Highland Park: Dragon Legend

Highland Park distillery create so many lovely expressions of their award winning Orcadian spirit. This time we’re reviewing the Highland Park Dragon Legend which was initially released as a way to capture the distillery’s Viking routes and dragon mythology.

The bottling is actually one of my favourites and it has been branded very well in a black glass bottle which alludes to smoke, charred wood and a wake of dragon fire (dragons existed right?).

The colour of the spirit is a lovely almost greyed amber and is a little oily in the glass.

On the nose there is a clean smokiness; the peat is very much present but doesn’t overpower or smell like antiseptic. Aromas of lemon drizzle cake, a slight creaminess of scorched vanilla beans.

Spices and more smoke burst onto the palate with the first sip. The peatiness is not overpowering but is matched up nicely with a vanilla and star anise flavour. The spirit coats the mouth well and is somewhere in the middle in terms of body, a slight oiliness but still a light spirit. Suggestions of honey and that lemon drizzle cake linger in the mouth as it’s sipped back.

The finish is long and warming, a slight sharpness when first swallowed but that dissipates into a spicy smooth warmness.

Altogether a well orchestrated dram. The peat is by no means subtle but conveys a smoky message to the drinker. I do get a wee feeling of being a Viking when drinking this! At around £40 this spirit is pleasant for the price; that being said you can see it on occasion in supermarkets for around the £35 mark in which case I would say ‘go for it’! Highly enjoyable, another smooth dram from Highland Park!


Highland Park: Viking Honour

The Highland Park distillery in Orkney is one of the most well established distilleries of recent years, though it finds its history as early as 1798 when it was founded by David Robertson. In the last 6 years the distillery has produced some lovely expressions of their spirit following a period of low sales due to stocking issues. For many people Highland Park is a scotch drinkers staple and a must have for any whisky cabinet.

Highland Park Viking Honour is a newer release of the classic 12 year old expression. In a reimagined bottling, but in keeping with the original 12 year, it is a lovely entry level whisky into the Orkney distillery flavours.

The spirit is a light straw colour with a golden syrup hue. Light and delicate with a subtle oiliness in the glass, this whisky behaves well and looks like a delicious dram.

On the nose there is a deep malty honey aroma with floral notes and a subtle smokiness; like standing on moorland and getting the Heather, Gorse and peat smells.

Honeyed malt with citrusy notes spark off on the palate with smoky suggestions lingering on the tongue. There is a slight pepperiness mixed with a suggestion of dark chocolate moving into the finish.

The finish is smooth and of medium length, no sharpness just pleasant citrus and light peat smoke lingering for a savoury flavour left on the palate.

A good wee entry into the Highland Park range. Admittedly, this wouldn’t be one of my favourite malts but it is very pleasant and fairly complex for a 12 year. Any Highland Park would be a must try so at around £25 from some supermarkets this expression is highly recommended.


Strathisla 12 Year Old

The Strathisla distillery in Speyside is possibly one of Scotland’s most beautiful distillery buildings. You really should Google it! Owned by the Chivas brothers, the distillery produces a lot of spirit for the Chivas Regal blended malt whisky. The distillery has also released some very pleasant single malts too and this lovely 12 year old expression is a fine example of the distillery’s spiced fruity character; a cliché speyside?

Dried forest fruit gateau and a sweet spiced cider make up the majority of the nose as whiffs of rhubarb and custard boiled sweets with a hint of creme brulée formulate some background. Really very complex and more aromas jumps out of the glass as you breathe in the smells.

On the palate this whisky is fairly slow to start messing with your taste buds, but when it does expect more of those spicy and fruity flavours. There is a slight pepperiness on the tongue and hints of maltose that counteracts it with a sweet grassy edging. Vanilla fudge, dates and walnut whip suggestions linger in the mouth with a crispness in the finish denoting green apples.

The finish is quite short in this whisky but not unpleasant. Simple red grape aromas smooth out the finish with a slightly acidic flair.

At around £25 this whisky can be purchased in many online retailers fairly inexpensively. The packaging is also quite pleasant with it being bottled in a stumpy bottle rather than the traditional tall bottle; helpful if you have a smaller shelf and can’t fit in those tall bottles!

Definitely worth a try, and if you are traditionally a blend drinker and like the Chivas Regal, this single malt could definitely wet your appetite.


