Highland Park Vintages – The 1991 21 year 40% Official Bottling

Once upon a time, Highland Park was a ‘gateway’ whisky for me… more specifically the 18 year which opened my palate and senses to the character and complexity of a decent dram.

Shift ahead a few years to a period where Highland Park made to the switch to vintages and no age statement “Heroes”, “Warriors” and “Legends”… with the 1998 and Einar disappointing while the Thor surprising and pleasing.

Enter the 21 year old that is known by its vintage 1991. Introduced to travel retail in 2012, the thinking was as each vintage ran out, it would be replaced by the equivalent next vintage i.e. this one replaced the 1990 vintage and the expectation was by 2013 the 1992 would be released and so forth.

Except a funny thing happened along the way… for Highland Park, after a few years the vintage approach didn’t “stick”… quietly without fanfare the duty free shelves holding vintage whiskies were slowly replaced by age statements.

Which means our patient whisky host had managed to keep one of the few 21 year olds from the vintage marketing “experiment”.

As we opened this bottle that had sat patiently waiting its turn for nearly 6 years, talk turned to our varied experiences with Highland Park – good, bad, brilliant and much in between.

And this bottle? Read on to see what we thought…

Highland Park 1991 40%

  • Nose – Grassy, pine, spruce, sea grass or a seaweed salad, light citrus coming from behind, lemon flower bouquet, light fruity, inviting comforting nose, short bread, butter biscuits, vanilla and a hint of cloves
  • Palate – Islands, light leathery peat, very smooth and round, had some substance, chewy mouthfeel, creamy and buttery, yet a slight citrus twist in there too which added a refreshing element
  • Finish – Subtle nuanced finished, cinnamon spice

We really enjoyed it – very yum! And more importantly, had all those elements many of us once enjoyed in a Highland Park – character, complexity and just a darn good dram.

Even more remarkable is that it was full flavoured at only 40%. While none of us were tempted to add a splash of water, these days anything lower than 46% tends to come across as a bit “watery” – not so with this Highland Park.

We set it aside for some time and the revisit just confirmed it is a lovely whisky and a clear winner for most.

However when it came time to pair with cigars, this would not be my pick… I’d prefer to simply enjoy it on its own.

What would this set you back? It was last seen for about £120 on auction.

In our latest greatest adult evening, what all did we try?

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Peat Unusual – Ledaig “Very Cloudy” 40%

Not all peat is your campfire smoky character…. In keeping with our “Peat Unusual” theme,  this Ledaig, specially bottled by Signatory, was not your ordinary direct peat Ledaig expression but instead something different.

What did we think?

Ledaig “Very Cloudy” 7 years (7 June 2008/15 Dec 2015) 40% Hogshead 700551 + 700552 Signatory Vintage 910 Bottles

  • Nose – Sweet and sour, that wet dish cloth element with lemon, ammonia yet restrained, as it opened more, a sweet wet hay
  • Palate – Super easy to drink then the peat peaks out from behind, becomes sweet and spicy
  • Finish – Peat and sweet

It was not heavily peated, more like an accent or splash of colour than the main act. One joked that it could be a peated whisky for non-peat lovers. We found it overall very easy to drink with its enjoyable light peat. Quite a contrast to other Ledaigs sampled over the years.

Given its ‘very cloudy’ moniker, we were curious enough to put it in a fridge to chill to see its effect. Did it make it cloudy? Not much, but it was rather nice chilled.

As this bottle came from a BMC guest, we don’t know where it was acquired, however we sampled it from a closed bottle in November 2017.

Interested in other experiences with Ledaig whiskies?  

Our “peat unusual” whiskies featured:

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TWE Cask Strength – Ledaig 12 year (2004) 58.1%

Last in our TWE Cask Strength evening was a Ledaig from Tobermoray‘s distillery on the isle of Mull. Ledaig, pronounced ‘Let-chick’, uses peated malted barley.

There are no official tasting notes available however this particular bottle was personally recommended by TWE’s owner Sukhinder Singh and an easy pick given how much I’ve enjoyed Ledaig’s sampled til date.

Ledaig 12 year (5 Feb 2004/29 Aug 2016) Cask 1030, 327 Bottles 58.1% (SMSW)

What did the ladies think?

