Bottle polishing whisky from Orkney, Campbeltown, Islay and Skye.
It’s nice to return a bottle to its homeland to polish it off, though still hundreds of miles from Orkney as i’m in Annan to visit to the newly reopened Annandale distillery BLOG. Back to the HP. A highly respected distillery and core expression, though still bottled at 40% and still with no indications that it’s unchill-filtered or without colourant – though it doesn’t look too duped. At a time when most distilleries are upping the abv to 46% especially for their age-statement range, Highland Park is doing the opposite. The 12yo used to be bottled at 43% around +/-1998 and +/-2003.
- N: Boy was this bad when I first opened it. It went straight next to the Laphroaig Select in the reject pile. However as the months past, it develops nicely on leathery raisins, curiously sweet herbal notes with a [Clynelish-ish] pong, dry fungal-fence panel oak, coconut<<vanilla=honey>lime sponge, peaty<tutti-fruity, a dessert leafiness,… and yet after all these months there’s still an off-putting & underlying surgical spirit note. Yet those complex notes keep reaffirming themselves, so yeah – I’m in two minds.
- T: Frankly rejectable. Adding water initially only adds to a surging aniseed heat, albeit with less but still significant prickliness. After a few months on the ‘naughty shelf’, it has genuinely softened with only a mini kick and a diminished heat build [maybe this explains the 40% bottling strength?]. This softening encourages a touch of the sherry character to the fore with [desirable] sulphurous touches. Develops a definable waxed mouthfeel and a little peat smoke with notes of waxy/plastic-y=leathery>raisin=prune>fig. On reflection, it’s overall sweet-to-sour but still with a tiring aniseed burn.
- F: Plastic-y=waxy with a little more spirity/sour>sweet, heather/smokey>witch hazel finish alongside waxy Caramac and a dirty cocoa-coconut oiliness. Really interesting stuff at the end.
- C: After my initial rejection things improved enormously, but after months and months i’m still in two minds. Two things have happened to the HP12 in my view. There’s a more prominent use of younger bourbon casks [less refills], over a considerably far smaller proportion of [refill] sherry. It also appears more clean & clinical, meaning the more interesting heathery/sulphury/peat-smoke elements have been somewhat sterilised. Scores swung from 80 to going on 87.
Scores 84 points on reflection
Let’s follow up with another established classic.
- N: As Talisker 18yo regulars will know, some batches are smokier & drier than others. This one leans more to the vegetal-herbal peated side, much like PC8 [coming up], with a soft-fresh woody=leathery, brine-y, onion-y, garlic-y vegetal funk and a rum spirit-like [copper] metallic base – one that suggests a weird poo-ey detergent note. Let’s tread carefully. Despite the funk, overall it’s balanced with a clinical feel but without any swagger, any joy. I find it boring & uneventful and my stance over many months hasn’t change one iota.
- T: Similar profile as the nose. Warm it up and add water and you’ve got a whisky that’ll not sustain too long. I’ve also struggled with the one-dimensional herbal sour<savouriness and I cant get myself to suit it to any given situation/occasion. I much prefer it blended with say an Aberlour A’bunadh or Glenfarclas 105, simply to shake it out a little from its restraints. It’s most commendable note is its soft & salivating mouthfeel though even then it’s a little prickly to start, developing thereafter: briney/soapy/oily. Hold in the mouth long enough though and texturally it’s more oily-buttery.
- F: Firm savoury-herbal-fresh finish [think endive], with a soft bitterness from the wood.
- C: I know it’s no bad whisky but i’m thoroughly un-moved. My favourite solution was to add 10-15% A’bunadh and a dash of Laphroaig. Anyone else feeling Talisker products of late are off the boil? Ever since the arrival of the ‘Storm’ come to think of it!
Scores 83 points
Whilst the old guard is looking a tad jaded, let’s focus on two contemporary island malts.
I’ve never been one for describing colour of whisky before, but this is liquid barley gold personified.
- N: Aside from the smoky sootiness, the pastry and the marine/Coolmint-fresh [all of which make up an amalgamated note], I focused on three distinct profile camps. The barley, the attentive [vanilla] oak and the sweet fruitiness – apple=pear tarte Tatin<orange=tangerine yes, but mostly it’s sweet lemon+lime sugar-sherbet and a touch of frangipane]. Also to be commended is the high flavour intensity coupled with an inviting softness to the whole. And i didnt even mention the biscuit-charcoal<toasted-ness that develops from that sooty smokiness.
