Tag Archive: Orkney


Orkney: Dark Island Reserve (Scotland: Old Ale: 10% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Thin brown head that quickly vanishes to just a rim and a dusting.

Nose: Very vinous. Very spirity. Sour red wine. Rich sherry. Alcohol soaked raisins. Rum. Honeycomb. Golden syrup cake slices. Charcoal dusting. Hot fudge cakes.

Body: Cake sponge. Light charring. Smoke. Brown bread. Bitter core. Dry toffee. Thick feel after being light for a couple of seconds. Dry rum. Sour grapes. Dry sherry. Bitter chocolate cake. Lightly sour touch. Brown bread. Dry plums and dry figs.

Finish: Bitter chocolate cake. Sour touch. Sour grapes. Sour figs. Bitter cocoa dust. Wet moss. Smoke. Dry sherry.

Conclusion: Ok, this took me a bit of time for me to get my head around. Mainly because the aroma, the body and the finish all feel massively different while still having enough in common to give a coherent theme.

The aroma is the most spirity, vinous thing you are likely to encounter any time soon. It is thick as hell, heavy, with thick sweet syrup notes and tons of the old ale style and dark fruit notes. Every element you can imagine from its description is here and huge.

So, with that in mind, on first sip I was expecting pretty similar. Instead I got a drier, bitter chocolate cake, smoke and charring thing up front. Bitter in character but fairly subtle despite its weight. Then, over time, the old ale style sourer but still thick and heavy set of notes comes out. Subtle sour grapes, but more evident than that are the dry spirity notes. Far drier in how that are expressed in the full bodied aroma, but most definitely there.

The finish flips that a bit. It still has the bitter opening but then goes heavily into the sour, old ale like notes first, before finally the dry spirit notes show themselves around the edges.

It is not an instantly rewarding mix, which is kind of why I find it so engrossing. It had my interesting instantly with the aroma, but I had to take my time waiting in the body as it slowly laid its cards out after that, making you wait for the best notes at the latter half of the beer. It is never a bad beer, still solid early on, but the best comes to those who wait.

The beer never ends up the boozy beast that the aroma promises, and I kind of miss that – it smelled like it was going to be epic, but the drier, old ale sourness meets dry spirity character meets smoke and dry chocolate cake thing is a heck of an experience, and not one I can say I have seen like this elsewhere.

This earns its reputation, just takes a short while to do so. Give it that time and you will be rewarded.

Background: I have known this beer by reputation for ages, but somehow never got my way around to grabbing a bottle. Which changed last Christmas when I had a 750ml bottle to myself for lock-down Christmas! I didn’t do notes on it then, and have meant to for ages since. So this is me doing that , finally pulling my thumb out and doing something. For some reason this, smaller bottle, stylizes the name as DRK ISLD RSRV. Maybe because they hate me. That is most likely. Anyway, this is Dark Island that has spent time in whisky casks. Makes sense. Though considering the Dark Island I tried was sub 5% and this is over 10% I’m guessing they brewed up the recipe a bit. That or it was a heck of a wet barrel and there is a serious amount of whisky in this. Which seems less likely. Anyway, I think this was one of the earlier attempts at barrel ageing beers in the UK, but I couldn’t be sure on that. This was grabbed from Independent Spirit and drunk while listening to Ulver: ATGCLVLSSCAP. I wanted something haunting to go with something this big, and as always Ulver provides. Considering the album is basically live improvised remixes of existing songs it speaks highly of Ulver that it is still so amazing.

The Macphails Collection: Highland Park 8 Year (Scottish Island Single Malt Whisky: 8 years: 40% ABV)

Visual: Clear light straw to gold.

Viscosity: Quite fast streaks of medium thickness.

Nose:  Light peat smoke, vanilla and grain. Alcohol prickles. Beef stew. Slightly marshy.  Cooked onions.

Body: Sweet Dill pickles and gherkins.  Lime. Golden syrup. Banana. Water weakens the front but makes sweeter and adds custard. A broth like back is also added.

Finish:  Charring. Smoke, cigars and a tongue tingling feel.  Custard sweetness with water into malt chocolate and fudge.

Conclusion: Dill pickles and gherkins in a whisky tasting note? Never thought I’d see the day.   Highland Park is a fine spirit and this youthful version comes in with the expected light smoke and sweet touch.  Then you get the aforementioned pickles, which is oddly actually quite cool, giving a tingle instead of a full on alcohol burn.

I find myself preferring this without water. The water does make it smoother and into an absolutely lovely finish, but that manic middle is lost, and it is that quirkiness that I find so fun.  That said, the finish with water is very much welcome, so it is a bottle that’s worth a good experiment with.

Lively and joyous, Highland Park can do no wrong by me it seems.

