Monday, December 22, 2008

Have just tried ... Highland Park 18, 25, 30 and 40 years old

Highland Park was established in 1798 and is one of the oldest and best known distilleries in Scotland. Taking its name from the High Park spring which supplies water to the distillery, It is currently owned by the Edrington Group. Highland Park is the most northern distillery currently operating in Scotland, being located near the town of Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands. There are only two distilleries on the Orkneys (Scapa being the other). Highland Park is regarded by whisky drinkers as a great all-rounder and that makes it one of the best selling whiskies worldwide. It is also a major constituent in Edrington's leading blend, the Famous Grouse which is one of the best selling blended whiskies in the UK. Recently, the guys from Highland Park visited the London branch of The Whisky Shop for a special tasting evening where the older expressions from their core range were available to try.

highland park 18 years old18 years old
The nose of this is fabulous and full of dried fruit (think of sultanas), honey, sweet heather and soft peaty earthiness. On the palate, the fruit and honey are predominant and it is incredibly smooth. The smokiness is there but it does not overpower the whisky as can be the case in some of the Islay malts. The smokiness is floral (imagine heather) and light. There is also a slight saltiness (think of brine or sea air), a distinct nuttiness and some warm spices (like ginger and cinnamon or nutmeg). The combination of all these elements gives a gloriously rich, well balanced and rounded whisky. The finish is long and warm with smokiness and spiciness. This is the whisky that started my interest in whiskies and having not tried this for a long time it didn't disappoint and reconfirmed my memories. A bottle should cost between £55-60. Not a bad start to the evening!

highland park 25 years old25 years old
The colour is a darker amber than the 18 years old and the nose has less of the floral smokiness. The smokiness is still there but in the background. There is honey, some oak and vanilla, dark dried fruits (think of raisins) and a citrus note (imagine lemon zest). On the palate, the heathery, earthy smoke mingles beautifully with the creamy honey, the sherry cask fruitiness and sweet oakiness. There is also a nutty quality present which reminded me of almonds. The finish is much drier than the palate with the citrus note coming through with lots of toffee or butterscotch (i couldn't decide!). This is a complex whisky that is extremely well balanced and enjoyable. One of the best that i have tried to date. It should cost anywhere between £120-140 per bottle.

highland park 30 years old30 years old
The colour is a rich amber and the nose has more woodiness than the previous two that we had tried. There is a whiff of that sweet heathery peatiness and this is joined by some aromatic spices (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg) and something slightly bitter (like a high cocoa dark chocolate, i think). The palate is sweeter than expected with a hit of toffee and butterscotch, followed by that bitter chocolate, the floral earthiness and some citrus (oranges). The finish is also quite sweet and subtle with the smokiness coming to the fore. This seems less complex than the 25 years old but is still an pretty decent whisky and very enjoyable. A bottle should cost between £180-200.

highland park 40 years old40 years old
Now for the star of the evening. Bottles of this 40 years old whisky are rare and sell for between £800-900, so the chance to try some is not to be turned down! The colour is not as dark as you would maybe expect for a whisky of this age, due to the use of refill casks (meaning that whisky has previously been matured in the cask, so therefore the wood will have less influence on the spirit). This is important as 40 years in a fresher, newer cask would impart too much wood influence and adversely effect the flavours. The nose is delicate and aromatic with some gorgeous honey, toffee, warm spices (imagine nutmeg) and some bitter dark chocolate. The hint of sweet peat smoke that marries with these elements, means that you can happily sit with your nose in the glass and inhale for a long time without getting bored. On the palate, this is liquid gold. the first thing to get the tastebuds is a creamy, thick sweetness that has elements of burnt sugar and toffee. Then comes a tart fruitiness (reminding me of stewed fruit), followed by a subtle, sweet and floral peatiness and a citric tang (think of orange zest). The smokiness really comes out in the finish, which is long, fruity and impressive. A truly fantastic whisky that simply has to be tasted (if you can afford it!).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Have just tried ... Glenglassaugh 1984 Armagnac cask

Planet of the Grapes is a boutique wine shop located in New Oxford Street in central London. While they specialise in bringing small independent wine producers and vineyards products to a wider audience, they also do the same with selected spirits. At a recent wine tasting at the shop, an opportunity arose to try their single cask bottling of Glenglassaugh. The distillery is located on the edge of the Speyside region, close to the small town of Portsoy, approximately 50 miles to the northwest of Aberdeen. Glenglassaugh was originally opened in 1875 and had a reasonably turbulent history littered with closures and re-openings until its stills fell silent for the final time in 1986. Even during production periods, it was difficult to find any bottlings from the distillery as its primary function was to produce whisky to go into famous blended whiskies like the Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark. However, following over 20 years of mothballing (the procedure where a distillery remains intact and ready to go again, but not producing), Glenglassaugh was taken off the hands of the Edrington Group by a Dutch company called Scaent. They have completely refurbished the site and production restarted in November 2008. The distillery was re-opened by the MP Alex Salmond, the first minister of Scotland.

Planet of the Grapes have purchased just a single cask of this rare whisky and only have a few bottles left. It has been matured in an Armagnac cask, which is one of the more unusual casks for maturing whisky. The colour is a dark chocolate brown, indicating a lot of influence from the wood. The nose is rich and fruity with lots of dried fruit (think of raisins, sultanas and candied peel). On the palate, the whisky is very smooth, feeling creamy and extremely rich. That dried fruit is everywhere, especially orange candied peel and this is joined by some honey, a distinct nuttiness (walnuts, i think) and some spicy ginger. As this is bottled at cask strength (52.4% abv), i added a splash of water and this exaggerated the dried fruitiness especially. The finish was warming and long but maybe a bit bitter for my taste. It was interesting to try this but while it was a good experiment, my personal feeling was that the strength of flavour from the wood was too much and masked the whisky character. It was overpowered by the armagnac characteristics and the length of time in that cask made the finish very woody and bitter. The result is that it feels like you are drinking a stronger than usual Armagnac. If you would like a bottle, then you need to hurry down to Planet of the Grapes. A bottle will cost you £60.