Time reveals a malty heart that breathes & pulsates. After an hour, the putty-malt really starts to grow. A cardboard note is often seen as a dirty word in whisky but I’m having none of it. Recently i’ve had Inchgower, current Dufftown, Teaninich, Blair Athol,.. etc, all of which have shown brilliance whilst a little boxed in. This is honeyed corrugated cardboard & flour=paper mache, also with salt n vinegar seasoning, peaty [fresh, sweet cow pats], feta cheese [appearing more than another hour later. Then there’s the bourbon medicinal side, mainly showing through bourbon-led candy notes – Hubba Bubba the most obvious! All of this complexity comes with subtleness that always refers back to the savoury barley-cereal heart. I’m bored with the word ‘faultless’, but ho hum there it is. Serge says regarding this 12yo, “I can’t seem to find anything bad to say about this nose”. And thats the nose done! Have we time for anymore?
- T: This is oaky distillate but it’s the casks that serve the spirit. Dry yet spritzer-like salivation with a dill-sprinkled lemonade/vanilla quality before the velvet=waxy=soot, oak and savoury=sweet spirit gets to work. Follows through with a raisin/malt core. The complexity grows on development. Water management is fairly important but again, time is more crucial to get the best.
- F: It’s certainly not oily, maybe more waxy and there’s no exaggerated, rich mouthfeel. This is a dry, neutral-dry, spirit driven, oak-dry conclusion with a touch of cask-vanilla and more soot=ash oak/spirit/oak/spirit. Ralfy brilliantly spots camomile. There’s a touch of witch hazel with black currant tannins and sour lemons, not to mention the saltiness that has accompanied the malt since developing on the palate.
- C: This purchase came with quite some hype and some pressure to buy before stocks ran dry. Apparently case loads were being pre-bought before shops had even received their assignments. Though I had a few stirrings in the emotional department, this whisky won me over more on an academic level.
Scores 90 points
- N: Formidable yet rather inviting. Even after months and months after opening, its welcoming nature remains. It’s big with an allium floral yeastiness and a smoky-spirit oiliness.
- T: There’s nothing out of form here but it’s simply not gelling for me, neat or otherwise, There’s a collision of flavours which i find somewhat grating. Given my love for PC6, as much as I embrace this PC8, the sweet/sour barley/TCP profile just isn’t cutting it. It develops with an almost fatty mouthfeel but turns dry and resinous. [It goes back on the shelf for quite a while].
Months later: The cloying muddle has lifted. Oily yet spirity but with a thick slick body, it’s now executing well. I like the sweet nature that lies within the allium savoury. My grumble is it doesnt have the complex variations like say the PC6, which i can’t help comparing it against. Then again, there’s something of Clairins here. What is that herb? It’s strong and particular but i can’t quite get it. Overall it’s very cohesive.
- F: Finishes just fine as a chocolatey barley spirt with a sweet-cereal herbal finish and a little TCP. Eight months later there’s much less chocolate. Now it’s way more dry and malty with a little straw like cocoa powder. Pretty good ending actually, medium length.
- C: Not the most spectacular ‘PC’ but still a very decent whisky and there’s no denying its calibre. However it just doesn’t hit the mark as far as flavours go, especially on the palate. Rather down to personal preference this one.
Scores 87 points
Let’s stay on Islay and finish with a grand old classic
- N: Pretty dreamy. Vegetal, soft smoky toasted vanilla, some fruit decay, mature ‘open’ soft French cheese[s] [but which ones?], a smidgen of soot=shoe polish and liquorice wood [spot on Serge]. It’s all perfectly soft for my nose.
- T: A decidedly firm savoury/mulch-y/malty start, the mouthfeel dry-oily & moving chocolate-y and the smokiness deep & subtly penetrating. More toasted vanilla again, a touch squidgy-malty-spongy and medicinal hints equal to more liquorice wood.
- F: Once the smoked vanilla sponge settles, it’s decidedly dry, ashy and vegetal-sweet – the spirit smoky-clean.
- C: Showing no lack of commitment at 43%, 25 years+ has delivered a wonderfully mature, super-chilled Islay malt that goes for a very respectable €140 [Sept ’17]. One of my favourite smokers this year.
Scores 88 points