Saturday, February 8, 2014

New release - Highland Park Freya

This whisky is the third installment in the popular Valhalla Collection from the Highland Park distillery.  The different expressions have been released annually and all are named after Norse Gods and Goddesses - 2012 gave us Thor and 2013 gave us Loki, with the fourth and final one coming next year.  This year's bottling is named after Freya, the Goddess of Love. The series has built up a cult following and is one of the major new single malt releases in the early part of each year. 

The Highland Park distillery is located on the Orkney islands, close to the capital of Kirkwall.  It is the most northerly single malt distillery in Scotland. The Orkneys have a rich Norse heritage and history, and it is this that the brand pulls on with this and a number of its other limited edition releases such as the Warriors Series.

The distillery was founded in 1798 and is currently owned by The Edrington Group.  It has an annual production capacity of 2.5 million litres, with the majority being bottled as single malt.  This enables the brand to have an extensive portfolio of whiskies including a core range, travel retail exclusives and limited editions such as the Valhalla Collection.

The Freya is bottled at 15 years of age and at the natural cask strength of 51.2% ABV.  It is presented in a hand blown glass housed in a wooden frame, which represents the bow of a Viking long ship, like the other Valhalla Collection whiskies.  Freya is available now to pre-order through selected retailers and will be in specialists shortly.  It can also be purchased at the distillery shop and  The recommended price is £140.

Our tasting notes
The colour is golden yellow and the nose is vibrant and fresh with immediate pungent malted barley, golden syrup and gingerbread aromas.  Then come some warming woody spices, especially cinnamon and nutmeg, along with vanilla and fresh almonds. Underneath are hints of dried tropical fruit (think of pineapple and mango) and icing sugar, plus a whiff of faint earthy smoke.

On the palate, the whisky is initially hot with plenty of white pepper and earthy ginger, with a big hit of lemon zest.  This settles quickly to reveal softer and sweeter notes including golden syrup (or is it maple syrup?), vanilla, honey and sugary malty cereals.  The cereal note seems to add a creamy feel to the whisky.  An earthy smokiness begins in the background but moves forward with time, becoming more prominent, as does a lovely gingerbread note.  Underneath is a complex array of other elements which add depth - these include white chocolate, toasted nuts and bitter orange peel,  plus hints of marzipan, dried mango and cinnamon.

The finish is slightly shorter than expected but very pleasant and expressive.  The sugary/sweet notes fade to leave the bittersweet barley cereals and increasing wood spices to dry things out.  The soft earthy smoke is never far away and adds another dimension.

What's the verdict?
The Highland Park Freya is a superb whisky and in keeping with the standard of the other two previous releases in the Valhalla Collection.  It mixes plenty of complex and interesting characters, while packing a nice punch from the cask strength ABV.  The addition of water softens everything and brings the ginger and honey notes out in particular.

The first two major and eagerly anticipated single malt releases of 2014 - this Freya and the Glenmorangie Companta - have thrown down the gauntlet to any competitors.  The standard of both is very high and any future releases have plenty to contend with.  If the standard of these two whiskies is anything to go by, then 2014 could be a great year ...

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