New Whiskies

Batch 165

by
Benromach Cask No. 1, with five Highland Parks: Spirit of the Bear, Loyalty of the Wolf, Wings of the Eagle, Viking Pride Travel Edition and a 28-year-old bottling by Cadenhead

You can’t go a few weeks without a new Highland Park being released, and this week Dave Broom has five on his plate, including the new travel retail range inspired by Viking spirit animals.

But first, to a milestone whisky, bottled to celebrate Benromach distillery’s 20th anniversary since reopening underneath the guidance of Gordon & MacPhail. Benromach Cask No 1 is a 20-year-old malt from the very first cask laid down at the distillery on its reopening in 1998. Bottled at a remarkably high strength, it’s ‘strangely old yet new’ at the same time. Something of an irony considering Benromach is in fact 120 years old this year. A double celebration!

The first of five Highland Parks comes from independent bottler Cadenhead, but though it’s 28 years old, Broom notes an immaturity that’s not entirely palatable.

Four new releases from the Orkney distillery now, starting with Loyalty of the Wolf, a 14-year-old which is sweet, light, inoffensive but ‘nothing to get excited about’.

Things don’t improve with the new no-age-statement release Spirit of the Bear, which old-school lovers of Highland Park may find misses the mark, however the 16-year-old Wings of the Eagle soars back into Broom’s estimations with its warming, fruity and Sherried character.

Finally, a higher-strength bottling of Highland Park Viking Pride 18-year-old is the leader of the pack, with complex, sweet and smoky notes that remind Broom of exactly what makes Highland Park such a popular whisky.

Reviews this week come complete with a suitably eclectic soundtrack, courtesy of Van Morrison, James Carr, The Jam and Dexter Gordon. Check the links in Right Place, Right Time.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Benromach Cask No. 1, 20 Years Old, 1998

    Benromach Cask No. 1, 20 Years Old, 1998
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    60.1%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    I mean, it’s hot – 60.1% after 20 years! – but we’re pretty much instantly into a world of mature oiliness which nods politely to cedar, then there’s a burst of dried mint which in turn deepens, yet sweetens, into After Eight chocolate, then sugared plums. Things then settle into a heavy, fungal moistness that brings to mind old dunnage warehouses, before a further development ushers in sourdough starter, Dundee cake and waxy rancio. Water adds extra depth, driving the aromas towards leather, wet tweed and oak.

    Palate

    Roasted cereal elements to start with alongside rich wood tones, some black fruits and, retronasally, woodsmoke on clothes. The oils help to dampen down the heat. Water brings out summer-warmed grasses, waxiness and in time complex layers of brown cheese and Vegemite on buttered sourdough toast.

    Finish

    Long and waxy. Mature.

    Conclusion

    A slow, expansive whisky which is strangely old yet new at the same time. Happy 20th birthday, Benromach.

    Right place, right time

    Sugar plums dancin’? You've Got My Mind Messed Up in the right way.

    Highland Park 28 Years Old, 1989 (Cadenhead)

    Highland Park 28 Years Old, 1989 (Cadenhead)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    48.8%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islands
    Flavour camp
    Fragrant & Floral
    Nose

    Light in colour, this has a fresh aroma of grass clippings, bamboo shoots and a new cask with newly-painted ends. There’s a lime-like element alongside some pineapple chunks, young leaves, green apple and toasted oats. While this estery element is retained when water is added, there’s also a surprising whiff of spray paint.

    Palate

    Quite different to the nose and though still light and with some bite, there’s now some cream and rather lovely peachy elements (but no smoke to speak of) which begin to shift towards tropical fruits when water is added.

    Finish

    Guava and green banana.

    Conclusion

    Even after all this time, you get the sense that this is still finding its feet. Those tropical notes are tantalisingly just out of reach. Casks, eh?

    Right place, right time

    Chewing a stalk of grass and thinking that it's not easy Bein' Green.

