Islands

Highland Park 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Highland Park 18

As whisky fans, we regularly battle to be objective in our tastings to ensure our feelings don’t influence our perceptions of a whisky’s quality. And yet other times we simply say “screw it” and go with our hearts. The Highland Park 18 Year Old has a long list of awards to its name, but for me, it’s a little more special than that.

The distinctive (duck-egg) blue wallpaper gracing the background of our review photos is part of my recently built library (AKA whisky room) in my recently built house. And throughout the exciting building process the Highland Park 18 was there all the way. It was the first bottle cracked under my roof – before the walls were even finished! It was brought out again and shared with m’colleague on the night I moved in. Then at the house warming, surrounded by my best friends, it came out once more and toasted my new abode.

So with all these great feelings associated with the bottle how could I possibly write an objective review? Put simply, I can’t. But you know what? Screw it.

The nose is delightfully coastal and sherried. It is particularly dry, and bursts with raisins, prunes and smoked salmon. A dash of smoke hits you on the palate before quickly subsiding and giving way to grapes, cherries, peppermint and salami. The finish is long and contains an oakiness which calls to mind old wooden furniture.

If I was served this whisky blindly at a tasting then who knows if I would have the same sentiments towards it? What’s important for me is that now I’ve made these associations, I will continue to enjoy this whisky whole heartedly. And maybe you’ll love it too – especially if the happy memories you attach are your own.

★★★★

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Talisker Dark Storm

Reviewed by: Ted

Talisker Dark Storm

Thunder crashed and wind howled across Skye as the Taliskerians prepared to bottle their new whisky, a non-age statement barrelled in extra-heavily charred oak casks. Keith glanced at Nev and shouted over the noise “what do you reckon we should call this stuff?”

“Dunno… Sunny Skyes?”

“Nah, that’s the name of Mark Lochhead’s villa on Majorca. What do you reckon Taranis?”

Taranis, the Celtic god of thunder, had started working at the distillery after a bit of a slump in the smiting business and a failed attempt to break into Hollywood. After a moment’s pause, he reached into Nowhere and pulled out a bronze goblet covered in spoked wheel designs that made the world spin if looked at for too long.

Plunging the goblet into a barrel, he scooped up a god sized dram and breathed deeply of the captured spirit. Rich stewed fruits, heavy spices, grilling meats, chocolate, banana and curling sweet smoke rose up to meet him.

Planting his feet, Taranis took a mighty draw, amber liquid spilling down his braided moustaches. Sharp, crackling salt on burning driftwood burst across his tongue, followed by dark honey and cured meats. Over the top rolled curling smoke, like a forest fire seen on the horizon. The finish was bright, sharp and lingering, yet somehow contained it’s opposite, the void.

Keith and Nev looked at each other nervously. The brooding 8ft tall figure in its leathers and woad was a forbidding sight. Suddenly Taranis stirred, his eyes sparking with distant lightning, and spoke in a voice like far away thunder rolling across the hills:

“DARK STORM”

And so it was.

★★★

Dark Ted

How it compares

The Dark Storm is quite raw and robust compared to the 10yo, which is (slightly surprisingly) smoother and lighter. The Dark Storm makes big leaps and bounds over its other Talisker NAS stablemates, the Storm and the Skye. We’ve had the Storm and found it to be lacking in guts, a bit… bland, and from reports the Skye is even lighter. If you’re looking to try a NAS Talisker, the Dark Storm is definitely the way to go.

The Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish

Reviewed by: Nick

Arran Amarone Cask

Traditionally, the world of Scottish whisky is very – well – traditional. When popping champagne for Ardbeg’s two hundredth year, we somewhat neglected the rather less impressive twentieth birthday of the Arran Distillery. But distilleries are only as good as the products they are currently creating, and there is a lot to like about the bottles presently leaving the Isle of Arran.

As well as a range of age statement whiskies they have a variety of cask finish expressions, and the one I happened to get my grubby little mitts on was finished in Amarone barrels. For the uneducated, which I will freely admit to being one of before buying the bottle, Amarone is a dry Italian red wine made from grapes such as Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Yup, me neither.

