Highland Park Week – Day 1: Highland Park “Leif Eriksson” (40%, OB, Travel Retail Exclusive, 2011)

Time for another of Master Quill’s weeks. This time around we’ll focus on Highland Park. When rummaging through my stash of samples or bottles I sometimes come across a few which have some sort of common link, usually being made at the same distillery, but there can be many others. In no way should it be a true cross-section of the standard range or should it be all official or recent bottlings. Nope, the aim is to have fun with seven Whiskies, more or less picked at random. In this case Highland Park gets the honor. I have picked seven Highland Park Whiskies to have fun with and put them in some sort of logical order. We’ll start off with Leif Eriksson, one of many travel retail offerings. Usually reduced to 40% and usually bottled in a convenient litre bottle. This time however it is the standard 700ml bottle that can be easily picked up outside of an airport…

I may have mentioned this before, but Highland Park is owned by the Edrington Group. A company that also owns The Macallan. With both these distilleries, or brands, Edrington do a lot of marketing. There is an obvious core range made up of Whiskies with age statements, and some of them have already featured on these pages as well. Besides that Highland Park, as many others, loves travel retail outlets and are keen on issuing special series (aiming at collectors).

I am a big fan of the Highland Park distillate and when we look at Highland Park, pré marketing, you would have a hard time finding even a mediocre bottling. Just have a go at an older wide neck bottling and you’ll know what I mean, or even ask Olivier Humbrecht about Highland Park and you are set for the day.

The beginning of the special series craze, I mentioned above, started with the release of Earl Magnus in 2009 (5.976 bottles). It is part of a trilogy called the Inga Saga. Earl Magnus is a 15yo Highland Park of impeccable quality, and back then was released at a more than reasonable price. It was followed up in 2010 with a 12yo called Saint Magnus (11.994 bottles), which was a bit less interesting and the series was concluded in 2011 with an 18yo called Earl Haakon (3.000 bottles). It was a hybrid of the standard ages of 12yo, 15yo and 18yo, but also bore names of mythical figures from the history of Orkney. Today its hard to imagine a company releasing only one special bottling a year! By the way, this 18yo was top-notch again. Many series like this were created since.

However Leif Eriksson is not part of any series I know of. It’s a bottling commemorating the Viking Eriksson who was the first European to set foot in North America. So it shall be no surprise this Highland Park was matured wholly in American Oak casks (probably all ex-Bourbon).

highland-park-leif-erikssonColor: Gold.

Nose: Starts with a hint of smoke and heather, and a nice funkiness I know from older Highland Parks. Initially also quite sweet. Nice sweet barley notes, honey and also quite fruity. Cold butter. A very appealing, and slightly dirty, nose. Lots of vanilla and creamy latex paint, as could be expected. Less expected was the coal dust and Aspirin powder I got next. Highland Park is a distillate that does well in any cask. Excellent nose.

Taste: Oh no. Aiii, sweet honey and sugar-water. What a shame. This one is definitely ruined by reduction. Maybe they felt it was too hot at cask strength and since it had to be bottled for travel retail they automatically reduced it to the lowest strength possible, 40% ABV. Sweet, creamy vanilla again. Hints of almonds. Lots of creamy notes as well as lots of vanilla. That’s the main marker of the taste. Not a lot of wood though, although there is a nice toasted cask edge to it. The palate matches the nose very well. This should have been a litre bottle, since to get the max out of this you need to drink this in big gulps and roll it around a lot in your mouth (needs a lot of air as well). Funny enough a slightly bitter oak note emerges in the aftertaste…

You can still taste the potential of this. It is almost as if has to be suitable for pilots who still have to fly. I hope not. The nose is wonderful and the taste does show the potential. It is not a bad Whisky. It could have been a very good Bourbon expression of Highland Park, but it was ruined by one bad decision. The amount of reduction. Still, it sometimes can hit a soft spot, and is still an example how Highland Park can be without the (big) Sherry.