Background:  Highland Park from Orkney is one of the spirits that seems to be able to pull off many styles well and I have had a grand history with its products so far.  Similarly Gordon and Macphail do a wonderful range of odd whisky’s, closed distilleries and own the Benromach distillery which has found favour with me. All in all I go into this tasting with high hopes.

Gordon and Macphail: Scapa 1993 (Scottish Island Single Malt Whisky: 11 Years: 40% ABV)

Visual: Pale yellowed grain.

Viscosity: Slow but thick streaks with some areas coming down in sheets.

Nose: Toffee, quite smooth. Vanilla. Touch of banana. Slight noticeable alcohol. Grain. Water makes for a distinctly more floral whisky.

Body: Big golden syrup comes in after several moments of distinctly light front. Toffee. Water adds sugared almonds, chocolate and honeycomb.

Finish: Charring and chocolate. Truffles. Slight rum filled chocolate liquors.  Water makes even more chocolate filled, but into a drier end. Buttered malt loaf, hint of syrup, lime and chocolate orange.

Conclusion: This is a really sweet whisky, with lots of chocolate, syrup and a very smooth texture. A big counterpoint to the stereotype of the harsh and briny island whisky, and very different to its island brother Highland Park.

This would get sickly fast as the only drink you have for an entire night, but does work well as a one off. It is all sweet flavours with nigh nothing offsetting it.

I did enjoy this as a simple and joyful whisky, distinctly non complex.  It plays with a similar chocolate finish as Bowmore 15 but without the slight harsher edge that keeps that one so very interesting

A cheerful whisky, but not a favourite,

Background: Oddly the bottle lists this as Highland Whisky, when research says this is from the Orkney Islands, the same islands that house the Highland Park distillery.  This particular bottling being matured in Refill Sherry American Casks.  I’ve seen Scapa whisky in the pubs a few times, but have never sampled it before today. Possibly due to the remarkably bland labelling never really catching the eye or the imagination.

Alchemist: Highland Park 16 Year Old Calvados Finish (Scottish Island Single Malt Whisky: 16 Years: 46% ABV)

Visual: A light amber with an appropriately apple juice like look.

Viscosity: Some medium speed streaks form instantly, but the main section are from slow and thin puckering.

Nose:  Sea air, a light dash of apples. Salt. Light roasted nuts. Wood shavings and liquorice. Quite meaty – beef. Vanilla backed. With water, the more subtle smells smooth giving the salt a more evident playfield and adding perfume.

Body: Vanilla and custard. Peat. Sugared apple crumble. Beef stew. Shortbread and toffee. Water allows the dessert style and crumble flavours free reign and the apple more evident.

Finish: Peat and beef. Custard. Apple pie and toffee. Lingering chocolate and leather.  Water makes the chocolate smoother, like Belgium chocolate.

Conclusion: Highland Park is one of the all time classic spirits, always coming in with great complexity behind its force.  Here we find a calvados finished version, and unlike my fears the calvados is subtly added giving a sweet syrup back to the beef and peat body.

It really does add just that little bit extra, as mentioned I feared the finish would overwhelm the spirit, but instead it is the calvados that fears being hidden.  The Highland Park flavour comes right through, and the flavours mix for a wonderful range of distinct elements that balance against each other very well. Dessert sweetness and heavy meatiness have never sat so well together.

The delicate touches added by the finish are so unlike what I would expect from a Highland Park spirit, and gives a rewarding and renewed interest in the fine whisky, then leaves you with a long chocolate finish.

Really top notch. Like the Gaja Barolo Longrow, this show shows what can be done when you combine two rich flavours. It’s a sign of its quality that I nearly forgot to test adding water to see how it altered the range.

Apple crumble, beef, peat and leather. A full meal in glass.

Background: Highland Park is possibly my most tasting noted whisky, and a favourite of the style. This version is finished in apple brandy casks by the independent bottler’s Alchemist, who I have not run into before.

My best attempts to find a full bottle of this interesting sounding whisky came to naught, but I did manage to find an online store that does samples from splitting bottles into 3cl jars, a commendable habit that makes it easier to try the odder whisky’s that normally don’t get miniature made.

Highland Park 21 Year (Scottish Island Single Malt Whisky: Scotland: 21 Year: 47.5% ABV)

(Apparently this whisky is made exclusively for travel retail, which makes me wonder how I got it in the first place)

Visual: Deep seeped bronzed honey.

Viscosity: Slight puckering only for the first 30 seconds before finally a small set of infinitely slow streaks form.

Nose: Raisins, planed wood and vanilla. The abv is very evident. Hay. Water added brings out gingerbread, coriander and crushed orange peel. A touch more and you find carrot, whipped cream and crushed mint leaves.

Body: Plums, honeycomb, raisins and wood. Water adds golden syrup, more raisins, carrot, fruitcake raspberry and grass.

