Orkney Island’s God of Thunder “Thor” 16 year 52.1%

The last in our evenings explorations was actually the start of Highland Park’s Valhalla series with Thor, God of Thunder. Cue visions of Vikings, the sound of swords and shields clashing, wind whipping through wild hair as a longship gathers speed with crashing waves.  In keeping with the theme, it is packaged in a wooden frame styled after the prow of a viking longboat.

And the crazy thing? Clearly the Valhalla quartet (Thor, Loki, Freya, Odin) captured some collectors imagination. The Thor alone has auctioned for £490!

None of this we knew before we tried it, sampling blind to see what we thought of the whisky irrespective of origins.

Highland Park Thor 16 year 52.1%

  • Nose – Initially sharp, soap, then roasted pineapple, black liquorice, not so many layers yet something unique, teasingly uncommon, fruit, floral, talcum powder, one even suggest fahrenheit perfume! Then shifted into green pears, baked apple pie…. After the 1st sip, all the interesting elements disappeared, shifting into burnt sugar and walnut shells
  • Palate – Lovely on the palate, a tingly spice with pepper, sweet cloves, allspice, like a masala chai, just a hint of smoke, well finished with character yet surprisingly thin, like it is skirting on the surface, lacking depth, body and those critical mid-notes
  • Finish – Again a lovely finish with a hint of spice
  • Water – Really opens it up, adds the missing ‘mid’ level to the palate, tempers and rounds out the spice allowing the gentle smoke to join in harmony. With water the whisky now feels complete with a good mouthful, a bit of rubber and other elements joined which gave more depth to the ram. From our perspective, a bit of water is a “must add” for this whisky to truly reveal its character.

We began to speculate and debate…

  • We could tell this clearly wasn’t a ‘green’ young whisky though not very old either – hence guesses in the 16 year range were thrown about.
  • We also thought it began in an ex-bourbon cask the had a sherry finish thing going on…
  • From a strength perspective, we thought perhaps 46 – 48%

What mattered most is some really like it – finding it the kind of whisky that welcomes you home after a long journey. There was some debate whether the nose or palate was the best part.

With the reveal, we discovered we were spot on with the age, off with the strength and hard to tell for the casks as the details are not disclosed.

However the real surprise? The price. £490/$685. Yikes! There is nothing about this whisky that pushes it into that territory. For our original group, this must be one of the most expensive bottles shared.

And yet this is what clever packaging, keeping an edition “limited’ (i.e. 23,000), released in 2012 followed by others to create a quartet, managed to accomplish – transporting a rather nice whisky into the ridiculous range.

Are we glad we tried it? Absolutely! However for our merry Mumbai malt aficionados, our explorations and adventures will continue… in a more affordable vein!

What else did we try in our explorations (and distraction with packaging)?

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Sailing to the Isle of Mull – Tobermory 15 year 46.3%

After an expedition with Shackleton, our blind tasting sailed off in a different direction…. This time to the Isle of Mull with Tobermory…. Here is what we found…

 

Tobermory 15 years 46.3%

  • Colour – Dark gold or copper
  • Nose – Copper, spice, sulfur, chawanprash, herbal spice, salty brine, peanuts, leather couch, round, polished yet piquant, seems like it may be thick and oily, almost like marmite… After sipping became quite honey sweet
  • Palate – Sweet, then spice like a brushfire, hard to pinpoint the cask influence – almost like muscatel, dry, a delicious honey sweet, velvety, silky toffee with a decent mouthfeel
  • Finish – Bit of spice, bitter end…
  • Water – Spices go way up, looses the mouthfeel, just don’t

Not complex, just sweet, no depth, a single track character however the more you sip, the more it grows on you. Truly – it was one where you found your hand unconsciously reaching back for more… We also struggled to assess the cask – it seems like it was bourbon with a sherry finish or something else.

And with the reveal?

Aha! From the Isle of Mull, Tobermory is a distillery we’ve inadequately explored and tended towards the peaty Ledaig variant. It seems it was matured in Gonzalez Byass Oloroso sherry casks, however wasn’t clear if this was for a finish alone or not.