Points: 81

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Mortlach 11yo 1992/2004 (46%, Douglas McGibbon, Provenance, Autumn/Summer, DMG 627)

Talisker Storm is essentially a young Whisky, one of today’s NAS-expressions. A decade ago, this 11yo Mortlach would be considered a young Whisky and back then we hardly ever heard of NAS-Whiskies to boot. Mortlach is known for its unique distilling regime where the Whisky in the bottle was distilled 2.6 times. Mortlach is also known for dark and dirty Sherry bottlings. Mostly first fill and Oloroso. Just have a look at this Wilson & Morgan Mortlach. So Mortlach fits in the group of Macallan (of old), Aberlour, Glendronach and Longmorn.

However, here we have a rather pale expression of Mortlach bottled by Douglas Laing, from the time Fred and Stewart were still running a business together. Douglas Laing had essentially three series of bottlings. Provenance, Old Malt Cask and Old & Rare (better known as the Platinum-bottlings). There were some more, but lets stick to these three better known ones, shall we? Provenance was mostly reduced to 43% and later 46%, Old Malt Cask to 50% (if possible) and generally older and more special. Finally Old & Rare-expressions were cask strength en even older still (and extra special). Maybe there are some exceptions but in my mind all were single cask bottlings. Here we’ll try a young and very pale Mortlach from the least expensive series of the three. Young-ish and reduced.

mortlach-provenance-11yo-1992-2004Color: White Wine.

Nose: Fresh, soft and fruity. Some barley and definitely some citrus notes. Very fresh and “summery”. Hints of bread, mocha and nuts, but also a chewy, green oaky note. Vegetal. Green leaves and perfumy. Hints of dishwater and latex paint as well, which really isn’t as bad as it sounds. Powdery and dusty, in part like the smell of old books, some leather and cold gravy. Warm butter and vanilla pudding. Quite a lot happening here, and a bit dirty alright. Although all of the aroma’s I’m picking up here, are pretty different, the whole is well-balanced. They mix together well. Mortlach is known for a meaty element (from Sherry casks), but that is lacking here.

Taste: Barley again and a lot of the vegetal, green and oak notes. Chewy again and it has a short sharp edge from the oak. It’s almost like virgin oak this, with a bite. A little bitter woody bite. Don’t think now this is a bitter Whisky, because it isn’t. The bite itself is extremely short, leaving room for a very soft and mellow Whisky. Cannabis and vanilla. Creamy, with cookie dough and chocolate-chip cookies as well. Sweet(ish) and fruity. The taste of this Mortlach is less complex than the nose. Judging by the color, the cask didn’t seem all that active, but it did impair a lot of the woody notes, so it probably was an easy pick when considering bottling a younger Whisky. Hey, but it’s not all (soft) wood notes, there is also some coconut, nutty and creamy aroma’s. (something you can also find in some Glen Keith‘s matured in ex-Bourbon casks). It’s fruity as well. Medium nutty and creamy finish, with hints of cannabis (the first time around). With a medium bitter aftertaste giving the whole experience some backbone.

Mortlach is known as a dirty, meaty Sherried Whisky. However, this probably came from an American oak cask that previously held Bourbon. So does the meaty part come from the Sherry then? Well not entirely. Especially on the nose, the distillate, without the influence of (Oloroso or PX) Sherry casks, still shows a meaty aroma. Cold gravy I called it, and dirty. It doesn’t taste as a dirty meaty Mortlach to me though. Remarkably soft, and pretty decent overall, yet nothing special as well.

Points: 81

Monymusk 5yo (46%, Renegade Rum Company, JMA, Tempranillo Finish, Jamaica)

Renegade Rum Company. What might that be? If you are familiar with Single Malt Whiskies, then the name Bruichladdich should mean something to you. In fact it will mean the world, since it is one of the famous Whiskies from the Isle of Islay. Home of the best peated Whiskies in the world, only historically, Bruichladdich is more famous for its unpeated Whiskies than for their peated Whiskies. To put an end to that, master distiller Jim McEwan started to make Port Charlotte, a heavily peated Single Malt Whisky (around 40 ppm phenols) and the astronomically peated Octomore (up to 258 ppm, which is a lot more than 40 ppm). There is no normal way to peat Whisky that high, so in comes the skill of Jim. Bruichladdich is also the home of The Botanist Gin, made up with botanicals from Islay, and also of Renegade Rum. Jim supposedly hand-picked casks of Rum and hand-picked Wine casks to finish those Rums in. Expect relatively young Rums, all finished in some sort of Wine cask. All reduced to 46% ABV, in my book better than the usual 40% ABV. Anything below 40% I don’t even consider buying if I have to be honest. In everything Jim does he pushes the envelope, so prepare yourself, as will I, for an unusual Rum experience…

monymusk-5yo-42-renegade-rum-company-jma-temperanillo-finish-jamaicaColor: Light gold.

