To quote a recent introduction, it only feels like yesterday that I was writing about a batch of releases from the Thompson Brothers, because in reality it truly was! This is an unexpected review, the article that never was, or never should have been. That is, until something really weird happened and now I find myself reviewing this mysterious Orkney release.
This Highland Park – lets call it what it is from now on – was released around the same time as the Ardmore 21-year-old. Shortly afterwards we started receiving queries from readers regarding our review of the 20-year-old Viking offering? We have covered an earlier Highland Park release from Dornoch with the splendid dragon label, but not this cutesy new incarnation. Looking into such queries further, it transpired that the retailer, Wood Winters, was quoting us directly as a source for their quote of the full menu by Malt Review, despite us never having reviewed it.
A bizarre situation and one that underlines arguably how respected our opinion is nowadays? We haven’t approached the retailer for an explanation, but if they do want to offer one then the comments field is open below and waiting for business.
The Ardmore has sold out since our review and if you did make the purchase, then I hope you really enjoy what was a pleasurable whisky. We reluctantly admit, we do have some influence here. We don’t give out high scores like sweeties and we don’t hide behind 83, 84, 85 or whatever. Giving such a score might prompt a purchase and we take responsibility, but we cannot help the actions of others.
Firstly, I’d like to apologise to anyone who purchased a bottle on the basis of any quote. Then, to those that dropped by (as no direct link was provided, which was a hint in itself) and began searching for our verdict. It’s because of you that I am now up at an early hour and facing the prospect of writing about Highland Park yet again – sláinte!
Needless to say, I have very little on my mind about Highland Park whatsoever. There is no doubt independent releases such as this truly showcase the nature and promise of what Highland Park can deliver. The official range is chasing new money in fancy branding and an ever-decreasing plummet in quality. Poor concepts fuelled by marketing design and haphazard blending, result in a rather weary and battered Viking exterior.
Despite these things – I hesitate to call them whiskies at times – polluting the good name of Highland Park, we still have access to the good stuff. Whether you want to call it Kirkwall, Orkney, Idle Stones Left by men with axes, or whatever doesn’t matter. Highland Park, or Edrington, can hide behind their branding and refuse the indies permission to use the name, but it is a poor decoy. Stromness is no longer producing and when was the last time you stumbled across and independent release of Scapa? Chivas seem to keep their casks from the distillery under a strict level control that Boris Johnson would approve of.
At times, superior doesn’t even cover the contrast between an indie release and an official Highland Park and they know it at Edrington HQ. Hence why they hide behind the aforementioned stones and leave indies such as the Thompson Brothers to deploy Katie to come up with all sorts of imaginative labels. Despite my festering plague-like disappointment with all things officially Highland Park, the prospect of an independent release still prompts excitement. Because, Highland Park, for all the exterior nonsense can still produce an excellent whisky.
Following all the above retailer drama, Phil at Dornoch kindly sent down a sample so we could provide the full menu review. Also included was a forthcoming release sample that I’m excited about and it may appear below as a bonus; or feature on its own. Let’s wait and see. For now, this Highland Park is bottled at 20 years of age and 49.5% strength. The refill hogshead provided us with a mighty 353 bottles and is still available directly for £120, or via retailers with fake quotes.
Thompson Bros. Orkney 1998 – review
Colour: a light haze.
On the nose: Shortbread, sea salt crisps and creamed corn. A gentle current of apples and limes reside underneath. A little earthy, sunflower oil, fresh vanilla pod and pineapple cubes. Lemon tea, wood shavings, toffee, peanuts, a used shammy, pine nuts, some waxiness and a waft of smoke.
In the mouth: solid without being explosive or thrilling. Crackers, caramel, vanilla and a hint of subtle peat. Popcorn, some floral heather with a sappy nature and more apples. More smoke, cask char and a hint of orange with honey.
An enjoyable Highland Park, the nose is terrific and matches the gorgeous label. The palate itself is pleasurable and really warrants futher investigation. A very easy drinking example from this distillery, that benefits from being matured in an ex-bourbon hogshead. I’m sure many out there will appreciate the break from sherry cask matured Highland Park’s.
In a few years time, this might have been the full menu, but for now it’s a lovely aperitif.