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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Ballantine’s 17 year Scapa 40%

Ballantine’s Signature Distillery Collection 17 year are blends… that were designed to show off their component whiskies.

First up in our sampling was the Scapa from the Orkney Islands in the north Highlands, not far from the Highland Park distillery. Of the four Ballantine’s whiskies featured in the Signature Distillery Collection, Scapa has distillery produced single malts – initially a 14 year which was then replaced in 2008 with a 16 year avatar.

While not stated on the label, the gents over at Malt Madness share that Scapa is matured exclusively in bourbon casks. The whisky is unpeated though the water supply is known to be quite peaty, hence is piped for over a kilometre in large iron pipes to keep its more delicate quality.

20151224_Ballantine's Scapa

Ballantine’s Scapa 17 year 40%

What we found:

  • Nose – Piquant, lightly floral, almonds, hint of sea salt, light honey, some hay (sez the country gal whereas the city slicker couldn’t identify), as it aired slipped into a candy sweet with a drizzle of honey suckle
  • Taste – Woody, earthier version of the nose, following the hay back to its roots
  • Finish – Slight bite but general continuity of the nose and palate
  • Comments – “Sweetness & light, rainbows & butterflies” “A demure romp in a meadow”
  • Occasion – The kind of whisky you have when you want something light in the background but not requiring any focused attention.

Quite drinkable, linear nose, flavour and finish however all aligned and overall pleasant.

I will be honest, I expected something with a bit more of a maritime feel… When you think Orkney Islands, you think of sea spray from a wild remote corner. I recalled an earlier sampling of the Scapa 16 year it had more of that element… plus a distinctive heathery honey.

While I supposed we could morph the hay quality with the perfume notes into something in spitting distance of ‘heather’ and it certainly had the honey, we didn’t find the fruity quality the Ballantine’s folks describe or what I remembered from sampling its single malt cousin.

Here’s what the chaps over at Master of Malt have to say about this one:

  • Nose: The nose is fruity and floral with icing sugar scattered on top.
  • Palate: The palate develops orange zestiness with fleshy stone fruit flavours, notably peach.
  • Finish: The finish is creamy and smooth with hint of nectarine and Seville orange segments.
  • Overall: Another excellent seventeen year old Ballantine’s intriguingly displaying a stronger Scapa character.

Would I say it represents a ‘Scapa’ style or its contribution to Ballantine’s? Hmm…. It is easy to see why most of this whisky goes into a blend. It has a restrained quality that would play well with other profiles.

As for this expression? Does it stand on its own as a credible blend? It was ‘nice’ and definitely drinkable. However would I run out and buy a full bottle? Nope… just not my kinda whisky.

Related posts:

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Jura Superstition 43%

Again from our archives, thought I would pull out tasting notes for a whisky from Island of Jura – one of Scotland’s more inaccessible distilleries.

Jura Superstition NAS 43%

  • Colour – Bright gold prompting speculation that it must be either sherry cask or have colour added
  • Nose – Sweet bourbon, bananas, toffee, cherry
  • Palate – Again sweet, jackfruit, leathery, a little harsh with some spice notes, a bit woody
  • Finish – Warm, straight… All thought it must young

The speculations proved correct! We understand the colour is adjusted with caramel and the whisky is a mix of young and aged (apparently up to 21 years) from ex bourbon casks.

Not bad however when bluntly asked “Would you want to stock this?” The honest answer was… probably not… even though it is a rarity in being an eminently affordable whisky.

Don’t get me wrong – it is an affable, slightly brash young whisky and not bad if you calibrate your expectations according.


What the Jura folks have to say about Jura Superstition:

Lightly peated with hints of smoke

For all of you taste gurus out there, you may pick out hints of honey and pine, as the balance of peated and unpeated spirits is matured to perfection in ex-Bourbon casks. The finest young and aged (up to 21 years) whiskies go into this mysterious bottle, so there’s a different flavour to explore with every drop.

What others say:

As you can see from the photo, we also sampled the Glen Garioch 1797 Founders Reserve and Ardbeg Corryvreckon the same evening. Alas our poor Jura was out-powered by the others.

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Highland Park 1998 40%

Relatively early in my whisky sipping days, I was introduced to Highland Park’s 18 year by a dear friend. It was one whisky I kept returning to savour and enjoy – most often with the very same friend. That whisky and I have some good memories.

Along the way, I also tried other Highland Park options too :

  • 12 year – Decent but for a few extra bucks, the 18 was sublime!
  • 16 year – Good but not worth the raving one would hear, in my ever so humble opinion…
  • And even 21 year – Superb but not my price range!

Yet my favourite remained the 18 year which to me had a delightful balance – a complex nose, full-bodied palate with a finish that lovingly lingered. Add a dash of water and a whole new world of flavours opened up. It had enough going on to keep coming back…

Most important, the 18 year fit into my ‘pinch’ not ‘yeouch!’ pricing category and was easily accessible at Singapore’s Changi airport to grab when passing through en route home to Mumbai.

And then the year based approach took over – bottles of this Orkney offering were found in labels of 1998, 1994 and 1990 – with a sharp price jump – especially the older options.

Sceptical, I decided to start with the Highland Park 1998. The one I picked up was bottled in 2011 – making it almost equivalent to the 12 year.

And the verdict?

I cracked it open, sampled and sighed… in disappointment. Not even up to my memory of the earlier 12 year.

And here I will admit… I dismissed it, forgot about it. I didn’t even offer it as a sample at our monthly whisky sessions as didn’t think it worthy. It joined the league of left overs that would be available at social evenings for less discerning palates.

However in dusting my whisky cabinet the other day, I decided to revisit. After all… it is not improving with age just sitting there and perhaps – just perhaps – I may have been a bit too harsh in my initial assessment.

Highland Park 1998 (Whisky Lady)

Highland Park 1998 (Whisky Lady)

Re-tasting the Highland Park 1998 40%:

  • Colour – Rich gold
  • Nose – Pronounced honey, sweet with little else initially then out peeped a hint of smoke with an underlay of peat… as it continued to breath, dried fruit notes emerged
  • Palate – The peat undertone was unmistakable, slightly chewy, dry, faintly bitter and sweet simultaneously. After letting it settle more, a light nuttiness also joined
  • Finish – While it doesn’t dash off immediately, the first impression is light smoke, still retaining the sweetness of the nose and taste yet also adding a clear bitter element too

In fairness, one really should not rely on tasting from bottles opened ages (years!) ago. However while it still lacks a certain quality that makes a truly superb single malt such a marvel, it isn’t a bad dram. It just isn’t a particularly good dram.

Perhaps I was just a wee bit harsh in my initial assessment.

A little more info: Aged in sherry oak casks from Spain. According to the label, the colour is natural.

PS. Interesting that most reviews seem to be of a version bottled in 2010 however unless the label on mine is a typo, it was a year later!

What others say about the Highland Park 1998 bottled in 2010:

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