Nose: Yep, funky Jamaican style. I love the high ester quality it has to it. Easy to recognize. Fresh cookie dough. Extremely creamy. Already the promise of a cloying syrupy Rum. Wait a minute… A drier note emerges. Old raisins and some wood. There is a note here I struggled for a while to identify, so common, but what is it? Its Grappa! The Temperanillo cask infused a Grappa note to this Rum. Grassy, hay-like. Clay, butter candy and a more vegetal note. If you have ever sticked your nose in the hole of an empty Red Wine cask, you’ll recognize its strong spicy notes in this Rum as well. Nice and quite unusual for a Rum. Amazing how the finish is taking over the Rum when you let it breathe for a while. When nosing this the high ester Jamaican smell is retreating quickly (move it around a bit so it gets some more air, and it briefly returns). With the Grappa nota also a more nutty aroma emerges as well as some warm butter. So it starts big, funky and creamy but after a while it has this well-balanced dryness combined with a nice warm butter note. This is the most two-faced Rum I have smelled untill now. A bit unusual, but I like it. Pushing the envelope a bit. If you love Grappa, you’ll love this nose.

Taste: Here the funky part is even shorter. Upon entering your mouth, for a brief moment, you think you are drinking a typical and clean and simple example of a Jamaican Rum, but it turns around rather quickly. Lots of wood and heaps of acidic woody notes followed by strange red fruit acidity from stale Wine. It doesn’t have the taste of wood itself though. It also lacks the bitterness of clean wood. No, its different. What it also lacks is the Grappa I found on the nose, for some that is a good thing, but it also makes for a somewhat unbalanced Rum. Well it’s not really a Rum either, especially a Jamaican Rum. What it does have is some nice exotic spices, dare I say Indian again? Also slightly soapy and floral, and it has some notes of Foursquare as well, which is a Rum, although not Jamaican. A long time after swallowing, a very discrepant winey, acidic and fruity note re-appears, combined with toasted cask, well hidden into the background. Can’t really say that the finish is well-balanced. It’s like a race where all the competitors cross the finish well apart from each other, running different distances as well. So unbalanced it is, and definitely the weakest part of the whole experience.

This bottle is clearly an experiment. Where for me it works wonders on the nose, it doesn’t actually work that well when tasting it. Somehow the finish overpowers the young Jamaican Rum. Maybe this experiment would have worked better if the Jamaican Rum was older, bigger, more of a match to the Tempranillo?

So there it is. I love Jamaican Rum to death, I love Jim McEwan and I love a good experiment, and that is what experiments are for. You try something that is usually out-of-the-box. It might work or not. Here it clearly works on the nose, but less so on the taste. So not the best of Rums around, and the score will reflect that, but because of its out-of-the-box-ness I still would buy one, although many of the Renegades are sold out by now…

Points: 81

Dutch Courage Aged Gin 88 (44%, Zuidam, Batch 001, 2013, The Netherlands)

Over here, summer has now seriously started. For the time being anyway, so it would be no use, and somewhat odd to try to review a nice heavy hitting, iodine clad, peated Whisky, now would it. Sure, I could go for a nice Rum, since that is a distillate that loves these kinds of temperatures. However, yesterday, after spending most of the day outside, I suddenly had a craving for a nice Gin & Tonic. Looking back I only reviewed only one Gin on these pages, since I guess, Gin more or less belongs in a good Tonic, and not a lot of people drink Gin neat. By the way, I can’t stress that enough: Tonic must be good if you want a nice experience, without downplaying the role of Gin of course. That would be almost blasphemous now wouldn’t it. The first Gin I reviewed here was the organic Gin of Hven, which is excellent, and worthy of my reviewing method of tasting it neat. If it’s good neat, it must be good with Tonic right? Not the case, but a good start. It all depends how the combination will work. Today we’ll have a look at a Dutch Gin, made by mad professor Patrick van Zuidam. No ordinary Gin, but an aged one. This one has aged in new American oak barrels. Let’s try this one neat as well, so I can familiarize myself with it, and work out which Tonic to pair it up with.

