Highland Park is the most northerly whisky distillery in Scotland and is found close to Kirkwall on the Orkney islands. It has grown to be one of the best selling and most highly awarded single malt whisky ranges in the world. It is currently owned by the Edrington Group and has an annual production capacity of 2.5 million litres. Highland Park is also one of the oldest whisky distilleries in Scotland and was established in 1798 by Magnus Eunson, who was known as the 'whisky priest' because he was allegedly a priest by day and an illegal distiller by night, hiding his whisky in the crypt under Kirkwall cathedral so as to escape the prying eyes of local Customs & Excise men.
The Orkney islands have a rich Norse heritage dating back to ancient times and Highland Park consistently use this as a thread through their limited edition whisky ranges. The new expression takes its name from the troublesome and mischievous Norse god Loki, who is the brother to Thor, and was known for his devious nature. This whisky is designed to reflect that character and is housed in the same extravagant wooden packaging as Thor, which represents the head of a Viking long ship. Loki and Thor will be followed by two further releases which will complete the Valhalla Collection in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
Highland Park Loki is bottled at 15 years of age and with an alcoholic strength of 48.7% ABV. It has been matured predominantly in ex-Spanish oak sherry casks, but also in casks which have previously held heavily peated whisky. It is available at specialist whisky retailers, the Highland Park distillery shop and www.highlandpark.co.uk. A bottle should cost around £130.
Our tasting notes
The colour is a dark golden yellow with a hint of amber and the nose has an initial lovely mix of fruit, spice and smoke - think especially of candied orange and lemon, cinnamon bark, cedarwood plus earthy, tobacco-like smoke. Underneath are further aromas of raisins, toffee, honey, ginger cake, dried pineapple and hints of menthol, aniseed and ginseng. Very promising indeed.
On the palate, this whisky feels viscous and rich with plenty of expressive flavours fighting for attention. There is a hit of immediate and earthy, slightly musty smoke (this is reminiscent of old cigar smoke) and as this fades the vibrant citrus notes begin to take over. There is a lovely mix of orange (this made us think of thick cut marmalade), freshly chopped lemon zest, honey and vanilla. There is also some later notes which come through - think of rum and raisin milk chocolate, toasted almonds and golden syrup. As the whisky settles in the mouth the lovely dried pineapple note from the nose comes through to add further depth, as does the earthy spiciness (think of ginger and ginseng especially) and these notes increase as it progresses in to the finish.
The finish is long and very pleasant with initial spicy and smoky notes (think of the ginger and earthy smoke in particular) fading to be replaced by the sweeter and more citrus-like elements. The orange and dried pineapple are prominent and leave their lasting impression in the mouth. A late, but small hit of aniseed and cinnamon wrap things up.
What's the verdict?
Once you cut through the marketing hype of this new Highland Park Loki, what is revealed is a very classy whisky that continues the high level of quality established by Thor. It makes you want to try the two further releases in the Valhalla Collection. Sadly, we will have to wait another one and two years respectively to do that.
Loki does seem a little smokier than most other Highland Park's that we have sampled to date, and this must be partly due to the part-maturation in casks that had previously held heavily peated whisky. As a result it offers something different to Highland Park fans and to the brand's ever expanding portfolio of single malts.
It is a lovely whisky, but if push came to shove we would have to choose Thor as our favourite of the two. Just like in the Nordic legends, Loki was never and could never be as good as Thor ... but that never stopped him trying.