I’ve had an up and down relationship with wine-matured whiskies, though one aspect I universally love is their amazing colours. The Arran is no exception – this whisky is the coppery orange of traditional creaming soda. The nose is alluring, giving the impression of alcohol soaked fruits eaten at Christmas time. There are cherries and strawberries as well as honey and syrupy cola.

The palate is rich and spicy, aided immensely by the higher bottling strength of 50%. It is delightfully creamy with large dollops of toffee, oranges and Turkish delight. The finish is dry with notes of oak and dark chocolate, and is pleasingly long and warming.

While the Arran Malt does not boast the long history of many distilleries, this should not in any way be held against it. A glorious Scottish past does not always equal quality in the present. Just ask Rangers Football Club.

★★★★

Highland Park Svein

Reviewed by: Nick

Highland Park Svein

Highland Park have one clear advantage when it comes to marketing their whisky: Vikings. Nothing can drum up some interest liked a horned hat on the front of your bottle! Of course, Highland Park can quite rightly look to the Norse raiders when branding their products, as the Orkney Islands where the distillery is located have a proud Viking heritage.

The details of their arrival in the ninth century are told in the Orkneyinga Saga, a historical narrative with more twists and family betrayals than the best soap opera. Among the characters were a series of ‘warriors’ immortalised forever in travel retail by Highland Park.

Svein Asleifsson is the legend behind the entry level of the range – which is perhaps unfair to a man dubbed the ‘Ultimate Viking’. Svein was a charismatic chieftain known for his generous and hospitable nature, and the folk at Highland Park have attempted to create a whisky that mirrors these traits. While I cannot claim this to be exactly the case (it doesn’t pour generous nips of itself into your glass!) it is certainly a very drinkable drop.

While there’s definitely some smoke in there, there’s less on the nose than you’d expect from a Highland Park dram. Instead there are ripe oranges, red apples and plenty of malt. The palate is lightly spicy, with oak, strawberries and… burnt toast? The finish is creamy, malty and slightly bitter. All up, it is a light whisky, threatening to be inconsequential but with just enough to enjoy.

Highland Park have created an interesting series here. While Svein doesn’t stand up when compared to the wonderful 12 Year Old expression, it certainly gives you a greater picture of the flavours captured by the Orcadian Distillery. Sadly I have not got to sample any of the other warriors to broaden my mind!

★★

Highland Park 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: NickHighland Park 12

Single malts. They’re a varied lot. Some people like peat monsters. Some like sherry bombs. Others enjoy their whisky light and floral. Others still prefer their drams sweet with hints of vanilla. Pleasing everyone with one drop, however, is a much harder task. Unless, of course, you happen to have a bottle of the Highland Park 12 Year Old on your shelf. This bottle truly is the great all rounder of Scottish whisky.

Highland Park also has the distinction of being Scotland’s northernmost distillery, located on the largest of the Orkney Islands, pipping its neighbour Scapa by under a mile. As the island group was settled long ago by Vikings, it should come as no surprise that the flavours on offer are a veritable smorgasbord.

Up first comes a nose with many varied elements: a whiff of grapes and malty biscuits. There is chocolate, so dark it is mostly cocoa, mingling with notes of pear and bubblegum. Finally is the smoke: far subtler than anything from Islay. It brings to mind smouldering vegetation, an attempt to create a fire from damp leaves on a drizzly day.

The palate is equally varied. It initially suggests a roast meal: beef, parsnips, even gravy, before giving way to mandarin, brown sugar and chocolate milk. The smoke lingers gently, now mostly burnt out and close to charcoal. Finally this all gives way to a long spicy finish with salt, tobacco and mint combining with flashes of caramel.

The Highland Park 12 Year Old is unlikely to be anyone’s number one whisky. It is not weighted in a particular direction to please one group of whisky fans over another. Instead, it sits squarely in the middle, a dram to be enjoyed by everyone no matter their preferences. This is a whisky that brings people together, and if that is not a glowing endorsement, I don’t know what is!

★★★

Talisker 57˚ North

Reviewed by: Nick

Talisker 57 degrees north whisky waffle

Whenever I pour one of my non-whisky drinking friends a wee dram (watching in amusement as they splutter noticeably and their face flushes a conspicuous shade of red) I tell them to picture themselves in a small rugged hut on the west coast of Scotland as a fierce Atlantic storm batters the walls and ceiling. That, I proclaim, is the ideal location to enjoy whisky. While a fireplace may sufficiently heat your extremities, a dram of whisky will warm you from the inside out. And if it were I huddled in this rugged hut on such a night, the drop I would turn to first is the Talisker 57˚ North.