Dutch Courage Aged Gin 88Color: Citrus gold.

Nose: A very appetizing smell. Lot’s of citrus. Sweet orange skins and other citrus fruit skins, with hints of fresh (not sweet) orange juice. Nice soft Juniper comes next. Not overpowering at all, it is used with taste. Spicy, sweet cinnamon and (toasted) oak. It actually smells like spices used for baking cookies. The slightly sweet profile (It’s not an old Tom, mind you), is enhanced by the vanilla-like notes coming from the American oak. Although it is aged, it hasn’t been ageing for a long time I guess, it doesn’t smell like a very old distillate to me. It has kept it youthfulness, but the ageing did give it an extra layer, making it softer and “rounder”.

Taste: Slightly bitter and definitively sweeter than I expected. Still not an Old Tom though. Heaps of nice (sweetish) citrussy notes. Nice Orange notes, but also some more fresher citrus components. As with the nose, the juniper is present, without overpowering, allowing for great balance. Spicy, the cookie spices are here too, but this time with a shift towards licorice. In the background a vanilla pudding note, which adds to the perception of sweetness (or “roundness”). All that is present in the finish which seems to be built around sugared anise seeds. Nice. Again, Gin, for me, is often not meant for sipping, but just like Hven, it is unbelievably drinkable. Maybe it is a sort of hybrid between Gin and Genever (the granddaddy of Gin, which most of the time is consumed neat).

One day I made two G&T’s, for me and my wife to try. I paired up this Dutch Courage 88 with Indi Tonic and for comparison the well-known Hendrick’s with the also well-known Fever Tree. Although the latter makes for a very good G&T, one easy to enjoy, however, the combination of Indi with Dutch Courage was something else. Softer, excellent bitters, with a lot of aroma’s presented in excellent balance. Definitely a must-have Gin. I’ll have a go at this Gin soon, paired up with some more Tonic’s. Recommended!

For the completists, I also did a head to head with Hven Gin. The Zuidam is more accessible, sweeter and benefitted of oak ageing. The Hven is obviously unaged, but also even softer on the nose, more restrained. The taste initially also shows some sweetness, and for a moment nothing happens, but it doesn’t take long for taste-evolution to take place. These two are actually very nice to try one after the other, like they were meant to be together. Both are excellent sippers. Luckily I don’t have to choose between them, because both are worthy in any liquor cabinet. My advise, buy the biggest bottle available, both of them.

Points: 81 (and believe me, that is quite a lot of points for a Gin by itself).

UPDATE (29-6-2016): I did a H2H2H with Hven, Hendrick’s and this Zuidam. First of all the Hendrick’s is the one best behaved. It’s nice and friendly and definitely the subtlest. You can’t go wrong with it and it a worthy sipper. The Hven is sweeter and a bit bolder. Bigger if you want, but also somewhat simpler. Another good sipper. This Zuidam however is something exceptional. It is big and dirty. Tasting the three side-by-side, this one seems to have some goût de pétrole you get in good Rieslings. Less typical Gin I guess, but very special nevertheless. For me a must-have.

Clynelish 15yo 1997/2012 (51.5%, The Whisky Mercenary, Bourbon Cask, 59 bottles)

A few days ago I reviewed another Clynelish from 1997, and I just stumbled across this one, bottled by the Whisky Mercenary a.k.a. Jürgen Vromans. Since this is bottled in 2012, I guess Jurgen sent it to me a few years back as well. Only 59 bottles did once exist, but we know the Belgians to be enjoying life quite a bit, so I don’t think a lot of bottles of this have survived. I guess its will be even harder to find one of these today. I’ve reviewed quite a lot of Jürgen’s bottlings, and I have to give it to him, he has quite the nose for picking them, as well as being allowed to pick “dem Whiskies!” You might not know, but it’s not easy to be an independent bottler. You just don’t go into a warehouse trying all of the casks lying around and picking the best you can find, unless you have a bit of a reputation…

Clynelish TWMColor: White wine.

