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Watt Whisky Orkney Aged 14 Years

I make an annual trip to Orkney… kind of.

Ihave actually never been to the Orkney, nor much of the Hebrides, bar a day trip to Skye once. I consider my lack of familiarity with Scotland’s islands to be major omission from my travels, though that’s also a long list. Despite that, I have enjoyed plenty of whisky from the island, specifically from Highland Park.

However, the enjoyment of whisky is necessarily limited by good sense, personal finances, and concerns for one’s health. There’s more of it being produced and bottled than would permit a comprehensive survey. For those of us with aspirations other than being the undisputed expert on a single distillery, we’re forced to pick and choose, indulging in some while forgoing others.

The consequence is that time – sometimes a great deal of it – can fly by between our encounters with a particular whisky, or even with whisky from a particular distillery. This is the case, it would seem, with Highland Park. This is true for both me personally, as well as other members of the Malt team.

In terms of coverage of official Highland Park bottlings here at Malt: it’s been over a year since Garry last looked at the Highland Park core range and the 18 year old Viking Pride expression. Before that, you’d have to go back another year to find Mark P’s evaluation of the first batch of the Cask Strength bottling.

We haven’t done much better with the independent bottlings, to be honest. Graham tried a 14 year “Orkney” (wink, wink) as part of his review of Goldfinch’s “The Kilnsman’s Dram” selections. As for myself, it’s been more than two years since I luxuriated in the sherried goodness of Single Cask Nation’s 17 year old “Stones of Stenness,” from an ex-Oloroso barrel.

So, I am long overdue for a return to Orkney in liquid form. Fortunately, a recent cleaning out of my sample cabinet produced this bottle, sent to me a while back by Ryan (thank you, kind sir!) and forgotten until now.

Before I dive in, please permit me an extended meditation on another topic: connoisseurship. I don’t know if anyone writing on this site would proclaim themselves an “expert.” I certainly shy away from the term on the (admittedly rare) occasion when someone tries to label me with it. I have no formal qualifications for either tasting whisky or writing about it, bar my own experience.

Speaking of experience: I just noticed that this will be my 350th review here on Malt. As some of those pieces consisted of me tasting multiple drams, it’s safe to say that the number of whiskies I have formally considered during the past five years is in excess of that number. Combine that with informal tastings (at bars, during bottle shares with friends, during barrel picks, and so forth) when I wasn’t taking notes or paying close attention, and I’m probably getting up into at least the high triple digits.

So, if not a capital-E-“expert,” what would all that whisky tasting make me? I think the term with which I feel most comfortable is “connoisseur.” I have sharpened my palate and become a more discerning taster over that time. My familiarity with different geographies and styles has increased dramatically. I’ve got more of a mental library for comparison, which hopefully adds to my critical faculties, as well as giving my readers a sense of my tastes and preferences (and how they might correspond to – or differ from – those readers’ own proclivities).

I’ll caveat that by saying that being a connoisseur of whisky in a general sense doesn’t translate to being a connoisseur of every distillery that produces whisky. Even if I were to select a single distillery of any meaningful size – for the sake of this review, we’ll use Highland Park – it would be practically impossible to try every single core expression, limited edition, and travel retail exclusive currently available from that distillery. Then, consider the endless independently bottled casks (or combinations thereof) on the market. That’s to say nothing of the now discontinued bottlings from years, decades, and centuries past.

Accepting that having tried every whisky – or even a majority of the whiskies – produced by a distillery is impossible, there are still folks who have successfully established themselves as being primus inter pares in their chosen niche. Some have gone on to write entire books about their cherished distillery or expression. Their focus and dedication has made them the go-to references for questions and opinions about their areas of study.

Most of us sit somewhere in the wide gap between “total novice” and the type of “recognized authority” described above. The determinant of where we land on that spectrum is how much experience we have accumulated with whisky generally, and then on down the taxonomic ladder of whisky types (malt), countries (Scotland), regions (Island), and distilleries (back to Highland Park).

So, how much Highland Park whisky must someone (in this case, I) have tasted in order for you to trust their opinion on the merits of a single Highland Park whisky? I’ll invite you to provide your thoughts in the comments section below. As a disclaimer, I’ll add with due humility that if you’re the demanding type who insists that nothing short of encyclopedic knowledge of a distillery will do, you’re going to find me lacking in this case (and in most others). But, if you’re willing to accept that I’ve been around the block a few hundred times and can mostly distinguish between my ass and my elbow, I’ll be happy to provide you with my thoughts on this Highland Park.

As for the whisky in question: the folks at Whiskybase (from which I have borrowed the photos for this review) inform me that this came from Campbeltown Whisky Company Ltd. (CWCL), an independent bottler with which I have no familiarity whatsoever. It was distilled in 2006, aged 14 years, and “rested” for its final five months in a Ruby Port Barrique. Bottled in 2020, this comes to us at an ABV of 60.9%. It is non chill filtered and presented at its natural color. The whisky was selected by Mark Watt of Watt Whisky (this is bottled under the Watt Whisky label), interviewed here by our Mark back in 2014. This seems to be trading hands for close to €100, which is the price I will use to evaluate it.

Watt Whisky Orkney Aged 14 Years (2006) – Review

Color: A lovely medium-dark golden orangey brown. Maybe a faint shade of pink around the corona as a nod to the finishing cask.

