Highland Park Fans take notice of the big changes happening at Scotland’s northernmost distillery, in the Orkney Islands.
There is good news and there is bad news
Highland Park bids farewell to some core range expressions, and launches new expressions outside the core range, including the new Viking Legend Series, part of their revamped image announced today, which is inspired by Orkney’s Viking era during the Dark Ages circa the year 800 CE.
The Bad News
Highland Park 15 is discontinued. Fans will want to budget accordingly and scour the shop shelves. Made with a higher percentage of sherry casks made from American oak, it has a sweeter taste with notable flavors of mango and other tropical fruits.
Dark Origins is also discontinued. It had been the first No Age Statement expression in HP’s core range. Including a higher percentage of first-fill sherry casks made from European oak, some re-charred, this expression is smokier than other HP and has a more-savory character overall.
[UPDATE May 21, 2017: And perhaps the worst news of all, Highland Park 21 is is also missing from their brand new website.]*
The Good News
The folks at Highland Park have the good taste to leave alone the great taste inherent to the rest of their core age statement expressions! And there was much rejoicing – yea.
In fact a new 50 yo will be appearing in the next year or two.
Highland Park makes their classic core range whiskies from 100% single malt whisky aged entirely in sherry casks, and thus they shall remain, according to my sources.
But the core range expressions are getting a new bottle, with a somewhat different shape and embossed glass relief designs inspired by the twelfth century iconography on the famous stave church at Ornes (Urnes,) Norway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Martin Markvardsen Senior Brand Ambassador for HP is quoted by Imbibe as saying “What we heard about the old bottle is that it looked a bit like a bourbon.” That is something I recognized the moment it first appeared on the market, before I got used to it and came to like it. He went on to say, “I think the new bottling and positioning will stand out well and look like a (Scotch) whisky.”
The important part in all of this is that the newly christened 10 yo Viking Scars (not available in the USA,) 12 yo Viking Honour, and 18 yo Viking Pride have been promised to stay the same incomparable Highland Park we all have come to depend upon. The 18 yo will now be made two batches per year, the first dated February 2017.
It is just the Highland Park brand that has taken on a new look and language to imbue its image with Orkney’s ancient Viking past.
This is not just about evocative advertising in the drinks industry. The trend in Scotland toward a national identity separate from that of the rest of the UK has revived old sentiments suggesting the culture of the Scottish Highlanders has more in common with Norway and the rest Scandinavia, than with their English and Welsh cousins to the south. And the Orkney Islands have always had considerable Scandinavian connections, belonging to Norway until the 1400s.
Besides, who doesn’t stir with some romantic attachment to the idea of intrepid Viking explorers and the brave and hearty people who sent them out on their legendary adventures?
New Ways to Experience Highland Park
Full Volume and Valkyrie
As for the new expressions, the soon-to-be-missed 15 will be replaced later this summer, by something called Full Volume, which has a marketing spin of comparing a whisky blender’s flavor engineering to an audio engineer’s mixing of music. It is made entirely from Highland Park aged in American bourbon barrels. Bottled at at 47.2% ABV, HP Full Volume will cost about £75 per bottle.
Full Volume will fit in between the 18 yo core expression and the newly released Valkyrie expression, which is launching the new Viking Legend Series, while also replacing Dark Origins, at least in the minds of Highland Park management. Where Dark Origins was smokier than other Highland Park, Valkyrie is officially peatier.
But unlike Dark Origins and the age statement expressions in the core range, Valkyrie has bourbon barrels involved, along with sherry barrels of European and American oak. The official line stresses the latter as a tie-in with traditional HP, but the published tasting notes, of lemons with vanilla and spicy sweet preserved ginger, suggests the former is prominently featured.
It was reputedly distilled in 1999 and bottled in 2017, at 45.9%, but Valkyrie does not have an age statement. This might be to avoid having to re-label future bottles, should some younger spirit get mixed into later editions. Or it is simply that is the way HP does their non-core range expressions.
There are two other expressions scheduled in this Viking Legends Series over the next two years, named Valknut and Valhalla.
All-Bourbon HP for Bourbon’s Homeland
There is also an all-bourbon barrel Highland Park heading to the American market called Mangus, which is sadly bottled at 40%, but happily priced well under $50. Mangus was the name of both the King of Norway and the King of Sweden at the same time that stave church was being built. But it does not distract from the fact it is much more about America in its creation than anything to do with Vikings. But the same can be said for all of those special edition whiskies HP has been coming out with for years.
As I just said to a friend last night, Highland Park should feel free to follow industry trends and come up with all the expressions they can that utilize bourbon casks, virgin oak, or oak seasoned by other wines or spirits, put them in various bottles and wooden cradles and charge a Viking’s ransom for them, if they can get away with it – if that is what it will take to insure that my beloved all-sherry-all-the-time Highland Park bottled with guaranteed age statements will continue unmolested into the foreseeable future and remain available for those who know it and love it so well.
*If they have discontinued Highland Park 21, arguably the most fresh and intensely flavorful expression of their core range, it would be a tragedy indeed, and a crime if it is not longer being made to make room for one of their newfangled non-traditional expressions.
And that is one man’s word on…
Highland Park – Big Changes Ahead in 2017
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