Now, this is exciting.
In my recent article on the Benromach cask strength batches 1 and 2, I asked the question if anyone was excited by Benromach. Some readers misinterpreted this as an implication that most people aren’t excited by Benromach; however, I was merely asking the question to gauge interest before delving into my own opinions.
I don’t think I’d have to go far to find cohorts of whisky enthusiasts excited by Highland Park… or should I say, excited by “Undisclosed Orkney Distillery?” The Highland Park 12-year-old is a long time staple of bottle shop shelves and has its champions, before undergoing a rebrand in 2017 to incorporate by-the numbers Viking branding.
Likewise, the 18-year-old – which years ago, for me, was one of those eye-opening events in my whisky education – also underwent a makeover into full Viking regalia. These are trusty releases that, whether or not the quality has declined (and I am not saying it has) are comfort food, in that they are reliable staples that we can return to, knowing what we will get.
The same cannot be said for the dizzying array of Highland Park travel retail and various other special releases. I’d venture that their sheer number works against building brand loyalty. Either currently or recently available on Australian retailer Nicks.com.au are the following variations of Highland Park: Sigurd, Soren Solkaer 26 year old, Wings of the Eagle, Loyalty of the Wolf 14 year old, Spirit of the Bear, Beard of the Goat, Svein, Einar, Harald, Thor, Leif Eriksson, Triskelion, Twisted Tattoo, Valfather, Valkyrie, Valknut, The Dark, The Light, Viking Honour (12 year old), Viking Scars (10 year old), and Viking Pride (18 year old).
Okay, okay – I made Beard of the Goat up. If anyone is reading from Highland Park, you can have that one for free. But what are all of these? What do they all mean? What can I expect from the Spirit of a Bear or the Loyalty of a Wolf? Is a wolf loyal? I guess so, but can you bottle that?
This is where I fall back on independent Orkney releases from trusty bottlers. North Star seem to include an Orkney in most batches. Signatory Vintage release Orkneys in the Unchillfiltered range often enough. I am usually a supporter of independent Highland Park because – say what you will about the core range – they do make some of the best distillate on the market.
I’ll admit it has been at least five years since I last bought a Highland Park official release and that was a bottle of 12-year-old purchased through loyalty points on my credit card. What is it going to take to win me back to an official bottling?
Commencing a cask strength range will go a long way to doing it. Bottling at a jolly 63.3% ABV can’t hurt. Allocating a portion of the release to Australia certainly helps. I can’t imagine these lasted long in any market where they were released. Bottles appear to have sold out in a few hours in Australia; luckily for me I checked my email at the right time to see the release announcement! Sometimes it does pay to take your eyes off your children in a playground long enough to refresh the email inbox.
This is the first ever cask strength core range release from Highland Park and they tell us there will be further editions to come. It was matured predominantly in sherry seasoned American oak casks of different ages. I cannot seem to find details around the size of the first batch, but if you know, please comment below.
This release sold for $175 Australian dollars (which would seem on the high side until you think how much they could’ve charged for it) and is now sold out from the source I purchased it from. However, other Australian retailers may obtain an allocation so keep an eye open and if interested, act fast. The Highland Park website has a RRP of £60; any UK readers can comment below if this is reasonable for that market. The expression began its international rollout in October 2020, so I imagine that in other locales, the best bet now would be auction sites.
Highland Park Cask Strength Batch 1 – Review
Colour: Deep Gold
On the nose: First impressions are that this is gorgeous. Classic tart citrus fruits such as grapegruit or lime, some eucalyptus, but then also a thick oily aroma that reveals complexity and depth. Kalamata olives in brine with marinated octopus. Cracked black pepper. Going back to the citrus there is tangerines, with some sweetness in the form of icing sugar.
In the mouth: Surprisingly light for the ABV, this slides down quite easily before the alcohol burn arrives at the back palate. This has a rich, thick mouthfeel. Apple sauce, cinnamon ice cream and vanilla beans appear. Lemon zest. After a little while, some peat comes through but in no way aggressively, in fact it dances around the edges appealingly. There is a coastal aspect here and I am reminded of wind swept off a harbour. Adding water is recommended and further brings out the peat and some campfire smoke.
This is exactly what I am looking for in a cask strength release of this nature and credit to Highland Park for clearly taking the time to craft a classy release. I wouldn’t put this quite on the same level as the Ben Nevis Cask Strength Batch 1 (are there plans for batch 2? We are all waiting, Nikka) but is it in the same ballpark? The same conversation? Yes, it is.
Good, honest releases without the need for phoney baloney Viking embellishment. Perhaps there is hope for Highland Park – not just Unnamed Orkney distillery – yet. Keep an eye peeled for more from this series.