A Brief History of Scotch Whisky

Scotch whisky is a special spirit that is relished by drinkers globally for its heritage, distinctness, sophistication and for its all-out Scottishness. Many countries around the world even treasure this beverage even higher than their own national drink; France, for example, drinks more Scotch than Cognac! For many people though, the history behind a bottle of malt may be limited to the date on the bottle for the year it was distilled and, at a push, maybe the date the distillery was founded. However, there is so much more behind the packaged bottles we buy from whisky shops and supermarkets. I want to share with you a little bit of the history of the famous Scottish tipple and where it is today.

Scotch whisky has been produced since the 1700s as a professionally crafted product, though distillation of whisky probably took place earlier than this in farmhouses and crofting barns around the country. In its early years whisky was a spirit made as a way of preserving excess grain harvests, not as a relaxing sipping drink. It wasn’t until the 18th century however that Scotch whisky became a commercially available commodity; though a fairly crude product, Scotch whisky was gaining popularity as an attractive tipple, not just a medicine as it had been in times past. More distilleries started producing spirit which meant the process of distilling underwent some changes to make it more efficient and cost effective. Going into the 19th century there were huge advancements in the way distillers were operating. The introduction of the continuous still, later the Coffey Still in 1831, meant that a more consistent product could be made rather than using the traditional batch process which could be hit or miss depending upon subtle changes in the distilling process.

One of the biggest factors in shaping the whisky industry over the centuries has been the changes in excise duties and taxation. Certainly, right up into the late 1800s smuggling and illegal distilling was very much prevalent in Scotland to avoid the excise officers. With different governments having a slant on moderating whisky distilling there would be long periods where the production of whisky would rollercoaster into highs and lows. In different parts of Scotch whisky history there has been times when distilling was banned due to food shortages; the precious grain would then be spared for conventional food production. In 1823 the Excise Act came into place which set the Scotch whisky industry on a course of consistent success; the introduction of a levy for distillers meant that the distilling process could go about with relative ease after a fee was paid.

It was in the late 1800s and early 1900s that Scotch whisky shifted its class attraction. Where before it had been the drink of poor people, dubbed “the poor man’s strong drink”, it was moving into being a staple of upper class society. Dewar’s, Johnnie Walker and Ballantine’s blends moved Scotch into a more sophisticated product that was appreciated by a wealthier clientele, even as far as being enjoyed by monarchs. The American prohibition saw a spike in Scotch imports to the USA as American distillers were on lockdown.

Scotch whisky production seemed to wain a little towards the end of last century. It was as though Scotch whisky was a dated product that was only enjoyed as a blend by old men. Towards the turn of the century though, distilleries caught on to a new customer base; the millennials. With their hipster taste and crave for authentic nostalgic products, a millennial fanbase for Scotch whisky has quickly grown over the past decade or so. Many distilleries now produce single malt whiskies, which in commercial Scotch whisky history, hadn’t really been done before. It is perhaps this new niche in Scotch whisky that has attracted people that don’t want to drink “your grandad’s Scotch” but want a more bespoke experience.

Undoubtedly, Scotch Whisky has had an interesting life so far, with its humble beginnings and plunge into grandeur, the evolution of whisky has been an interesting story to watch. In recent years the diversion of whisky into a craft product again calls for a renaissance of past distillation methods. Many new distilleries have opened in the last decade and there has been a new way of marketing the Scottish spirit; whisky tourism is becoming increasingly popular.

With the opening of visitor centres, cafes and other attractions at many Scottish distilleries, a world of tourism has been allowed to come through distillery doors. This influx of visitors, often from around the world, has meant great things for the whisky industry in Scotland. It is evident that a new era of whisky production and whisky drinkers has brought about a reenvisaged market for Scotch. The same farm distilleries that attracted quarrels with excise officers in times gone by have now enticed a different crowd of visitors; the tourist.

The Bartender’s Malt: 1st edition.

The Auchentoshan distillery have created a genius concept of not just an expression of whisky, but also a way to create something truly original. In The Bartender’s Malt, bartenders from around the world, experts in their field, have come together to create a special limited edition single malt; a creation worthy of not only being a stand alone sipping whisky, but also a whisky to be enjoyed in every cocktail that even suggests a whisky inclusion.

The Bartender’s Malt is a unique expression that is capable of living up to the Auchentoshan name but also introduces an interesting new characteristic to the Auchentoshan range. This malt can be found around the £35 mark online and in some select stores though this particular edition, being the first, may not be available for a huge amount into 2018 so grab it when you can.

A straw copper colour that is appealing and similar to many of the expressions in the Auchentoshan range; nothing out of the ordinary here yet.

The nose is creamy with a delicate grassy hint. Egg custards with an extra dusting of nutmeg make up the creamy but spicy edge in the aromas.