    Highland Park Loyalty of the Wolf, 14 Years Old

    Highland Park Loyalty of the Wolf, 14 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    42.3%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islands
    Availability
    Global Travel Retail
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    A light bready quality with added warm felt, citrus peel, ginger and chocolate, and a slight drift of woodsmoke. In time there’s barley sugar sweeties, orange honey, black butter and toasted almonds, while water brings out sesame seed, green banana peel and a tiny metallic edge. Seems to fall off quickly.

    Palate

    A sweet start with some ripe fruit that mixes tayberry with orange zest and light smoke with a creamier mid-palate. Things do remain light, however, with a green note nagging away underneath. With water you pick out some ashy smokiness and lemon, then things finish quite speedily. Seems to run on two parallel tracks.

    Finish

    Again just a hint of smoke, then podded broad beans.

    Conclusion

    There’s nothing wrong with this. Equally, there’s nothing to get excited about either.

    Right place, right time

    A story of Two Wolves.

    Highland Park Spirit of the Bear

    Highland Park Spirit of the Bear
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    40%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islands
    Availability
    Global Travel Retail
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Although this is at 40% abv, there’s an immediate edginess to the nose which is lighter and leaner than the Wolf, and brings to mind freshly-cleaned linoleum, peat ash, hay barn, dusty sacks, then green grapes and unripe pineapple (similar in many ways to the Cadenhead bottling above) backed with pencil shavings. Water adds more depth and brings out an earthy, almost fungal quality and greater warmth.

    Palate

    Still light, but now sweeter with a little more substance – think pine honey dribbled on Greek yoghurt. Things remain soft with some white mushroom before a raciness begins to take charge. Water doesn’t dissipate this sparky energy.

    Finish

    Spicy peppercorn/ chilli chocolate.

    Conclusion

    While I imagine this isn’t aimed at old school lovers of Highland Park, I do wonder who the target here is. Am I the only one who is completely lost as to how many Highland Parks are out there?

    Right place, right time

    In old shoes not realising that this is The Modern World.

    Highland Park Wings of the Eagle, 16 Years Old

    Highland Park Wings of the Eagle, 16 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    44.5%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islands
    Availability
    Global Travel Retail
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    The darkest of the new trio with more overt Sherried elements, Morello cherry and black fruits. There’s even some slightly funked-up qualities: think dubbin wax on leather boots, black cardamom, dried citrus peels, treacle scone with butter and a light sootiness. There’s some complexity here. Water brings out light lanolin, some raisined sweetness (PX-like) that shifts towards pot pourri and floor polish.

    Palate

    A soft start, which if I’m being honest is almost too soft, making the effect slightly gloopy, albeit with a buzz of alcohol at the same time. The ripe black fruits dominate the mid-palate but water hollows out the centre, so I’d leave neat.

    Finish

    To be fair, things pick up here with baked plums, peach, dried raspberries, and low smoke.

    Conclusion

    Robust and warming, this is the most rewarding of the animal-themed trio, especially on the nose, but the lack of structure knocks it back. Still, if your preference is for whiskies which are soft and ripe then this is right up your street.

    Right place, right time

    Spiralling up, there’s an Eagle In Your Mind.

    Highland Park Viking Pride, 18 Years Old, Travel Edition

    Highland Park Viking Pride, 18 Years Old, Travel Edition
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islands
    Availability
    Global Travel Retail
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Here is the most overtly smoky of the original bottlings and the most classically framed. There’s slight heat, then a big coffee butter icing element, followed by dried fruit, Madeira cake, light liquorice, currants (dried and black), raw chestnut honey and a whiff of paint. Give it time to find extra depth: dried plums, baked apple and raisins. The fruits fade slightly when water is added, but there’s more of the spent fire and smoke, so it depends on your preference.

    Palate

    A mix of dried fruit and toffee to kick off with. This isn’t afraid to show a (supple) tannic backbone which is balanced by peels and dried fruit. It picks up a layered quality in the mid-palate with dark damson jam elements mixing with smoke. 

    Finish

    Complex, sweet and smoky.

    Conclusion

    Call me a bluff old traditionalist, but this is what I want – and enjoy – in Highland Park. The best of the bunch.

    Right place, right time

    A warm and smoky hug which reminds me that, no matter what, I Can’t Escape From You.

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