Here is what they have to say:

  • Nose:  A lovely sherried nose with notes of figs, orange marmalade, hints of leather and a touch of smoke.
  • Palate:  Medium to full bodied.  Rich sherry fruit cake, milk chocolate, creamy toffee, light oak, a hint of white pepper creating a lovely spicy tang.
  • Finish:  Softly spicy, tingling with a nutty note, a hint of salt, lingering then gently fades.

After the exuberant packaging of the Shackleton, the photo and card with the Tobermory seemed tame. The wooden carrier, with a carving of the Isle of Mull was a nice touch.

What all did we try in our explorers evening?

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Explorers – Shackleton, Tobermory, Highland Park Thor

One of the reasons we love tasting blind is we can explore a whisky without being influenced by previous experience with the distillery or marketing paraphernalia. For our February 2018 session, this came in handy… as the theme of the evening ending up being the whisky packaging!

What all did we try?

  • Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Shackleton “The Journey” 47.3%
  • Tobermory 15 years 46.3%
  • Highland Park’s Valhalla Series “Thor” 16 year 52.1%

Did I mention the marketing? Just wait to see the booklets, photos, special boxes and more!

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Douglas Laing’s Island Blend Rock Oyster Cask Strength 57.4%

Our Douglas Laing’s Remarkable Regional Malts explorations continued with the Island blend… this time from the Cask Strength edition.

Rock Oyster Cask Strength 57.4%

  • Nose – Had a similar yoghurt quality, yet with more character and oomph! than the Timorous Beastie, zest of lemon rind, barley, young, mild yet fruity – particularly melon, some smoked sweet bacon or other sweet meats, agave then quite a bit of brine
  • Palate – Nice spice, sweet, skirting on the surface, amazingly balanced, nothing harsh, a hint of pipe tobacco, honey, cherry bokum pickle, ginger, briney
  • Finish – Nice long finish, salted caramel, cinnamon, sawdust, for some too salty on the finish for many
  • Water – Opens up more, removes the edge, salty, adds a dash of cayenne, paprika, makes it smoother

There was a sense that this is from a similar ‘family’ as the Timorous Beastie however also had its unique variation, like siblings.

Many found Rock Oyster just like one would expect from the name, salty raw oysters, the feel of being on a boat, the distinctive pervasive smell of barnacles, a tidal pool of salty whisky.

At cask strength, it is also very deceptive, giving no hint of the power behind its smooth briney swish.

There was a clear divide between those who enjoy salty whiskies and those who do not care for this maritime style.

Here’s what they have to say:

Introducing Douglas Laing’s Rock Oyster Cask Strength; the super-charged partner to the original Rock Oyster bottled at 57.4% ABV. Containing the finest Malt Whiskies from Scotland’s Whisky Islands, including those distilled on Islay, Arran, Orkney and Jura, this Limited Edition delivers a massive amplification of all those coastal qualities from the original Rock Oyster.

Tasting notes:

Anticipate a blast of sea air on the nose and a tempestuously oceanic storm on the palate. Rock Oyster Cask Strength delivers a big peat hit full of Islay phenols, iodine and coal dust, with a shake of pepper softening to a distinct honey sweetness from the Arran casks. The Isle of Jura brings waves of citrus and barley to the mix, and Orkney fetches up some salt from the deep.

Photo: Nikoulina Berg

What were the whisky blends explored?

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BMC Peat Unusual – Alisa Bay, Ledaig “Very Cloudy”, Loch Lomond Peated, BenRiach 25 Peated

It is finally slipping into “winter” (by Indian standards), with the pollution smog haze rarely lifting, and somehow the weather and climatic conditions seem to be influencing whisky preferences… to peat. And no ordinary peat… an exploration of a few whiskies one would not normally have on the top peat picks list from regions not immediately associated with peat. Because why should our familiar friends over in Islay corner the market when other options exist?

As this was a BMC session, we had no pretence of hiding the bottles… instead merrily dove in to our discoveries eyes wide-open!

Our “peat unusual” whiskies….

