whisky storm to build and fill a treasure vault of legendary proportions. Most of what they’ve unleashed this year has been fairly average or slightly good, consistently overpriced and full of Viking gobbledygook that does nothing to enhance the contents. In their honour, we’ve dusted down the first of several tales from Max the Viking, as this exclusive release from the Whisky Barrel lacks your daily fix of Norse fantasy.
Max the Viking had a rather comfortable life in his new homeland of Orkney following the colonisation of the islands in the 13th century. He could have returned to Scandinavia in 1468 when the islands were gifted as a dowry payment to James III of Scotland. That was still a decision which prompted much angst and peat cutting. But he felt established and the local firewater had an addictive quality compared to the garbage his father endured.
Inspired by the aqua vitae he started his own enterprise outside of the main town and enjoyed a reasonable income. A fine collection of buildings was constructed to endure the harsh Orkney conditions and a faithful horde of workers assembled; keen to claim the title of the Norse drink of the year. And for many years they went about their business of producing the whisky with efficiency, heart and soul. It proved extremely popular. Many Longships were dispatched south with their best efforts and boats came to Orkney to visit the distillery.
Any normal Viking would have been happy with the position of having a whisky of great repute and an acknowledged bastion of quality across the Norse world and beyond. Even the gods themselves were said to partake in a dram or two on occasion to celebrate Max’s good fortune. Ah yes, that fortune. Many of us would have kept the ship maintained and on course. Propelled by a fine gust of wind and strong currents, the distillery was established and the envy of many.
The Viking blood ran strong in Max and whispers of riches from further afield reached him from the mainland. Rather than keeping things as they had always been, he decided to boost production and use the good name of the distillery. Combined with the title of any Norse god, lord, an animal, a piece of land or reprobate from the dungeons to herald a new release. Max had sold himself down the Scapa but in doing so was richer than the gods themselves. The quality and reputation of the distillery was tarnished. Many regulars on the island complained about the new prices and lack of detail but Max didn’t care he didn’t need his old friends and customers. He was rich and the fools were lapping up his cobbled-together creations.
Let’s leave our greedy little Viking on Orkney for now and reach out to an independent bottling from his enterprise. An opportunity to see a whisky from this acclaimed distillery without Master Blender interference or marketing bling. Simply the whisky, untouched and in its original form.
This exclusive release is bottled by Berry Bros & Rudd for the Whisky Barrel. It’ll set you back £79.96 and was distilled in 2002 before being bottled at 15 years of age. Heralding from sherry butt #3, just 180 bottles were harnessed at a respectable 56.8% strength. Suggesting this must have been a cask split with others or it developed a sizeable leak!
The Whisky Barrel Orkney 2002 – review
On the nose: A herbal arrival and not bursting with sherry fruits initially. Dour almost. Memories of chamois leather revive and time reveals a varnish quality. Waxed apples, honey and boiled sweets. A caramel wafer and fenugreek leaves with elements of chocolate and fruit loaf spicing. Adding water brings out a vanilla sponge, grapefruit, apricots and an orange residue.
In the mouth: A very pleasing thick oozing texture. A rough sandy quality and a chewy toffee aspect. The palate is more traditional sherry with chocolate, figs, hazelnuts and honeycomb. Adding water has more benefits with a buttery popcorn, flapjacks, syrup and a noticeable smoke layer throughout.
A solid and entertaining Orkney experience. Just enough pleasing detail to keep you engaged and layers to peel away. Arguably a little more price wise than expected, but we’re now seeing the Orkney brand being given a premium boost. The knock-on effect to independents trying bottle casks like will always come at a premium as well.
As for Max the Viking I’m sure he’ll be back soon with more adventures in 2019.
Remember you can read our scoring guide.