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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Glengoyne Distiller’s Gold 15 year 40%

One fine evening our original Mumbai tasting group settled down to sample a trio… completely blind followed by the reveal.

We began with a Highland single malt picked up by our host’s father-in-law in Russia.

Glengoyne Distiller’s Gold 15 year 40%

  • Nose – Clear stamp of an ex-Bourbon cask, banana, vanilla, boiled sweets, honey, a bit floral, quite sharp, scented erasers, candied orange, lavender, marigold, like wandering through a garden, bit oily, grapes and wine tannins. After the first sip, the perfume settled down and the spice stepped back too to make way for a more vegetal, honey, caramel, biscuits, something heavier underneath, pumpkin seeds, yeasty
  • Palate – Starts off quite mild, quite thin to the point it almost evaporated, none of the oiliness promised on the nose…. after consideration it had a light to medium body, quite “neutral” in character. Keep sipping and found a light hint of brine, a hint of tobacco or leather, nescafe coffee powder
  • Finish – Began a bit bitter yet a nice bitter, white pepper corn, black raw licorice, mineral, while not long shifted between different elements
  • Water – While it seemed a contradiction given how light we found it, the whisky is quite enjoyable with a bit of water. It rounds it out, particularly if you let it sit for some time. It also then reveals fruits like  green apple.
  • Return – And be rewarded with butterscotch!

What did we think?

There was a familiar quality with a classic approach. We found it quite nice and all shared how it grows on you. Easy to sip and while there were no distinctive qualities that shouted out one particular distillery over another, it was quite pleasant.

For most, the nose was its best quality – enjoying how it would change and evolve. We also found it best to give more time, let it sit – worth the wait.

As we speculated about it, our general conclusion was that it was Scottish, low 40%s, primarily bourbon cask. One suggested it came from “pedigree”.

And the reveal?

What complete surprise! Previous Glengoyne’s had a much heavier sherry influence – it was quite different than what we recalled. We wanted to learn more about the casks used and were surprised to learn it spent six years in a sherry cask? Really? Could it be a 3rd fill…..? The wording on the bottle was a imprecise.

It was originally released only for travel retail, only natural colour.

Official tasting notes for the standard 15 year:

  • Nose: Fresh hay, malt flour, citrus and dried fruit.
  • Mouth Feel: Smooth and clean
  • Initial taste: Clean with a gentle sweetness.
  • Finish: Long with gentle spice and lingering oak.

What else did we sample that evening?

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Glenmorangie 19 year 43%

Duty free releases can sometimes surprise you… They can be terribly average, a marketing dumping ground to see what sticks. They can also be a rather fine example of the best a distillery has to offer… or an interesting experiment in a new direction.

For this age statement Glenmorangie, I have to admit I was expecting it to take a rather “classic” take on the Glenmorangie style, an evolution from The Original like the classy 18 year rather than shifting into heavy play of finishes like with Amontillado Sherry Casks with The Tayne.

When it showed up fresh from London to Mumbai at the hands of a welcome visiting Whisky Lady as her contribution to the evening, curiosity was indeed sparked!

Glenmorangie 19 year 43%

  • Nose – Surprising sea salt, perfume, restrained, nuanced, honey, with a hint of rancio, a bit musty, old cheese, damp after the rains, then keeps getting sweeter and fresher revealing a soft citrus
  • Palate – Very peppery at first, citrusy, intense and so unexpected after the aromas, oily, bittersweet
  • Finish – Sea salt, iodine, metallic
  • Water – A few drops really opens it up and brings out more of the typical Glenmorangie 10 floral honey aromas, the peppers on the palate into balance and rounds it out beautifully

Quite subtle with some lovely  notes… And a surprising saltiness for a Genmorangie.

How it blossomed with a bit of water surprised most of us who thought at 43% should be zero need to add. We had a debate on its impact on the finish – with some finding it made it even saltier and others thought sweetened it.