  • Nose – We were immediately greeted with peat, then brine – making us imagine sea swept coasts, there was a wildness to it, stormy weather and bold character… even as it opened revealing marmite, fruit, apple pear, herbs and more with even a hint of heather, it retained a robust quality
  • Palate – One spoke of fresh oysters, another of steak tartare, the herbal quality on the nose followed through on the palate, there was also a lovely cinnamon spice with black pepper, yet all combined in a very smooth, balanced dram
  • Finish – Such a long finish, continuing to reward with peat and sweet spice with that slightly salty briney dimension too

If the Glen Moray was a bright spring morning, and the Arran a hot summers day, then the Ledaig was a wind lashing, rainy cool winter evening.

I’ve enjoyed Ledaig’s bold peaty character before yet this was clearly a top notch cask – remarkably silky smooth and clean with no harsh or brash qualities even at full cask strength. No need to add water but also lovely with too.

A 12-year-old Ledaig, the peated whisky from Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, from The Single Malts Of Scotland. This was distilled in 2004 and bottled in August 2016 from a hogshead. I picked it up from The Whisky Exchange in London in June 2017, under the owner Sukhinder Singh’s guidance for GBP 64. It was opened from a fresh bottle in July 2017.

What else did we sample in our single cask, cask strength evening?

Each whisky sampled that evening was unique, quality and well worth sampling.

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TWE Cask Strength – Arran 14 year 55.5%

Next in our The Whisky Exchange Single Cask Strength evening was another Island whisky – this time from Arran distillery on the isle of Arran. This isn’t my 1st Arran sample and I’ve quite enjoyed what I’ve tried so far…. particularly both cask finishes – AmaronePort.

This particular bottle was personally recommended by TWE’s owner Sukhinder Singh for the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai as an affordable whisky that is an excellent example of Arran’s style.

Arran 14 year (16 Dec 2000/7 Aug 2015) Barrel 2000/1106 Bottle 185 of 197 55.5% (TWE)

What did the ladies think?

  • Nose – We immediately noticed it has more “oomph!” than the Glen Moray, toasty, almost musty initially, then warm maple syrup, rum raisins, shifting into something pungent, an earthy yeasty quality, like wet fall leaves, some cinnamon and cloves, resin…
  • Palate – Wow! Cinnamon spice – both paprika and black pepper. There was no doubt this was a full on cask strength whisky.
  • Finish – Honey sweet, bourbon, spice, a bit unbalanced initially

There was initially a mixed reaction. Many of have had quite positive experiences with Arran so had high expectations which were not initially met.

But then as we discussed and debated, a funny thing happened. That whisky sitting in our glasses with a little patience began to open up. Making the doubters into converts who warmed up to the whisky as it warmed up to us, revealing apricots, chocolate, apple sauce, and an almost minty freshness.

Some added water whereas some did not. Which was a better option came down to personal preference with more leaning to without.

Bottom line is give this one time and it will reward you with a beautiful, fruity, balanced dram that is both rich, robust and complex. Well worth being just a bit patient.

The bottle provides succinct tasting notes of:

This single-bourbon-cask Arran whisky selected by The Whisky Exchange is loaded with aromas of pear drops, apple crumble and ripe peaches. The mouthfeel is full and rich, with brioche buns, a touch of lemon zest and manuka honey.

Rocky from the Whisky Exchange has this to say:

  • Nose: Complex nose with notes of spicy vanilla and cinnamon, coconut, honey and tropical mango and guava.
  • Palate: Warming and spicy at first with clove and black pepper prominent. Then the sweetness and the fruit start to come to the fore: honey, mango, pineapple and apricot.
  • Finish: Lightly sweet with honey and tropical fruit overtaken again by the spice.
  • Comment: Arran’s history began by bottling lots of single casks, and this is another example of a great one from the distillery. Classic Arran fruitiness, but with lots of spice – a complex and rewarding whisky.

This whisky was purchased at The Whisky Exchange in London in June 2017, under the owner Sukhinder Singh’s guidance for GBP 65. It was opened from a fresh bottle in July 2018.

What else did we sample in our Sukhinder Singh’s cask strength evening?

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Whisky Ladies TWE Cask Strength Night – Glen Moray, Arran, Ledaig

This was not our first evening devoted to high alcohol strength whiskies… Last time, our Diwali celebration featured Glenfarclas 105 60%, Chichibu 2009 63.1%, A’bunadh 35 (2011) 60.3% and we’ve certainly sampled other Cask Strength drams including our Bruichladdich peat progression session.