The palate is complex with the creaminess opening up different flavours, green tobacco leaf, pear drops and a heavily candied citrus note, a background subtlety of baked banana. There’s a suggestion of vanilla and significant spiciness that lingers on the palate, use of bourbon casks and possibly some rum casks mixed in there?

The finish is long and smooth with a mouth warming creaminess, this is about as advocaat you can get in whisky.

A truly lovely malt that retains some lowland character but seems to be a really eclectic mix of malts that make up a complex and slightly crazy single malt. Not to be scoffed at this is an Auchentoshan I can highly recommend.


Glenfiddich 14 Rich Oak

The 14 year old expression named “Rich Oak” from the Glenfiddich distillery is today’s tasty tipple to review. The Glenfiddich distillery really needs no introduction, a classic and exceedingly famous Speyside single malt whisky producer that is capable of producing expressions that most whisky drinkers would find pleasant and intriguing. They are also a distillery that are no strangers to experimentation.

The 14 year old whisky is matured in both American and Spanish Oak casks to produce a well rounded, complex woody spirit.

The colouration of the spirit is subtle and only slightly amber, more of a toasted straw colour. The spirit is light and not very oily, it’s bottled at a standard 40% abv.

On the nose there are lots of layers of woody tannin aromas with mingling scents of fruit and spices. Nice biscuits and nutmeg float around the smell profile.

The palate is lavished with woody flavours in the sipping with caramel wafers, sour cherries, vanilla and a dash of grapefruit. Not the most oaky whisky out there but it certainly lives up to its name!

The finish is medium length with lasting flavours conjuring up ideas of port stained cheeseboard and trail mix, it’s not a hugely smooth whisky but has a pleasant prickliness on the way down.

Weighing in at a price of around the £38 mark it is a fairly priced whisky though probably only really appreciated if you like especially woody malts with a fruity profile on the side.


Jura Journey – A Different Direction

I am quite certain that some distilleries can do no wrong. Whatever they release seems to be quality, delicious spirit that is utterly enjoyable whatever they did with it in the process of making it into the end product. One such distillery that seems to breed distilling perfection is the Jura Distillery. Out of the numerous single malts that I have tried from their range I can not fault any of them; all are complex, some lively, some smooth, some with the right amounts of smoke, some with fruit etc. Jura were on to a winning formula!

However, this year marks the launch of a complete overhaul and new series of releases from the Jura Distillery. Many of the favourite expressions are being discontinued to make way for a new age of whisky from the distillery. My first question is can these new single malts compare to the old, tried and tested whiskies? Will Jura still live up to its reputation?

I think to answer this question we will have to work through the range and see if Jura can repeat their success.

The Jura Journey expression is the entry level whisky in the new series. Surely if this one is good they can only get better as you work up into the rest of the bottlings!? It is an ageless bottling that promises fruity notes with a background smokiness and a delicate aroma.

The colour of the whisky is pleasant, a kind of amber hue with a slight nectarine pigment. Fairly oily in the glass with long legs. Similar perhaps to the diurachs own in behaviour?

On the nose there are deep fruity whiffs with a smokiness in the background. There is a subtle floral aroma that lingers after a while but it is by no means the biggest hitter. Think slightly overdone fruit cobbler.

There are really apparent flavours of vanilla on the palate, these are accompanied with a mixture of shortcake, lemon sorbet, hazelnuts and burnt currants from a fruit pudding.

Smokiness lingers in the finish and there are woody citrus notes spattering on the way down.

This is a lively expression, not similar to any one of the original Jura expressions but offers something new to the taste buds. There are characteristics reminiscent of the Jura predecessors but this new kid on the block is merely a salute to its history.

I would recommend this whisky, it is easy to appreciate, has pleasant aromas and is smooth. You can find it in supermarkets around the £30 mark so it won’t break the bank. You can also find it in half bottles if you don’t want to commit to the full bottle.

Cheers and Slainte!

Malt Master’s Singleton of Dufftown

In a previous review of the 12 year Singleton of Dufftown I said that it was a whisky that ticked all the boxes in terms of smoothness and complexity and yet it is hugely underrated in my opinion. A new release to the Singleton of Dufftown range is this Malt Master’s Selection edition from the Dufftown distillery.

With a promising distillery write up stating that it is a smooth and complex yet delicate malt, this is building up to be a lovely dram.

Running into it at a local supermarket was quite a surprise and for the price of £36, similar to that of the 12 year, it was worth a try – surely?

