2020 is a year that many of us will like to forget in an instant.
Life, fortunately, goes on for all of us. And for the fine folk at Dornoch distillery, we’ll have their debut whisky due later this year. The arrival of which, I’m happy to put above many others on my most awaited list for this year. If you’ve visited the distillery, then you ‘ll know what a special and hands-on environment this is, compared to say, the more blue totality approach of Waterford or the wonderful setting of Raasay. You’re more likely to find the head of marketing, social media and sales, head first in the mash tun, or packing palates to be dispatched abroad. I support the hands-on ethic, geeky research into yeast and barley, massively long fermentation and employment opportunities that they give to locals. In these times of whisky greed, not many distilleries would bottle their #1 cask (ex-Oloroso American oak solera butt sourced from Bodegas Robles), as a thank you to their friends, supporters and customers.
2020 also represents another milestone with the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar – a fertile whisky environment for many – celebrating its 2nd decade. The castle itself is obviously much older, dating back to the 1500s, and the bar within its historical walls is the genesis that catapulted the Thompson brothers into the world of whisky. Like many others, I’ve visited this bar for several years and even pledged my financial support to the hotel during the COVID-19 lockdown. I’m also a cask owner at the distillery, but for full disclosure, my own memories of Dornoch Castle go even further back, in fact to 2002. This was when my future wife and I, were looking for a suitable wedding venue. The castle had only just been taken over and was in the midst of upheaval with a great deal of investment and proposed refurbishment.
It was this work planned work that put an end to the possibility of it being our wedding venue. My memory is hazy, a great deal of life has passed by, but I do recall being in the bar area and discussing the finer points of venue details in the vicinity. Little did I know, what the bar was becoming or that the castle itself would become one of thee destinations for travelling whisky enthusiasts.
More so during these times, we should celebrate things however small or inconsequential. And while the existence of a whisky bar might not be a major event to many of you (especially if you haven’t visited Dornoch), bars, in general, are facing difficult times ahead. Many are closing, or won’t reopen for the foreseeable future and for those that do; everything changes. The Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar is part of the Independent Whisky Bars Of Scotland group who have brought us several exclusive releases. Single casks that have promised and delivered much. Available by the dram at these establishments or to a lucky few, a bottle to take home and explore further. I should really reach out and put together an article on these bars and the challenges that they are facing. What support any of us can offer these and our locals remains vital and appreciated.
The Dornoch Castle has reopened, aided by its generous garden space, which also serves as a backdoor to the distillery itself. There has been a multitude of Thompson Bros. releases lately and of those that I’ve had, the standard remains pleasing above the norm. Their ability to pick a cask, sell it at an accessible price, consistently delivers and many have woken up to this fact. Ensuring that new releases are very much in demand chased by an eager market.
Speaking of casks, the Independent Bars Of Scotland has worked with Edrington previously to bottle a rather fine 2003 Highland Park from a 1st fill European sherry oak puncheon. Releases such as these, remind us what the distillery is still producing, albeit the current owner prefers to utilise Viking mythology, dubious finishes and disappointing themes, rather than, just great juice. Fittingly, for the 20th Anniversary, Dornoch has picked a youngster from this distillery that has been solely matured in American oak. Nothing more, nothing less and no tampering, which seems to define the official releases nowadays.
Cask #2051 was bottled at 9 years of age in 2020. The 1st fill bourbon barrel produced 232 bottles at a robust 63.7%. The price is £80 via Dornoch for a somewhat official-looking Highland Park. I guess, if Edrington were doing more of their single cask series, this would have nudged just over £100, based upon previous experience, but as always, it comes down to the contents as well.
Highland Park 2010 For Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar – review
Colour: a light tan from the cask.
On the nose: a lovely fruity peat with floral elements. Coastal elements with sand and sea salt, buttery popcorn and sandpaper. A robust Highland toffee mingles with a Swedish Daim bar, Weetabix, struck flint, a lime cheesecake and a cloud of lingering smoke. You can add water of course, but I preferred it without.
In the mouth: not too punchy and little alcohol at this strength. A pleasing mix of toffee popcorn, oatcakes, cracked pepper and green wine gums. Buttery apples, some vanilla but a leisurely level of, pine nuts and a lovely robust peat shining
In a word, refreshing. Actually, in hindsight, this is refreshing in so many ways. Not only have I avoided mentioning those dudes in horned hats until the very end of the introduction. I’m also reminded that Highland Park can still make a whisky that delivers, even at a young age such as this. The distinctive distillery character, peat and American oak all combine extremely well.
A fitting celebration for an institution that doesn’t take itself too seriously or charges the earth. A warm welcome is guaranteed in Dornoch and many fine bars across Scotland, especially with a dram such as this. So, please support them in any way you can.
Sample and lead photograph kindly provided by Dornoch Distillery.