Our host shared that it began with the BenRiach 25 year peated… and morphed from there… each selected to be peat with a twist. For example, you don’t typically find BenRiach whiskies peated… Then it continued with Loch Lomond – again not normally peated. So why Ledaig you may ask? By their “nature” Ledaig is Tobermoray’s peaty whiskies. Yes indeed. However the “Very Cloudy” Vintage 2008 is known to have a lighter dusting of peat rather than full force peat. And Alisa Bay? Not only is it newer to market as a single malt, it breaks with typical Lowland convention to combine peat with sweet…

Read on over the coming days to see what we found…

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Peaty Mini – Ledaig 10 year 46.3%

Last in our peaty persuasion session of miniatures was the Ledaig 10 year. This certainly wasn’t my first brush with Tobermoray Distillery’s peaty product… a few years ago my 1st introduction was to a Gordon & MacPhail Ledaig 1997, then our original club sampled the Ledaig 18 year and last summer I picked up the Ledaig 10 year in Winnipeg.

Ledaig 10 year 46.3%

Here’s what we found:

  • Nose – Dry hay, farm peat, invitingly sweet, grassy
  • Palate – Peat spice, balanced and straight forward
  • Finish – Warming… like being wrapped in a nice warm fuzzy blanket

Overall we put this in the category of a quality bar standard – one to keep in your cupboard and trot out for folks who are getting to know their whiskies and interested in exploring further…

We sampled from a sample from closed miniature in October 2017 purchased from The Whisky Exchange for approximately $6.

And what else did we sample in our merry mini malts evening?

And here’s more malt miniatures from my The Whisky Exchange:

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Highland Park Einar 40%

Einar is part of Highland Park’s warrior series – created for duty free with a figure from Orkney’s Viking history.

Highland Park Einar 40%

  • Nose – Peat?? Sweet but not overly sweet, grain, fairly reticent with soft vanilla, hint of smoke
  • Palate – Soft peaty, very accessible, lures you in
  • Finish – Increasing peat then dissipates
  • Water – Adding water makes it taste less like water, with a spicier palate

Overall it was easy to drink, enough sweet and light peat to be Highland Park, but for us, it clearly fell into the category of Duty Free No Age Statement (NAS) palate or, to use our newly coined term, was quite NASPy.

Here is what the folks over at Highland Park have to say:

The joint Earl of Orkney from 1014, EINAR was a bold and ruthless warrior and ruler, renowned for venturing on long and daring voyages and clearly distinguishable by his mighty axe.

Matured in Sherry seasoned American and European oak casks, the warm flavours of zesty dried orange peel and vanilla pods sweetly unfold in each dram of EINAR.

And Highland Park’s tasting notes:

  • Appearance: Rich golden, clear and bright
  • Nose: Pineapple, spicy, wood smoke, dried peel and golden syrup
  • Palate: Initially smoky and vanilla, citrus peel develops 
  • Finish: Vanilla sweetness and lingering smokiness

Curious about other Highland Park whiskies sampled?

I sampled it initially from a freshly opened bottle in a social context in August, then later with friends in September 2017 from a mini sample taken from the same bottle.

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Highland Park 12 year 40%

I will admit to being wary about trying Highland Park. Once upon a time the Highland Park 18 year was a favourite and regularly found in my whisky cabinet. However first the prices shot up, then it simply could not be found readily. What I could afford from the vintage series was a disappointment, the last of which kicked around in my cabinet was the Highland Park 1998.

Since then, I’ve watched as a whole series of Viking theme related NAS prance around and have been… well… reluctant… Breaking my Highland Park drought only with a mini of MacPhail’s Orkney 8 year, until this Highland Park 12 year arrived as part of our monsoon malts evening

Highland Park 12 year 40%

  • Nose – Sweet water, honey, fruits, cashew feni, faint esters, an almost chemically fruity, then started to open up to reveal fragrant heather, light spice and a puff of smoke
  • Palate – Light on the body, warm smoke. If you hold in your mouth for some time reveals sexy peppers, chocolate and more, honey, fruits and mildly malty
  • Finish – Bitter, spice, smoke… long finish
  • Water – Though sounds like a contradiction, a few drops improved the body and mouth feel, tames the spice, reveals sweet coffee

It honestly has been many years since I sipped a Highland Park 12 year, with my earlier impression of a decent dram but the 18 year? Oh the 18 year! That was a beaut!