But the best way to have it? With sea salt dark chocolate caramel. Which we just happened to have from the US, courtesy our contributor who brought the Glenmorangie.

What do the folks at Glenmorangie have to say?

  • Aroma – This bright sparkling golden whisky is fresh and zesty on the nose with suggestions of mint and eucalyptus, intensifying into candy, peaches and vanilla. A drop of water releases floral notes and honey.
  • Taste – A complex and creamy balance of vanilla, tangy oranges, apricots, apples, butter candy and a hint of menthol.
  • Finish – In the aftertaste, there is a strong suggestion of mint toffee alongside oak tannin and Glenmorangie’s celebrated lingering, bittersweet citrus fruit.

So what else did we sample in our Whisky Ladies “Contributor’s Choice” evening?

Other Glenmorangie’s sampled over the years include:

And a few Glenmorangie evenings too:

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Nikka “From the Barrel” 51.4%

Last in the Whisky Ladies “Diwali Drams” evening was a “head to head” comparison between two Nikka blends – their cask strength “From the Barrel” and a revival of an earlier incarnation of their standard “Super Nikka Whisky”.

Most would know that Nikka, the company, uses “Nikka” as the brand name for their range of whisky blends which are either:

Both our whiskies fall into the “blend” category… What did our Whisky Ladies think?

Nikka From the Barrel 51.4%

  • Nose – Coconut, like sweet honey nectar, fruits like pears, a bit of acetone, then coriander (or cilantro or… there was a debate on the different varieties!). After a sip, the nose gained some oil and nuts, then shifted into marshmallow and candied nuts.
  • Palate – We found it was like melted caramel, dense and buttery like a maple butter tart, some sweet raisins too… quite thick on the palate
  • Finish – Last and last and lasts.

Some absolutely loved it! Appreciating how it is bursting with character, a complex drink, one where a little goes a long way.

Words like “Fabulous!” and “Mmmm” could be heard. The finish in particular was described as a “Fabulous, fantastic finish!” And exclaims of how well it could pair with certain food too.

And yet for some, this was almost too much… in its sweet aromas, its dense concentration of flavours and long finish.

What do the folks at Nikka have to say about “From the Barrel”?

This is a blend of multiple types of malt and grain that Nikka reserves. Nikka From the Barrel was created to deliver full flavors and richness of whisky “from barrels” which only blenders can sniff and taste. As the whisky contains so many characteristic components at a higher alcohol of 51.4%, it is essential to let the liquid “marriage” in used casks for 3-6 months for it to stabilize and harmonize. The concept of the unique short squared bottle is “a small lump of whisky”, which perfectly visualizes the rich and strong taste of the whisky inside.

PS – There may be added colour i.e. caramel.

So then how did it stack up against the “Super Nikka“? Click the link and you can find out!

The Nikka “From the Barrel” is a 50 cl bottle, sometimes found in duty free for around $50-75 and was opened during our session in Oct 2017.

Whiskies sampled in our Diwali Drams evening included:

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Worthy Whiskies – Mortlach 49%

Our Whisky Ladies September 2017 Sunday Sundowner began with a Mortlach. Til date, most Mortlach’s I’ve sampled were independent bottles such as the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s 76.131 “Totally Tastylicious” or two Gordon & MacPhail offerings – the 15 year  and 37 year. All of these were simply superb!

However this was my very first official bottling – picked up by one of our Whisky Ladies from Duty  Free. What did we find?

Mortlach NAS 49%

  • Nose – Restrained, very sweet and fruity with some floral elements like lavender and herbs, reminds one of early summer, some honey, wildflower and yet you need to work at it to catch all the nuances, the range of aromas do not come easily
  • Palate – Surprising after such a subtle nose, it initially hits with alcohol on the palate, then continues in the fruity vein with apricot. The next sip was quite woody on the edge of being harsh. Further sips did not reveal anything significant.
  • Finish – A smokey finish with spice and again apricots
  • Water – Helps mellow it down – bringing out honey raisins on the nose and, after it settles down, reduces the punchy brashness of the palate, revealing a spicy bitter dimension

This is one that absolutely smell sweeter and more nuanced than it tastes. It also falls into the category of NAS fare (since dubbed “NASPy“) which has nothing specifically very wrong, but also limited distinguishing features to make you stand up and pay attention.

