Highland Park Harald

Highland Park Harald
Distillery/Brand: Highland Park | Region: Islands | ABV: 40% | Color: Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 85

Review
I’m generally a fan of Highland Park. It was one of the first whiskies I had ever tried. Luckily for me it was a bottle of the 18 year old and I remember thinking ‘Bloody hell! There is no way whisky can taste that good!

The entry level 12 year old is decent enough, in my opinion, while on the other hand the premium 25 and 30 are in a league of their own. Though, mind you, I have had a fairly ordinary 1998 once as well. Which is fine since there is no way you can hit everything out of the park.

Including this one.

Highland Park recently released six Travel Retail Exclusive NAS expressions named after Viking warriors from the ages. All of which have funny sounding Norse names like Sven, Kristoff and Olaf.

Wait, I think that’s from the movie Frozen.

Anyway, this particular one is called Harald, named after the 9th century Norse ruler credited to be the first King of Norway and the one who unified the country. Unfortunately, the only thing this whisky is going to unify is the people who think it’s quite average.

Produced using both American & European oak casks 50-50 first fill and refill and 50-50 Euro and American oak sherries it is bottled at a rather weak 40%.

Nose: Musty. Cabbage water. Mushy peas. Coastal sea-salt. Quite briney with a hint of malt balls. A touch of that Orcadian peat. Cherries. Red apples. The mustiness clears after twenty minutes in the glass leaving behind a more crisp sherry influence. It’s a decent enough nose.

Palate: Caramel. Cereal. Quite mousy. Mild black peppers. Nuts. Brown bread. Yeasty. Drying oak. The palate is a touch underpowered. I don’t know what another 6% could have done. No harm I’m sure.

Finish: So short. Chocolate. Cinnamon. Oak. But so short.

If you’re going to name your whiskies after Viking warriors make sure they pack a punch. This one just limply shakes your hand.

Rating: 85

Balcones Texas Single Malt

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Distillery/Brand: Balcones Distilling | Region: America | ABV: 53% | Color: Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 87

Review
The first two whiskies I had from Balcones Distillery were the Brimstone Resurrection and the Brimstone Blue Corn. Both spirits being uniquely treated to sun baked Texas Oak smoke.

The result was a truly unique flavor profile which can be best described as a spicy Texas campfire. Now for those of you who know me I’m a sucker for anything unique and anything that can challenge my palate and both of these wonderful whiskies ticked the right boxes for me.

With my curiosity piqued I got my hands on one of the very few single malts out of USA, the Balcones Texas Single Malt.

Chip Tate, the owner of this wonderful micro-distillery, uses a secret formula to mature his spirit – experimenting with used bourbon barrels of different sizes and ages to create his flavors.

The Texas Single Malt is distilled from Scottish malted barley called The Golden Promise. Produced by Northern Brewers this traditional strain has a sweet, clean flavor and is favored for making good Scottish ale.

My sample is from Batch SM12-10 (bottled 12/31/2012) and served at 53%.

Nose: So fruity. Lots of citrus. Floral. Light fleshy fruits. Banana. Apricots. Jack fruit. So much Jack Fruit it’s insane. Chocolate. More Horlicks. Fresh grass. Beeswax. Honey dew melon. And mango. This reminds me of a Yamazaki Distiller Reserve I recently tried. Like a tropical fruit basket.

Palate: Chili. Lots of it first up. Mellows out mid-palate with pink melon. Chocolate. Lots of oak. Fennel. Cumin. Banana. And there it is again. That jack fruit. That never-ending jack fruit. Such an overripe tropical fruit platter.

Finish: Long. Oak. Orange. Pink papaya. And the melon is back.

Now let me be honest. After the first two Balcones I had pegged this distillery to produce only highly smoked, insanely unique flavor profiles. However, this Texas Single Malt is more like a Scapa 16 and Yamazaki Distillers’ Reserve blended together.

That’s not entirely a bad combination but it doesn’t work for me given my first two experiences. One need not go to Waco, Texas to get this flavor profile. With some creative blending it can be found in Scotland.

Mind you, it’s not that bad but it certainly belies it’s heritage as a kick-ass Texan.

Rating: 87

Balcones Brimstone

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Distillery/Brand: Balcones Distilling | Region: America | ABV: 53% | Color: Dark Bronze
Nose: 23 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 90

Review
Up until a few months ago I had not heard of Balcones Distillery. The brainchild of Texan Chip Tate this micro-distillery is only six years old and has already won a Confederate pickup worth of awards including a WWA for it’s Brimstone Resurrection bottling.

After managing to get hold of the award-winning sample I decided this micro-distillery was far too exciting to just pass up after one experience. They have around seven expressions all of which are under two years of age. Using mainly blue corn for distillation the unique spirit is smoked with sun baked Texas Oak giving it it’s signature charred barbecue pit flavor.