Nose: Buttery and malty. Fresh. Like a breath of fresh air, yet also citrus fresh. Creamy toffee barley. The cask seemed to be quite inactive, maybe the color also gives that away a bit already, but the sweetness is more like toffee and not big on vanilla you get from more first fill and more active casks. Another hint is the lack of a pronounced wood aroma. Cold apple compote with a bit of warm apple sauce, laced with a splash of calvados. All those apply associations are noticeable, but in no way overpowering. The fruity sweetness gets more and more dusty and dry, with a tiny bit of surface wood, oak obviously, with a little bit of mint. Apple pie, after some breathing the apple is joined by some freshly made dough. Nice balance with more than usual distillery character. Typical example where the wood did less to make the Whisky. It shows its other side. Fruity fresh, with shallow depth, dough aroma instead of wood, but at the same time lacking real depth and complexity. This isn’t a fault. It’s just different, and with this it shows another side of Single Malt Whisky in general.

Taste: Well, what a surprise. Sure it is fruity, but way more wood in here than in the nose. It starts with wood and paper as well as quite the peppery note. Sugary sweetness and creamy. I didn’t expect that at all. Toffee and bread. Caramel. The aroma’s grow a bit bigger with more breathing, so don’t be to hasty with this one. The lack of activity from the cask is noticeable by the weakness of the finish. It starts with a little attack, for a brief moment shows a nice body, but then it comes down very quick and leaves you a bit with a light, short and unremarkable aftertaste, which at some point in time even gets a bit bitter. Cedar wood bitterness. This bitterness even grows bigger, if you drink this Whisky after a prolonged time of breathing.

In my opinion, not the best of Clynelishes around, but there are many other who like it even better. This is from 2012, right at the start of his career as The Whisky Mercenary. Its hard then to get to pick the very best of casks, and it is a shared cask as well. Only 59 bottles was his share, but I guess at this ABV there was more Whisky in the cask, bottled or blended by others. Nevertheless educational, because here you can see that it’s more about the spirit, than it is about the wood.

Compared to the 1997 Wemyss Clynelish I reviewed a few days ago, the family resemblance is quite remarkable, but the Wemyss is definitely the more aromatic and polished expression of the two.

Points: 81

Millstone 8yo “100 Rye” (50%, OB)

Millstone 100 is a small batch Dutch pot still distilled Rye Whisky (without an extra “e”). This is a review about one of the earlier bottlings, because by now the look is different. The glass bottle is the same, but the label is now black, more in line with the rest of the Millstone Whiskies, although across the line some different shapes of bottles are used. The new black label informs us of the many different guises of the number “100”. The whisky is a minimum of a 100 months old and is bottled at 50% ABV. (The American 100 proof), and the Whisky is made from 100% Rye and only filled into new American oak only (100% again). The use of the American proofing system and the use of American new oak casks makes it obvious what kind of style of Whisky to expect. 100 Rye is made from 49% malted Rye and 51% unmalted Rye.

Zuidam Distillers was founded in 1975 by Fred van Zuidam under the name Baarle International. Earlier, Fred worked some twenty odd years at De Kuijper in Schiedam after which it was time to start for himself. He bought a piece of land in Baarle Nassau and built his distillery there, starting with a range of high quality liqueurs, basing his recipes on the best ingredients he could buy. Next step was the distillation of the traditional Dutch drink: Jenever, the spirit Gin was derived of, both sharing juniper berries as an ingredient. 

Today the distilling is done by Patrick van Zuidam, the son of Fred. Gilbert, the other son is handling the business end of the distillery. Patrick had a passion for Jenever and Korenwijn and from that started experimenting with his dream drink: Whisky, resulting in the Millstone line of Whiskies. By now a lot of Millstone expressions have seen the light of day, of which this 100 Rye is a very succesful one.