This whisky, made on the Isle of Skye’s sole distillery, is named for two reasons: firstly (and I may be biased, but I would claim foremostly) because the spirit is bottled at a practical 57%. Secondly (and perhaps more poetically) because the town of Carbost, home to Talisker, is found at 57˚ North of the equator. In this part of the world, your insides are quite often in dire need of warming.

To put it into perspective, Canada’s 2010 Olympic Winter Games host, Vancouver, is situated at a mere 47˚North while my often freezing home state of Tasmania is at just 42˚South. Talisker Distillery is only two degrees further south than notoriously icy Scandinavian capitals Stockholm and Oslo. So it stands to reason that a warming dram or two is created there.

On the nose, there’s no doubting this is an Island whisky. Smoke wafts liberally out of the glass, although possibly more subtly than some Talisker expressions. Other elements are noticeable too: pepper, chorizo, and cured meats. It is like inhaling deeply at a gourmet barbecue.

There is certainly a woodiness about this whisky on the palate – although not reminiscent of your standard oak notes. Instead the flavours are dustier, earthier, more akin to a tree’s bark than the wood underneath. Elements of honey and marmalade hint at typical Talisker sweetness, though it is more toned down than the 10 Year Old. Instead, wonderful new flavours are present such as bacon and buttery toast, as well as some less pleasant bitter sappy elements which give the impression of burning wood that is slightly too green.

The good news is, this whisky leaves the best until last: the finish is undoubtedly the highlight of the dram. It is long – so very long – and hot and lively. After the spiciness fades, the smoke returns gently, bringing your tasting full circle.

Drinking this whisky, I find that I take my own advice. I close my eyes and picture the howling gale, the bucketing rain and the crashing thunder. Scotland is no stranger to wild weather. And in the eye of the storm, the Talisker 57˚ North is the dram you need.

★★★★

Scapa 16 Year Old

Reviewed by: Mooresy

Whisky n Chocolate dram 1

There is something utterly unique about the Scapa 16. The distillery is one of two located on the Orkney Isles and doesn’t have a huge number of variants compared to its neighbour Highland Park or nearby north highland distillery Old Pulteney, but it is a rare event that someone deems Scapa a poor performer.

Usually classed as one region, the Islands group produces a very diverse range of whiskies. The Islands of Skye and Mull have the smokier sea-spray flavours typically associated with the Islands, due to their closeness to Islay and how most people think of the Islay big three when they think of any distillery off the Scottish mainland.

The Islands at the north of Scotland bring something different to the table. Without the peat and brine, flavours can be more subtle and well-defined. Scapa 16 is certainly no exception. This is even more true of Scapa which transports its water source to the distillery through pipelines to avoid it flowing through peaty soil.

The distillers at Scapa have played with its product for many years. The distillery only has one wash and one spirit still so the methodology is all about perfecting the flagship whisky. It began as a 12 Year but the distillery fell idle for a decade between 1994 and 2004. To kick-start its revival, the 14 Year was released but tinkered with five years later to create the 16 Year, which spent an additional two years in American oak casks.

To this day I have not had such a fresh and vibrant whisky. On the nose there is an instant fresh grass smell, like blades of green by a riverbank. There are wafts of other greenery like the blooming heather on the lochs. There may even be a touch of the lyrical wild mountain thyme. There is also a deliciously light note of strawberries.

On the palate the strawberries are evermore present and develop from a freshly picked smell into an artificial or candied strawberry taste. They take one back to the kind of strawberry in strawberry ‘liquorice’, which also may explain the slight aniseed taste that also comes through towards the finish.

On the Mooresy scale of quality, if I was to write a whisky bible, the Scapa 16 would sit at a 9.5/10 (nothing’s perfect, right). It will always be personal taste, but there is something about this one: a quality about the Scapa 16 that transports you to a relaxing day on a farm in spring, with a gentle breeze and babbling brook. Do yourself a favour and set up a chair in your backyard, grab a good book, pour yourself a bumper of Scapa 16 and find your place to which the dram will transport you.