Balcones Brimstone is made with 100% blue corn and matured for just under two years in American Oak but only after it’s undergone a thorough Texas oak smoking. My bottle is from Batch BRM14-1 bottled on January 22, 2014 at a lovely 53%.

Nose: So unique. I have not nosed a whisky this different. Sweet diesel. Cinnamon. Garam Masala. Charred oak. Bitter chocolate. Red chilies. Barbecue pit. Burnt caramel. Digestives. Jute bag full of husky grains. Imagine sitting in the desert around a campfire.

Palate: Medium bodied. Red chilies. Bitter chocolate. Sour cherries. Smoked oak. Dried tobacco. Bitter marmalade. Red win tannins. Leather. This is quite an intense delivery with the red chili leading the way. Sadomasochistically delicious.

Finish: Long. Herbal. Minty. Lots of wood. Husk.

I’m a sucker for anything out of the ordinary. Be it a creative process or unusual taste. And if something has both then it’s got me.

Can’t wait to get through the other expressions.

Rating: 90

Ardbeg Kildalton 2014

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 46% | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

Review
Needless to say, and for those who know me, I have been an Ardbeg fan ever since I can remember. Which is basically to say I can only remember as far back as four years which is when my journey of whisky madness commenced.

Ardbeg was my muse and I collected and sampled as many expressions as I could humanly get my hands on. Of late, though, following on the heels of the Uigi, Corry and Alligator, it felt like my once favorite distillery was losing steam. The Fies Iles were not as powerful as the spirits that had captivated my attention.

Ardbeg Day was OK, not bad. The Galileo again missed the mark for me. Ardbog was decent. Auriverdes was so-so in my opinion. There was more mediocrity than there was greatness. And that was saddening.

And so when the new 2014 Kildalton came out I was skeptical of the spirit inside. But like a spoilt child in a toy shop I had to have it just so that it could sit on my shelf for all to see.

What I did not know was that my distillery had taken this moment to announce, what I hope is, a true return to form.

Bottled as a way of supporting the North Highland Initiative charity that supports fragile, rural communities across the North Highlands in Scotland.

Available only at the distillery Ardbeg Kildalton takes its name from the nearby Kildalton Cross. At 1200 years old the Kildalton Cross is an icon of Islay and Scotland and stands six miles along the coast from the distillery. Ardbeg also released a whisky by the name of Ardbeg Kildalton back in 2004.

It has been matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks (both 1st fill and refill) and comes in at a chewy 46%.

Nose: Mild peat. Warm tangerines. Touch of toffee. Melon fruitiness. More like Lovehearts. Delicate parfum with a hint of oak. Faint ash. And iodine that transcends into a more floral eucalyptus. It’s a wonderfully balanced nose and shows a lovely range of complexities the longer you sit with it.

Palate: Chargrilled citrus. Smoke and peat. Lemon sweets. Mild spices – more white than black pepper. Fruity vanilla and apricot. Hints of wood. The mouthfeel is quite deliciously creamy. Dries a touch in your mouth signaling good quality sherry.

Finish: Long with mocha wood and a touch of mint. The drying sherry is back.

After a really long time I was treated to some classic well-balanced flavors from Ardbeg. The intention and packaging behind the whisky are both noble. I would, however, love to know the age of the spirits inside. I’m going to guess nothing older than 9 or 10. But then age is just a number.

Welcome back Ardbeg. You were sorely missed.

Rating: 92

Ardbeg 17 Year Old

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 40% | Color: Pale Straw
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 88

Review
They say love is illogical and fascination need not have a reason. I say they. I actually mean me. Early on in my journey as a malt nerd I decided that I would devote my irrational emotions to a little known distillery by the name of Ardbeg.

It started with the 10. Then the Uigi. The Corry was followed by the Alligator and I began getting hooked. Desire trumped logic and I flippantly decided that I would make it my life’s mission to acquire as many Ardbeg expressions as I humanly (read financially) could.

And, thus, for no reason other than personal satisfaction began my journey towards financial ruin. Of them all there was one which got my attention above all the rest. It was the 17 year old. I don’t know why. I proffer no explanation other than there was something mysteriously beautiful about it.

Given that it was getting increasingly rare on the ground I had a hard time finding one at a good price but somehow managed. Not wanting to crack my full 70cl open for a few nips I managed to procure a couple of minis for a tasting.

And so after lusting behind this malt for over four years I finally sat down and fulfilled my silly little love dream.