Millstone 100 Rye 8yoColor: Copper orange brown.

Nose: Sweetish and thick in its aroma, straying away from the American Rye’s which for ma always have a sort of florality in the nose. This one is very clean and closer to a fruity nose. Initially maybe even sweet, with a lot of wood influence. Pencil shavings. The wood is easy and in no way overpowering. Small hint of soap. Well integrated aroma’s, but not very complex. The thick aroma from the starts dissipates a bit and dries out the whole, but memories of it come in and out. If smelled for a prolonged time, it reminds me a bit of Rum, or Rhum Acricole. Dry Rum obviously, including hints of red fruits and a fresh citrussy note. Lime and some delayed mint. Deep and fruity altogether.

Taste: Starts with wood and some sugary sweetness. Quite hot on entry with a nice bite. Here a little soapy florality is present. Rye it is then! Nice dusty wood. Sawdust and nuts. For those of you that also have tasted Patrick’s Jenevers and Korenwijn, there is some of that in here too, unmistakable. For me this Whisky has a special effect as well. After the big body, the finish seems a bit weak at first, but after that a bigger aftertaste emerges. And a very tasty aftertaste it is, with some sweet orange, nice. Over time the finish grows bigger too. This Whisky need some time to breathe to grow a bigger finish, but I have to say that more air also hurts the balance a bit, since the dryness and the wood really take over and the florality stays soapy.

Ain’t this something. It has hints of Jenever and Korenwijn, smells a bit like a Rum, but is a Rye Whisky with quite some evolution over time. Well done, I have to try a newer bottling to see if Patrick has dealt with the soapy florality, then again, maybe it’s just me.

Points: 81

Imperial 9yo 1991/2001 “Port Wood Finish” (40%, G&M, Private Collection, Cask #99/48 1.2, 2600 bottles)

Back to some Whisky. This time around we’ll have a look at a distillery not only closed, but also torn down and already replaced. That happened quickly. In 2012 Imperial ceased to exist and just a few years later a new distillery was finished occupying the same very site. Many have thought that the new distillery would be called Imperial as well, when in fact it is called Dalmunach after a nearby pool of the river Spey. Imperial wasn’t hugely popular as a Whisky hence the new name maybe, but Pernod Ricard (the owners) never ceases to amaze us, by installing new stills replicating those of Imperial. Well in some time we can taste the replicated taste of Imperial, but for the time being let’s taste the original, shall we?

Imperial 9yo 1991/2001 Port Wood Finish (40%, G&M, Private Collection, Cask #9948 1.2, 2600 bottles)Color: Full gold with a slight pinkish hue.

Nose: Winey and candied red fruits. Easily recognizable as a Port finish. Barley, paper. New oak and some pencil shavings. Fresh-air notes, with some sugary sweetness following suit. Nice creamy vanilla mixed with fruity acidity. Typical American oak (the cask it was in before it was finished) but also some sandal wood. The Port integrated well and is used well. In those days experiments with Port finishes often went wrong since the Whisky was left in the Port cask for too long. The whole however is pretty simple and young. What you smell is what you get. Don’t expect a lot of development, if any, but keep in mind that even with the Finish, this Whisky is only 9 years old. Fruity Whisky. Smells nice. ’nuff said.

Taste: Creamy vanilla and candy sweetness. Hard raspberry candy and sugar. A chunk of toffee, molten ice-cream and nice toasted cask that gives it a back bone. Milk-chocolate. Actually pretty tasty. You can taste the potential harshness of the Port. Winey yes, a bit. The slightly burnt note from the Port cask stays around. If this was finished much longer it would have been over the top. It was arrested in its development just in time, which was quite unusual in those days, but I may have said that already didn’t I? Tasty young stuff with a pronounced weakness in the finish-department.

Simple yet well tasting stuff. If only the finish would have been stronger. I mean the finish of the Whisky itself, not the Port finish. Still, even for a Port finish from the start of the new millennium, there is nothing wrong with this. Buy a bottle of this and expect it to be empty quickly. This time also nothing wrong with the low ABV of 40%. A higher ABV may have lengthened the finish a bit, but I’m OK with it as is…

Points: 81