On the nose: The port cask finish is immediately evident, but what I am struck by is the freshness of the nose. Topnotes of potpourri, mint leaf and Wine Gums candies lend this a cheery aspect at first. Sniff harder, though, and this evolves all the way down the flavor register. The nose transitions to luscious, ripe red fruit, with amply winy notes. A level down from that is the sweetness of dried fruit, reminiscent of solera matured Pedro Ximénez sweet wine. At its base, this has a meaty heft, the herbaceous scents of tarragon and anise, as well as resinous notes of pine sap and even a sticky, dark whiff of freshly tarmacked road.

In the mouth: In contrast to the sumptuous and decadent, this enters quite pertly, with a drying mineralic note and the tartness of lemon juice. This blooms with an alcoholic heat indicative of the high ABV as it moves toward the center of the mouth. There are hallmark sherry cask notes of raisins in the middle of the mouth, which yield quickly to a tingly and spicy woodiness. That tingle intensifies into the finish, where this takes on delicious notes of chocolate fudge and fruity espresso beans that linger in the mouth. That fruitiness, of a tart red variety, is the last flavor to recede as it dances with saline notes through the lingering finish.

Conclusions:

The nose and palate go in completely different directions, though I don’t mean that in a bad way. The former is more notable for the clearly delineated layers of aromatic nuance, with each element individually identifiable. The boundaries between flavors on the palate are not as clearly demarcated, though in a way that makes me want to keep sipping at this (dangerously so, given the potency of the bottling strength). The effect is one of completeness, though with periodic reminders that a good marriage of sherry cask and malt (with some added bright spots from the 5 months in Ruby Port) is so much more than just a laundry list of stereotypical notes (dried fruit, spice, and chocolate).

At €100, I’d be an enthusiastic repeat buyer of this. As a consequence, I am awarding a score equivalent to “Superb” on our Scoring Bands.

Score: 7/10

I’ve taken many trips to Orkney, but few as engaging and pleasant as this one. I may not be the Highland Park expert – or an expert in anything else – but I know a delicious and well-balanced whisky when I encounter one. As if you needed any encouragement: seek out fairly priced and high quality IB Highland Park as much as possible. Every data point in this category is a good one to add to your own personal library of whisky experiences.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Per Monnberg says:

    Dear Taylor, your evaluation of the Watt 14 yrs Orkney refers several times to sherry casks, but little mentioning of the impact of the Ruby Port cask that it was finished in. Is there no sensations of Port in either nose or palate? If that’s so, what is the idea of finishing this apparently wonderful whisky in a Port barrique?

    1. Taylor says:

      Per, a completely fair comment. In honesty, I meant to make note of the port cask , but omitted to do so during my revisions. Perhaps this speaks to the success of the cask finish, which in this case is integrated so harmoniously that it almost escapes notice? In my notes, you can clearly see some evidence of its influence (wine notes on the nose, some of the fruity aspects in the mouth), but this doesn’t have any of the ham-handedness of the overwhelming finishes on crappy whisky, of which Scotch lovers are (correctly) wary. Hope this clears things up? Cheers.

  2. Craig says:

    What a cracking bottle this was, we had this for a tasting and it was the favourite of the night for all.
    I’d suggest it’s less about independent bottlings of HP though and much more about the incredible selections by the team at Watt whisky, I’m yet to have a poor IB bottling from them

    1. Taylor says:

      Craig, appreciate your comment. As this is my first Watt selection, I’ll defer to your experience, but will definitely be on the lookout for others. Cheers!

  3. Chris Barclay says:

    Just writing Taylor to show you a hint of compassion from someone who lived over 50 years in Scotland and has visited the Orkneys and the Hebrides. Hope this helps but I spent my Honeymoon on the Hebrides (Lewis and Harris) which is on the West Coast and the Old Man of Hoy is on Orkney which is just off the North Coast. Easy for me to remember!

    The main thrust Taylor, of what you said was however 100% correct. Mark Watt has a whisky palate that guides him to rest fine whisky just enough (some months) to impart subtle changes to how a whisky smells and tastes. The signature of the original whisky distillery will however still be clearly visible. Sometimes Watt Whisky finishes the maturation for some years. A longer term finishing cask will be less active so again the changes are subtle, complexity, finish and drinkability can improve.

    Mark is sensible and only does a limited number of things as I perceive it. Three of these, cask transfer, storage and the final bottling are done by third parties because specialist facilities are essential.

    The whisky is transferred from the original cask to the final cask and put in a cool warehouse. Time passes and then using special equipment, the whisky is transferred to its final bottle.

    So what does Mark do? Basically he manages the entire process. The first decision is critical, he chooses the whisky. He has 25 years experience and during this time, thousands of bottle and cask assessments carried out. Then he has to find a resting or finishing cask and neither decision is easy. The whisky and the casks are incredibly expensive and have to be financed.

    The casks have to be sampled regularly and a spreadsheet used to keep track of how all the various casks are progressing. His previous career entailed managing thousands of casks rather than hundreds. When to bottle is another important decision Mark has the experience to take this step at the right time.

    The skill in life is not to intervene unless the time is right. Sometimes “do nothing” is a wise choice!

    So while things are quiet and the whisky slumbers the Watt Whisky team have to create their Brand and Market the whisky and that is also a tough challenge. Many thanks Taylor for bringing Watt Whisky to people’s attention. It’s a great Brand, affordable and a superb dram!

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