Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Review - Highland Park Dragon Legend

The Dragon Legend is a new expression that has recently been released by the Orcadian single malt whisky brand of Highland Park. It is designed to have a 'richer and smokier flavour' than previous expressions of Highland Park and is initially exclusive to UK supermarkets, including Tesco. Dragon Legend will then be rolled out to key European markets in early 2018. The name takes inspiration from the brand's Viking heritage and the tale of the evil serpent Fafnir. It has been matured in a combination of American oak and European oak ex-sherry casks, and is bottled at a strength of 43.1% ABV. The recommended retail price is £40.

Highland Park is located on the Orkney Islands and is Scotland's most northern whisky distillery. It is located close to the capital Kirkwall. The distillery is one of the oldest still producing whisky in Scotland and was established in 1798 by Magnus Eunson, an interesting character who is said to have been known as the 'whisky priest' - this was because he was a priest by day and an illegal whisky distiller by night. Highland Park is currently owned by the Edrington Group and has an annual production capacity of 2.5 million litres. The range of single malts is extensive and covers both domestic and travel retail markets.

Our tasting notes
The colour is golden yellow and the nose is fresh and a bit feisty. There are initial prominent aromas of crisp green apple, toffee and malted cereals. There are also hints of vanilla, caramel and candied orange. The smoke seems slightly understated and has an earthy feel mixed with a touch of bonfire ash.

On the palate this whisky feels surprisingly thin. There is plenty of initial sweetness and this includes toffee, butterscotch and juicy sultanas. Joining this is the crisp, tart green apple characteristics from the nose. However, these are quickly replaced by some robust malted barley and burnt popcorn notes, plus peppery wood spices - think of white pepper, cinnamon and all-spice. There is also a bitterness that is reminiscent of walnuts and high cocoa chocolate, which is difficult to shift. The peat smoke is again a little understated and has an earthy, almost mossy quality.

The finish is very short. The sweetness fades rapidly to leave notes of crisp tart fruit and wood spices. The peat smoke has a slightly more acrid feel than on the nose or palate. The only thing that really lingers is a feisty peppery note.

What's the verdict?
We have always liked Highland Park - the 12 years old expression was one of the first whiskies to get us interested in whisky - and were intrigued when we read about this new 'richer and smokier' version. Having tried it, we feel a slight sense of disappointment. It feels neither 'richer' (the Dark Origins, for example, was definitely richer and darker in colour) nor smokier (Fire and Ice seemed smokier from memory).

It is clearly quite young whisky that has been used to create Dragon Legend. Does the fact that it is being rolled out in supermarkets mean that the 12 years old is being removed and placed solely in specialists, as other brands have done? Maybe but we hope not - the 12 years old seems better value (it is a similar price or less at most retailers) and quality. Anyone expecting a big, rich, peaty whisky may be disappointed. We say take the 'richer and smokier' headline with a pinch of salt.