Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New releases > Highland Park Earl Haakon

The Earl Haakon is the much anticipated new release from the Highland Park distillery.  It is the third and final edition in their Magnus series - the first two bottlings (Earl Magnus and Saint Magnus) - celebrated the influential 11th century Viking Magnus (the clue was in the name!). This one is named after Magnus’ deceitful cousin Haakon, who was extremely violent as legend says and actually ordered Magnus’ death. Therefore, this new whisky is said to highlight the darker and more sinister nature of its namesake. The Earl Haakon is 18 years of age, is bottled at a cask strength of 54.9% ABV and the limited release consists of 3,300 bottles. These will be available shortly from specialist whisky retailers for £160 a bottle, which is made of handsome black glass.

Highland Park distillery is located on the Orkney islands to the north of the Scottish mainland and is the most northern whisky distillery in Scotland. In fact, it is one of the most northern distilleries of any kind in the world, beating others in Canada and Russia. Highland Park is located close to the capital of  Kirkwall and is one of only two distilleries on the main island (Scapa being the other). Highland Park is also one of the oldest whisky distilleries in Scotland - it was established in 1798 by Magnus Eunson. The award winning range makes Highland Park one of the best selling single malt whiskies in the world. It is currently owned by the Edrington Group and has an annual production capacity of 2.5 million litres.The core range is extensive and covers numerous age points and these are joined by a Duty Free/travel retail exclusive range, which are selected from specific vintage years.

Our tasting notes
The colour of the Earl Haakon is a golden amber and the nose is clean, expressive and oozes quality.  There is a lovely sweetness initially, which is reminiscent of slightly burnt brown sugar or caramel.  This sweetness carries on but is joined by other aromas - plenty of wood spice (oak, cedar wood, ginger), dried fruit (especially candied orange peel), damp woody smoke and wet cereal grains.  These all add depth and intrigue to the nose. On the palate, the whisky is immediately warming with more of the damp woody smoke in evidence than the nose suggested.  This soft smokiness combines superbly with some decent sweetness (again driven by caramel, brown sugar and soft dried fruit, especially sultana) and a lovely, intense spiciness which grips your taste buds (think of cedarwood, ginger and robust cereals).  Underneath are subtle notes of tangy orange zest and fresh peach.  The finish is very long and is sweet to begin with (that caramel again).  Then come some bittersweet cereal notes, before it turns dry with plenty of the oak spices evident.  The soft wood smoke compliments this and lingers for a good five minutes or so.

What's the verdict?
The Earl Haakon is a very interesting and well balanced whisky.  Having not tasted the first two releases in the series, we cannot compare it to them but this whisky stands up well on its own anyway.  It combines richness, sweetness, spiciness and a decent level of smokiness - all characteristics which Highland Park is well known for and for which they consistently win awards.  The whisky also stands up well to the addition of water, which softens the spicy and smoky notes but enhances the delicious caramel-like sweetness.

1 comment:

James Ferguson said...

This sounds very good!