If I was to be perfectly honest – it disappointed.

Simply as it is quite different than earlier Mortlach’s sampled which truly did live up to labels like “Totally Tastylicious” or the full-bodied, meaty and multi-layered Gordon & MacPhails.

So what do the Mortlach folks have to say on the box about this whisky?

A clear amber colour introduces complex aromas of ripe red apple and berry fruit underpinned by a supply savouriness. Which all evolves as a rich ice cream sweetness, with creamy vanilla on the intense palate fresh blueberries and black cherries soon meet sweet, smooth honey. Then savoury spices and late wood. The finish is long and richly rounded.

This Mortlach was opened in September 2017 fresh for the Ladies to sample and was last spotted at an airport sporting a $120 price tag for a 50cl bottle. More than a tad high for what it delivered…

What else did we sample in our Whisky Ladies “Worthy Whiskies” Sunday Sundowner?

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Airport offerings…

London should have been a massive ‘score’ for the Whisky Lady… however we had such a hectic thoroughly engaged time, there was narry a chance for whisky. Yeah… I know.. seriously. No excuse really acceptable but there you have it!

So I did what all folks do… checked out the airport duty-free offerings.

Here is the challenge… for us merry malt samplers, we are always seeking something ‘new’. Particularly when traveling, it is our ‘duty’ to help supply something less accessible for our fellow adventurers back home from the world of whisky. Which means we don’t completely dismiss duty-free options, however they tend to not quite satisfy the craving for something ‘different’.

First stop in London Heathrow Terminal 4 was the standard duty-free store with a rather limited selection.

Next stop was the wee World of Whisky outlet in the same terminal. A quick glance confirmed that while there were a few more options, none jumped out as ‘must have!’

The fellow there tried to be helpful however I must have seemed like a complete ‘bevri‘ (that’s a female drunk for those who don’t speak Hindi)… as most ‘interesting’ whiskies he suggested were all previously tried…

So then he started cracking open the distiller samples to tempt with:

  • Mortlach NAS (We’ve tried the 15 before)
  • Cragganmore (Ditto for the 12, however he pulled out another one which didn’t make the cut)
  • Dalmore cigar whisky (Interesting but not worth the price)
  • Aultmore 12 and 21 year (New to our whisky tasting group so a possibility)
  • Kilchoman (I simply didn’t have the heart to tell him we had a terrific whisky dinner pairing with Kilchoman‘s master distiller Anthony Wills and his lovely wife in Mumbai)

With triumph, he then said “I know! I guarantee you haven’t tried this one! Though I don’t have a bottle open to try…”

That’s when he drew my attention the KininVie 17 year. He couldn’t believe I bought a bottle last year in Singapore as it was new to their stock. I confessed that I’ve yet to open it… however thanks to Ronald of Whiskyriffic, there is a wee sample sitting in my cupboard awaiting attention.

I was seriously tempted by the Linkwood 1988 however the price was steep. I’ll probably regret that decision, but there you have it.

You will know what I DID pick up from future reviews. However all in all it either proved our wee whisky tasting group in Mumbai has acquired a reasonable range of whiskies over the years or the selection was particularly limited.

We single malt drinkers can truly be a ‘promiscuous‘ lot, always seeking a new and interesting partner to dance with before moving on to the next twirl around the dance floor with another partner…

Would you agree?

Airport offerings (Whisky Lady)

Airport offerings (Whisky Lady)

Pssst…. Since July I have indeed sampled the KininVie, plus the two I picked up:

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