So what made this session distinctive? This time our selection had a decidedly independent bent, all purchased through The Whisky Exchange in June 2017, personally recommended by Sukhinder Singh as affordable quality drams:

  • Glen Moray 8 year 57.8% 251 Bottles (SMSW)
  • Arran 14 year (16 Dec 2000/7 Aug 2015) Barrel 2000/1106 Bottle 185/197 55.5% (TWE)
  • Ledaig 12 year (5 Feb 2004/29 Aug 2016) Cask 1030, 327 Bottles 58.1% (SMSW)

What did the ladies think? Read on over the next few days…

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Whisky Lady – May 2018

May had some terrific sessions! All three Mumbai based tasting groups met plus we had a few extras too! Plus I had a chance to catch-up on previous tasting sessions notes as well.  Read on…

All three tasting groups met, with most notes to follow next month…

The Whisky Ladies enjoyed a theme of “Northern Lights” exploring:

Whereas our original group tasted two Highland drams and an Irish pot still whiskey:

For our Bombay Malt & Cigar gents, I took them on a European Tour with:

In addition to our normal tasting evenings, we were fortunate to have a few industry extras in April and May with:

  • An evening with Caitlin Hill, Brand Ambassador for Bruichladdich and Botanist over a  quartet of cocktails and food pairing*
  • An evening with Stuart Harvey, Master Blender for IBHL with Balblair 05, 99, 00 and Speyburn 15 year*
  • An evening with Samantha Peters, Digital Marketing for IBHL with Speyburn 10 year 43%, Balblair 05 46%, Old Pultney 12 year 40%*

Which was augmented by a terrific evening at KODE with Keshav Prakash featuring a trio from the Vault Collection – Compass Box Asyla, Kilchoman Machir Bay and Edradour Caledonia.

In May, tasting notes were shared for our original club’s April session featuring The Vault Fine Spirits Collection, ably penned by our Guest Writer Nikkhil:

There was also a Minis evening playing around with finishes:

An informal evening with a few friends resulted in revisiting a few drams and sampling for the 1st time Shelter Point Cask Strength 2017 Winter Release 57.2% (Bottle 594/1088)

And for a final bit of “catchup”, back in March, the Whisky Ladies took a  remarkable “Trans Tasman Tour” to New Zealand and Tasmania, Australia:

Curious to know more? Check out recent Whisky Lady’s monthly missives:

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Whisky Lady – April 2018

Another marvellous malty month! Where all three tasting groups met… and I unforgivably missed one! However made up with more whisky adventures.

So what all mischief did we get up to in April?

Photo: The Whisky Barrel

The absolute highlight was a once in a lifetime opportunity to try a 64 year old whisky!

Our Bombay Malt & Cigar group explore Lost Distilleries Trio from the Classic range:

  • Towiemore 43% The evening favourite – think apple crumble meets malt!
  • Gerston 43% Seaside brine, bitter sweet, peat and spice
  • Stratheden 43% Humid, citrus, chocolate… long finish

Whereas our Whisky Ladies Islay Adventures

Plus a few interesting evenings:

Plus a set of no less than seven Gin gin gins!

The balance of the month’s posts were all catching up on earlier tasting sessions…

Our Bombay Malt & Cigar gents explored whiskies from Japan:

Our original club’s revisited:

And the last fleeting impression from Whisky Live Singapore 2017:

Curious to know more? Check out recent Whisky Lady’s monthly missives:

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Whisky Lady – March 2018

It is time for a malty monthly round-up! Where all the sessions marched in order, one after the other wish a special bonus evening with Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula.

So where did we begin?

The Whisky Ladies took a  “Trans Tasman Tour” to New Zealand and Tasmania, Australia:

Followed the very next evening by the Bombay Malt & Cigar gents exploring whiskies from Japan:

Our original club did a revisit with:

Evenings with Krishna Nakula, India’s Malt Maniac are always a pleasure. This time we ambled through…

March also was a month to catch-up on a few earlier tasting experiences… beginning with our Bombay Malt & Cigar gents  Compass Box Quartet!

And more fleeting impressions from Whisky Live Singapore 2017:

*Tasting notes coming soon…

Curious to know more? Check out recent Whisky Lady’s monthly missives:

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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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