Nose: Very mild peat. When I say mild I mean it’s really mild. Delicate soot. Tangerines. Cured meats. Sweet fish oil (if there is such a thing). Apricots. Dehydrated berries. Pineapple. Iodine and eucalyptus. It gets sweeter over time with a cherry cola quality. It is quite possibly one of the mildest Ardbegs on the nose ever. After a while you could be forgiven for thinking it might actually be a Speysider. There’s none of the real Ardbeg aromas. It’s not bad but it seems like everything is bit subdued.

Palate: Mild. Cardboard. Sweet lemon. Fruits with a wisp of smoke. Very faint peppers. Touch of mint. The palate is once again on the softer side. Everything is held back a touch.

Finish: Disappears at first but then comes back well. Oily with hints of oak and fruit spearmint.

Jim Murray had a hand in crafting this expression and it was the first one to emerge from the distillery when it re-opened under Glenmorangie’s leadership. I think the intention was to re-introduce the distillery to a much much wider audience with flavors deemed palatable to the novice drinker.

I wish I had drunk this many years ago when it first came out. I would have liked it much better then. Today, while I still think this is a fine dram, I missed the robustness of the Ardbeg flavors that I am so used to.

But love is blind and I am happy that I was able to cross this one off the top of my list.

Rating: 88

Longrow 14 Year Old Burgundy Wood

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Distillery/Brand: Longrow | Region: Campbeltown | ABV: 56.1% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
I have a confession to make. Actually a confession made on the back of a revelation.

About a couple of years ago I picked up this Longrow to satisfy my ever increasing curiosity for Campbeltown. To be fair I didn’t know much about it and relied on the salesman to pick something out for me.

A couple of months after purchasing it I had a poker night at my place and one of the guys wanted to have a taste. I duly obliged. He liked it. I wasn’t too impressed.

As it turns out he has much better taste in whisky than I do. Not only did I not think much of it I had the gall to write a review about it and label it average. This was, of course, over two years ago. In my defense I live in Dubai so two years is actually closer to eight in whisky years. You know, because of the temperature. So I think I can be forgiven for being naive.

This 14 year old gem has been matured for 11 years in bourbon barrels (1997-2008) and then for a further three in French Burgundy Casks (2008-2011). It’s peated like all Longrows are and it’s served up at a juicy 56.1%

Nose: Warm dark honey. Natural caramel. Toast. Cranberries. Malt butter. Cherries. Red licorice. Star anise. Cinnamon. Tannins. Mint leaf. Cured meats. And that lovely peat.

Palate: Strong cinnamon. Clove. Dark cocoa. Coffee beans. Actually superbly roasted coffee beans. And spices. Roasted too. Burnt sweet caramel. The delivery is full bodied and the flavors brilliantly balanced.

Finish: What a finish! Long, oily and chewy. Minty with lots of coffee. Cherries. Cinnamon. Warm Coca-Cola.

Thanks to my friend The Whisky Snob who raved about it so much he made me give this another go. Incidentally this score is 6 huge points above the last.

I was either stupid or the oxidization helped. I’m going with stupid.

Rating: 93

Redbreast 15 Year Old

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Distillery/Brand: Redbreast | Region: Ireland | ABV: 46% | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 21 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 86

Review
I recently reviewed the Redbreast 12 Cask Strength and it was days before I could get it out of my mind. It was so insanely good.

I had a bottle of it’s 15 year old older brother lying around as well and so tonight I decided to give it a whirl. Given the fact that I was positively giddy over the 12 Cask Strength you can imagine my anticipation at trying out the 15 year old.

Distilled using the legendary Irish method of employing a mix of malted and un-malted barley and then triple distilling in copper stills. This method produces a unique spirit known as Pure Pot Still Whiskey. And Midleton Distillery, where Redbreast is made, are masters of this craft.

Which is why this whiskey is a bit of a disappointment for me. Not that it’s horrendous but when it follows on the trail of the 12 year old Cask Strength it is average at best.

Matured in ex-Bourbon and ex-Oloroso Sherry casks the spirit is bottled at 46%.

Nose: My glass was left covered for over 20 minutes to allow all the aromas to accumulate. The first nose was quite sour. Tamarind water. Light soy sauce. Let it breathe and the grains come through next. Barley. Gets sweeter over time. Warm honey. Toffee. Berries. Dark chocolate. Spicy next with clove and other spices. Almond husk. Oils. Not my favorite nose. The sourness threw me off.

Palate: Feels grainy. Quite sweet and fruity. Hard boiled sweets. Apricots. Peaches. Oily. The berries are back. So is the fennel and the clove. With hints of oak. The flavors are quite unique but they’re not really doing it for me for some reason.

Finish: Long. Oily. With a hint of bitter oak.

This is drinkable and some might even say enjoyable. I have no arguments on that. Is it gorgeous like it’s 12 year old sibling?

Nope.

Rating: 86