Orkney

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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Old Pulteney 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: The Cynical Scot

Old Pultney 12 Year old Whisky Waffle

There are three places in the world where the merest mention of the name can take me back in heart and spirit. The first are the cliffs at Yesnaby on the mainland of Orkney. Here, the crash of the Atlantic is stalled by Earl Thorfinn’s walls and the salty air is scoured into the finest lines of the skin. The second is the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye, where I have swum in the ice clear waters and tasted the pure heart of the Cuillins. The third, and the subject of this review, is the bond store at the Old Pulteney distillery in Wick.

I found myself here on an overcast Saturday in 2013. It was the third distillery on a self-guided tour which was to take me around the best parts of Scotland. My true blue Australian friend (who insisted on referring to the drink as ‘OP’) and I didn’t know then that it would be one of only seven distilleries we would visit on that trip. By the time we arrived in Pulteney town, we already had the creeping realisation that most large scale whisky making operations are done along similar lines. Coupled to this, we had satisfied ourselves that whisky makers send their whisky all over the place. Since then we have regularly enjoyed our whisky without feeling the need to visit the place of origin.

The Old Pulteney distillery was built in 1826 in a town built to support the herring trade. With a lack of foresight uncommon in the Scottish, James Henderson’s lads built the roof too low for the still. When the brand new copper pot still arrived, the swan neck kept clanging off the rafters. Without any ado they applied a choice piece of Scottish logic to the problem and sliced off the top of it. Job done, the still was installed, the top sealed and a pipe bunged on the the side creating the unusual appearance you’ll see today. The bulge further down the giant copper kettle also gave them an idea of how to shape their bottles.

You’ll see all this and more on the tour, proving beyond doubt it is a whisky making process. After you’ve seen the unusual squat stills you’re taken out to the bond store. On the day we visited it started raining at this point. We made a dash towards the barrels, which in my mind were stacked six high (my photographic record shows only four), and the door was shut behind us. While we learned about the maturation process we avoided the tears of the angels and breathed in their share of the whisky; a fine ethereal vapour floating in the salty air. Yes, we all smelt that whisky, we all knew what we were doing and we yes, we all found questions to ask to keep us there longer.

IMG_0689 (Copy)

Old Pulteney has the taste of the sea in it too, they say. I can’t taste things like that, but Wick is not too far away from the places where the mighty Atlantic meets the moody North Sea and that can’t happen without seriously affecting a drink as emotional as whisky. The salt, they said, coats the barrels and works its way through the grain and into the final product. This may very well be the case. Salt for me is something I put on chips and any other food. It’s never been more complicated than that.

As for taste of Old Pulteney 12 year old, it’s a fine single malt, very fine. I find it harsh on the nose, easy on the draw and the burn is frank and satisfying. It has a rich stickling after taste like bronze coins falling over a weir and I’ll always like it because it’s the whisky I drink with my father.

I asked Dad why he drinks this particularly spirit. As a seasoned Famous Grouse drinker, it turned out his discernment was a result of him acquiring a bottle at no cost from an appreciative work colleague. His opinion of ‘Aye, it’s a nice one that’ is fair if not particularly detailed or nuanced. I confidently predict that he will continue to drink this brand so long as it remains at his personal initial price point.

For me it’s not what goes into a bond store it’s what comes out. That day in Wick an amateur whisky drinker went into the bond store. After delaying as long as I could, a happier, more philosophical and more content amateur whisky drinker came out. The OP lads do the same with their whisky. They wait and they wait and after twelve years a fine drink appears. I don’t know what makes this my homely stand-alone bottle of go-to, or why at times, when I can neither get to Yesnaby nor the Fairy pools of Skye, I can have a drop of Old Pulteney 12 year old and be at both at the same time. It’s a mystery I don’t want to think through too much and if I ever need to know, I can just ask my dad. He knows.

★★★★

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.

★★★★