And yet, as I continued to sip the 12 year, could find shades of those memories of the early favourite 18 year. Which was part of that tipping point from “Yeah, sure, I like whisky” to “Hmm… let me take some time to really pay attention to the different elements.”

So the verdict on the Highland Park 12 year? It is definitely a decent dram and worth a revisit.

Here’s what they have to say about it:

The heart and soul of Highland Park, VIKING HONOUR is a perfect harmony of aromatic smoky peat, sweet heather honey and rich fruit cake.

  • Flavours – Heather honey | Rich fruitcake | Winter spices | Seville oranges | Aromatic smoky peat
  • Try with – Haunch of venison, chocolate ginger biscuits, soft cheeses such as French Brie and even Japanese sushi and wasabi (yes, really!)

Other whiskies sampled in our Mumbai monsoon malts evening included:

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Monsoon malts and more…

I love this part of monsoon – the temperature dips, the rains have a wildness and for a bit of time, we have just the right conditions to curl up indoors and enjoy a good dram.

So one fine Friday night, I and two whisky afficianados found ourselves free to explore a few interesting whiskies… just because.

What all did we sample?

Oh yeah, and an absolutely undrinkable chilli rice-whiskey from Laos… Plus an impromptu chilled cocktail playing around with the Eddu’s unique qualities.

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The Arran Port Finish 50%

Funny how sometimes chance encounters lead to wonderful discoveries. I happened to meet a Scot who keeps criss-crossing between India, UK and other ports of call.

He ever so kindly offered (or did I weedle an offer?) to pick up something on his next trip to Edinburgh. He asked if there was anything specific I had in mind and rather than rattle of a series of well known options, suggested he take a peak at the list of whiskies tasted til date and surprise me!

That he did indeed… with my first Arran whisky from Lochranza in the Highlands.

This particularly bottle joined a special NAS evening with our original tasting group, sampled blind before the great reveal..

The Arran Port Finish 50%

  • Nose – Starts with tight dry berries, then rounds out into a bouquet of fruits, shifting from berries to summer orchard fruits then slipping into tangy citrus orange, finally settling into stewed fruits like plums with a drizzle of dark molasses, even a hint of toasted hazelnut, gives the impression of body just on the nose
  • Palate – After such a sweet nose, such an unexpected SPICE! With dried red sour plums or gooseberry. A nice oily element too.
  • Finish – Bitter spice finish, stays surprisingly long
  • Water – Adds a little something – much spicier in a good way that brings out a nice cinnamon spice

As we speculated what this whisky could be, we realized it didn’t neatly fit into standard categories. The colour had hints of ruby to the extent that one wondered if it was “suspect”…

With the reveal there was quite a bit of surprise – it was remarkably smooth for 50%, the port cask finish helped explained many of the different elements – including the colour which has nothing beyond the cask involved!

We even had a member quite familiar with Arran in our midst who hadn’t connected the style of the Port Finish with the standard age statement Arran’s or their peaty Machir Moor.

Here’s what else the Arran team have to say about this whisky:

After initially maturing in traditional oak casks for approximately 8 years, the Arran Single Malt in this bottling was finished in the highest quality Port wine casks from an artisan producer of this iconic Portuguese fortified wine. Our Master Distiller, James MacTaggart, has carefully monitored this period of secondary maturation to ensure the perfect balance is struck between the Port casks and the intrinsic sweet-fruity character of The Arran Malt. The end result is a Single Malt full of charm, complexity and quality and an extremely popular part of our range.

  • Colour: Deep Bronze
  • Nose: Vanilla spice and ripe citrus running into dried fruits and nuttiness. With a splash of water more depth of mandarin citrus with fudge and honeyed notes
  • Palate: Layered fruits and spice combine, with cinnamon baked apple wrestling with raisin and plum pudding. The dram opens out to reveal warming barley and a hint of sweet pear
  • Finish: A classic Single Malt with punch that dances on the palate. The trademark Arran barley-sweetness shines through the layers of complexity

What else did we try in our NAS evening?

Pssst – In Mumbai, you can get Arran 14, 18 & Machir Moor in India through The Vault.

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