★★★★

Ledaig 10 year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Tobermory Ledaig whisky waffle

My Whisky Waffle co-conspirator and bestie Nick was kind enough to give me a bottle of the water of life for my birthday (what else?). We cracked it open that night and had a few cheeky drams. I’ve been mulling it over ever since, a rather appropriate course of action seeing as the bottle in question was a Ledaig 10 year old, which is produced by Tobermory Distillery on the Isle of Mull (Haha! Geddit? Isle of Mu… Why are you all groaning?… Ok, I’m just gonna sit quietly over here).

The Isle of Mull is part of the Scottish whisky zone known as the ‘Islands’, a bunch of distillery inhabited land masses surrounded by water and huddled off the Scottish coast, whose seemingly defining feature is that they aren’t Islay. Impressively, Tobermory Distillery is the chief abode for the islanders (or Mullets as they are known locally), a ramshackle stronghold built from driftwood, shipwrecked fishing boats, kelp and the occasional escaped haggis… Oh, wait, sorry, the distillery is actually named after the main town on the island, Tobermory, and is probably constructed of far more traditional materials (not sure about the Mullet thing either. I hope it’s true).

The Ledaig 10 year old takes its name from the original distillery built on the island in 1798. Contrary to popular belief (i.e. mine), it is not matured in the sporrans of the Mullets, but instead in the far more superior oak barrel. Typical of the drams from that part of the world, the Ledaig is peated, but it is a very different smoke to the Ileach drops (Remember, ‘Islands’ = ‘Not Islay’).

On the nose the Ledaig is dark and intense, with quite a distinctly meaty quality to it. It’s sort of like a combination of smoked ham and marinated meat sizzling over hot coals. That marinade has a great oozing sweetness combined with pepper, sea salt and perhaps… plum?

On the mouth you are hit straight up by a big swirl of smoke, followed by a robust spicyness from the 46.3% alcohol. After that a lovely butterscotchy sweetness slides over the back of the tongue, served up with caramelised pears and another dose of that woody smoke. Surprisingly the Ledaig is much smoother than you may expect from its 10 years, but the combination of the smoke and the higher alcohol means that there’s still heaps of craggy, earthy character to be had. It’s certainly not a beginners drink, and probably requires a bit more practise to enjoy the full effect.

Growing up in the only distillery on a windswept island off the Atlantic coast of Scotland has certainly given the Ledaig a character all of its own. Perhaps some of that black humour it displays comes from the dark waters of the mountain lochs on Mull used in its creation. If you’re looking to give someone a strong, rugged, sexy islander who’s been out fighting fires on mountains in only his kilt for their birthday, then the Ledaig’s your man (I’m sure that’s what Nick was aiming for). There’s no need to mull it over too long.

★★★

Talisker 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Talisker 10 whisky waffle

I will forever be filled with immense amounts of good will towards Talisker distillery and with good reason, as mentioned in this ‘whisky musing’ post. Of course, this could potentially leave me viewing their products through ruby-tinted glasses. However, my love affair with Talisker whisky began long before my visit, and was initially kindled by the quality drop that is their flagship release, the 10 Year Old.

There is something special about the way the Talisker balances smoke with sweetness. In fact, if this review were written on a more succinct whisky review site then it may be summed up in two (conveniently rhyming) words: sweet peat.

It’s there immediately on the nose. It doesn’t hit you over the head with smoke, but you know it’s there. The sweetness is akin to the scent of melting brown sugar. It’s spicy when it first hits the palate; a subtly higher bottling strength of 45.8% gives this whisky an extra layer of complexity. The flavours in the mouth are full and confident with notes of oak and pepper before the smoke makes a welcome return.

The finish is perhaps the highlight of this whisky. It’s lengthy and peaty, full of hints of the distillery’s island location and yet does not lose the toffee caramel notes. It’s memorable and long lasting, and certainly a more than appropriate selection to conclude a night of tasting.

The Talisker 10 year old is a fine whisky. It somehow combines the best elements of Islay and Speyside and assembles them into one impressive drop. I will always think fondly of this distillery, but despite everything, I think the main reason for this is simply the quality of their whisky.

★★★★