Finish: Chocolate, charring, slight salt and peat. More malt chocolate. Spirit soaked fruit, earthy and some grassiness again.

Conclusion: Highland Park always turns out good spirit, and this expression is no exception. Definitely needs a touch of water though as the high ABV burns out some of the flavour without.

An odd carrot and coriander feel to this whisky makes it an intriguing almost carrot cake drink. Fascinating though that may be, it doesn’t bring quite the spark I attribute to the 18 and 25 year versions of this Whisky.

It’s a more down to earth dram, that experiments with earthy grounded flavours, very much calling to the cut earth, turned peat and wild island environ in which it is made.

In a pinch I would call this the Farmers Yard delight of the Highland Parks, Down to earth and distinctly unsubtle, but with am enjoyable rough and ready quality

Highland Park 18 Year (Scottish single malt island whisky: 18 Years Old: 43% ABV)

Visual: Deep enriched amber.

Viscosity: Extremely slow and quite thin streaks.

Nose: Cherries and fruitcake, shortbread and liquorice with tiny hints of smoke. Small trace of bubblegum like flavour. Water adds light lavender touches to mellow out the flavour.

Body: Roasted nuts, blackberries. Marzipan and toffee. Lemon tart/treacle tart. Not too sweet but effortlessly mixes many dessert tastes. Water adds a spicy touch in the form of gingerbread.

Finish: Slightest salt, roasted nuts. Slight harshess and coffee granules. Rising charcoal. Builds slowly over repeated tastes to a treacle touch. Port and the tiniest peat. Water adds an almost cheesecake base element which is distinctly unexpected.

Conclusion: A masterpiece: The expected island influence is instead a subtle rounding to an altogether more complex sweet sherried whisky with wonderful dessert flavours and a fantastic range.

Sweet and just slightly fiery this whisky competes with the 25-year edition on even terms, and is far superior to the already impressive 12-year version.

A brilliant whisky at any price point.

(Thanks to mum and dad for this wonderful Christmas present)

Highland Park 40 Year Old (Scottish Whisky: Orkney Island Single Malt: 48.3% ABV)

Disclaimer: tasted at a whisky show, this was a comparatively short measure so the tasting note is similarly reduced as I did not get time to contemplate the full range. However I still felt it worth sharing my thoughts on these whiskys I would otherwise have been unable to experience.

Visual: light gold

Viscosity: Fast thin streaks.

Nose: Touch of smoke, very clean smell. Some vanilla and almost floral comes through. Trace of light salt.

Body: Sweet, the alcohol punch is surprisingly present. Burnt wood roams around and light saltiness. An unexpectedly light and sweet expression.

Finish: Floral, vanilla. Light and airy. By far the cleanest finish on a Highland Park.

Conclusion: An amazingly light and smooth expression of Highland Park, with the elements introduced in a far more easy going and laid back manner than we
have become used to. It takes much more time to reveal itself and dances lightly where the earlier expressions assault the senses.

This may show my lack of culture, but I found the still smooth but just slightly more forceful highland park 25 year a more enjoyable dram. But this speaks more to the heights of that drink than the weakness of this one.

Highland Park 12 Year (Scottish: Orkney Island Single Malt: 12 Year:40% ABV)

Visual: Light grain and gold.

Viscosity: Fast forming thick trails.

Nose: Salt, fudge, sea cliffs. Warm and rocky.

Body: Slick; competing sweet and salt in satisfying doses. Syrup. Lighter vanilla and fresher notes add to the complexity. Finally dancing biting golden glow and fresh grain fields.

Finish: Harsh and salty, wood; dry mouth. Sweet butter.

Conclusion: This takes the distinct island saltiness and harshness then adds in lighter notes to offset it making for a satisfying whisky with a decent range.

It sacrifices its punch somewhat but adds complexity to make for a decent all rounder.

Orkney: Dark Island (Scotland: Old Ale: 4.6%)

Visual: Extreme dark brown, appears black but in the very extremities. Small dusting of a grey black head.

Nose: Rounded coffee with dusty cellar notes; some bitter chocolate.

Body: Bitter core, musty and mothballs Oddly lacking in complexity compared to its reputation.

Finish: Hoppy, bitter edge, black coffee and black chocolate. Cocoa. Dry, some cotton wool feel.

Conclusion: A fantastic finish looking for a body to go with it. Both the nose and the finish scream class but the main body is not up to the challenge.

It reminds me of Hollywood trailers that promise so much but its all up front and nothing kept back to surprise you.

A pity, with all that it promises it could have been so much more.

(Addendum: 02/12/2009 A Recent beer festival gave another chance to try this: On this instance there was a much more evident fig and chocolate body which made for a much more satisfying beer – still not top class but much more enjoyable. I am considering the original sample may have been a bad batch)

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