Poured into a tasting glass there is a straightforward aroma of honeyed maltiness. The colour is a very light amber, a kind of jaffa hue to it.

On the nose there are the bold aromas of honey, candied peel, pear drops and vanilla. A subtle scent of chocolate digestives in the background and a speckling of vanilla extract.

Citrus but with an enveloping of chocolate and honey caramel settle on the palate. Notes of vanilla, oak and some red berries linger with a spiciness somewhat peppery.

The finish is warming and neither short nor long, the spirit has good legs but it is not overly oily and leaves a slight flavour of burnt chocolate raisin on the palate.

The three casks used in this malt really give it tremendous character. The addition of the sherry cask and the ex bourbon cask on top of the refill barrel produce fruity and vanilla flavours consecutively and there is a lovely complexity of flavour from the woods. Of course you are dealing with a quality spirit to begin with and that really shines through.

There is no age statement with this bottling but there are characteristics of a mature spirit being used but the majority probably sits at around the 10 year mark I would have thought.

Definitely a rewarding dram and I would recommend it if you already like the Singleton 12 year.


Glenfiddich 15 Solera Vat

The Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown produces possibly the most famous scotch whisky. Ask anyone anywhere that knows something of scotch and I guarantee they will know of Glenfiddich. A family business since the start, Glenfiddich is quite unique in the way that it is independent and has been for so long. They have also been a distillery to experiment and try new things which always makes for a surprising lineup of single malts.

The distillery also produces a lot of spirit for blended malts and have their own blends such as Grants. Whilst originally a blender they do produce some amicable single malts.

The whisky of interest here is the Glenfiddich 15 year old single malt that has been finished in a Solera Vat. This is a process where aged whiskies from the distillery are married together in an oak vat that would have once held sherry or port and then the product is left to further mature in a bourbon barrel. The process is special because the vat is never fully emptied so there will be whisky reminiscent of the original vat first used in 1998.

The 15 year old here has lovely colour, it is a soft apple juice colour with a red rosiness to it. Little to no oiliness the consistency is very thin but suggests a possibility of being a sweet and fruity dram.

An unmistakable scent of rhubarb and custard boiled sweets on the nose with a subtle whiff of pear drops, and then there’s a bit of a marzipan aroma in the background.

Earl Grey tea sweetened with honey and rich merlot flavours flood onto the palate with a sliver of butterscotch rounding up the taste. Not hugely complex but there are some distinguishable flavours there and certainly nothing unpleasant.

The finish is longer than expected, very smooth and leaves a warming flavour in the mouth. Dots of sherried fruitcake and those pear drop flavours linger.

This is a pleasant dram and one that is a good step up from the signature 12 year Glenfiddich. Little to no smokiness just those rich fruity flavours, a lovely wee speyside.

If you’ve tried any other Glenfiddich single malts let me know what you think of them in the comments below!


Arran 10

Hailing from Arran’s only distillery comes this beautiful island single malt. Bottled after 10 years and at a punchy 46% alcohol volume this non chill filtered and natural colour, sweet malty spirit is a real treat and an island whisky classic.

The Isle of Arran distillery is the only distillery on the island; an island measuring an area of 19 miles by 10 miles and having a population of around 5000 residents. Located in Lochranza on the Isle, the distillery is one of Arran’s most popular tourist attractions.

The distillery opened in 1995 and has been a successfully independent distillery since its launch.

This expression from the Arran range is a lovely entry level whisky. A vibrant and complex body with a lovely colour and nose.

Toasted straw with a warm citrusy hue, the colour is lovely and inviting. The natural colour is pure and doesn’t suggest over use of caramel neither a bland colourless spirit either; a straight talking, interesting malt to look at.

Citrus notes and spots of vanilla and toffee are prevalent on the nose. Warming whiffs of salted caramel and soft orchard fruits linger.

On the palate this whisky is exciting and lively, citrus flavours are the initial party starter which then move into spicier, treacle flavours. Brown sugar, vanilla custard and a hint of pepper stream into the palate.

The finish is smooth and the higher than average alcohol percentage is not overpowering; the spirit is not the character of the malt but the flavours are easily distinguishable. Treacle shortbread flavours last in the mouth for a lovely long finish.

This malt is a lovely, interesting island malt. Some hinting towards being similar to a Benromach? Can I say that!? It’s deliciously flavourful and complex and is a very drinkable dram. At the foot of the Arran range this malt is an exciting entre into the island’s malts. At around £35 a bottle from most whisky retailers this is a must try, especially if you like the lighter, fruitier whiskies with a hint of dark spice.