Here's what we're drinking, and you should too.

#Highland Park

Tales from the Cask : Wilson and Wilson Private Detective Agency

Outside of a San Francisco Detective Agency

One of the bars in San Francisco that knows how to make a cocktail is Bourbon and Branch.  They invented the Laphroaig Project there, and the bar is actually housed in what used to be a speakeasy.  There’s a back “library” that houses a second bar that you need to enter through a fake bookcase.  You need to make a reservation and know a password to get in, the bartenders and staff are all dressed up old-fashioned like, and the quality of their drinks is only matched by the prices they charge.

Recently they expanded.  Next door houses “Wilson and Wilson Private Detective Agency”.  It’s a bar that is supposed to give you a higher level of service and ostensibly it does.  It’s another speakeasy type thing, and you can read a good review and the backstory here from The Tender.  I didn’t have an awesome time there (the seats are REALLY uncomfortable and our waitress was pretty awful), but the drinks were good.

The reason I write this post is that they have some extremely interesting whisk(e)y drinks.  The menu is arranged by apertifs, main courses, and digestifs (they have a prix fixe menu where you get three drinks for the price of two and a half, or really the price of a decent meal anywhere else).

The three drinks are:

The Phantom

Clove infused cognac, Glenrothes Alba Reserve, Cocchi Aperitivo, Lemon Juice, Cacao and Vanilla Syrup, Orange Bitters

Truth Serum

Highland Park 12, Amaro Nonino, Brown Sugar Cinnamon Syrup, Sasparilla Aromatic Bitters, Licorice Root Tincture


Knob Creek Bourbon, Coffee Syrup, Cranberry Infused Angostura Orange Bitters, Tobacco Bourbon Tincture

I had the Truth Serum and really enjoyed it.  It wound up being way smokier than I expected from HP 12, and was really delicious.  The flavors were balanced and I even got some of the sarsparilla.  Not sure it was worth the cost, but definitely an experience.

For those who want to check out the full menus, they are here.  Here’s a pdf of the envelope the menu comes in and here are page 1 and page 2 of the menu.


Tasting Notes: Highland Park 1994 Vintage Edition

As the Major League Baseball season came to a labor strike-induced, premature end, Highland Park was laying down barrells (including many first-fill sherry casks) that would make their way into this small-batch vatting released 16 years later as a Duty-Free-only 1994 vintage edition.  I got mine at Ataturk International, where I also managed to get one of the last of their Laphroaig TripleWood; however, unlike the TripleWood, I don’t think you’ll have a hard time locating these HP vintages once you make your way into any World Travel Retail shop.

Highland Park 1994

Abv.: 40%.

Color: Gold.

Legs: Viscous but medium-large and not very slow.

Nose: Tropical fruits, coconut; vanilla; fruitcake; honeysuckle; touch of salt.

Taste: Cardamom, banannas in chocolate, and that classic HP marzipan.

Body: Fuller than expected in a 40% bottle, with an enjoyable mouthfeel.

Finish: Sutble dried fruit and spice, medium in length; flambéed.

Overall: Definitely the sweet side of Highland Park, but the sherry spices and the smokeyness poke through.  A nice dram for all; not too light, not too heavy, not too smokey— a touch sweet, but in a dynamic way.  Definitely Highland Park, but definitely a nice variation, too.

Other Opinions: A nice, sweeter variant of the typically sweet/spicey/smokey Highland Park style.

  • ScotchMaltWhisky just repeats the distillery notes: caramel and dark fruit on the nose, and caramel and spices/dried fruit on the palate, with a “lingering, warming smoky finish.”
  • The Caskstrength boys like the sweetness that stands out in the usual Highland Park profile, along with the butterscotch on the nose and the slightly spiced palate.
  • Gavin & Tom at Whisky-Pages find less caramel than the 1998 vintage but also note the sweetness of the dram and the “bonfire smoke in the finish;” they give it 3 out of 5 stars (“good”).
Tagged: #Highland Park

WhiskyFest: 1, Whiskies of the World: 0. On taking something awesome and trying your hardest to screw it up.

When the drums kick in...When the drums kick in

I’m not generally what one would call a “hater.”  I’m especially rather pleasant when it comes to whisk(e)y.  For instance, put me in a room with people  who like whisky, at an event which helps me learn more of said spirit, and offer me as much drink as I can handle (and maybe a smidgeon more - as Devo meant to say ”Are we not men?  We are WhiskyParty!”) and I should be the happiest camper this side of Scotland.

Yet somehow, it was not to be.  Whiskies of the World, held in San Francisco at the Hotel Nikko, managed to disappoint me.  A lot.  It obviously wasn’t all bad:  in fact there were some pretty cool highlights.  But throughout it all, especially for a festival that calls itself “The Greatest Whiskey Event”, I couldn’t help but continuously compare it to WhiskyFest, and Whiskies of the World was found wanting.

You know an event is struggling when random guests are discussing loudly, for all to hear, about how bad the event is and how after 5 years of attending he and his wife won’t come back.  You know it’s worse when an even more random server stops, looks at those guests and says “You’re right.  There’s not enough room.  This isn’t run well”.  You know it’s getting dangerously close to the cliff’s edge when a whisky icon begins ruminating to those same guests about the various reasons why the event is going the way it’s going.  And you know you should just cut your losses when an even cooler icon from a very cool distillery that we all love leans over to you and says “this place is a total clusterf*ck.”

Sigh.  The event has been written up already by DrinkHacker and a new local whiskey read The Casks.  They seemed to have noticed the issues I write about here, but it didn’t bother them as much.  Me?  Well, let’s go Positives and Negatives.


  • Maker’s 46.  A sample bottle was there.  I tried it (apparently even before John Hansell!).  By that point my palate was not as resilient as I would have liked, but I remember it being chewy, very oaky, less vanilla and more spice, satisfying in a way that regular Makers is not for me, and it was one of three drams for which I went back for seconds.
  • Music Makes Me Smile.  The Bushmills Irish Pipers Band killed it.  They went around a few times, and each time just brought the energy of the event way up.
  • Mackillop’s Choice Highland Park 1980.  Lovely Dara from The Whisky Shop told me I had to go back and try this (I had given up trying to elbow my way to try all the offerings) and she was right.  This was delicious.  There was spice and lots of fruit, slight vanilla, faint smoke, and an evolving decadent finish.  I know absolutely nothing of how old it was but I liked it a lot.
  • Microdistilleries. It was absolutely great to have a seminar on the distilleries, learn about the trials and tribulations, and sample the wares from some heavy hitters.  At the end of the night, Anchor Steam even gave away a copy of Cocktail Boothby’s American Bar-Tender in which there’s a cocktail recipe on how to “make Scotch Whiskey”.
  • People.  Lorne Mackillop was there, as was Simon Brooking from Laphroaig and Rick Edwards from The Glenlivet.  Steve Beale from Diageo represented as did Richard Paterson from Whyte and MacKay.  Folks from High West DistilleryTuthilltown and Maker’s Mark were in full force.  I even met an awesome guy waiting in line to get in (more on that below) who had driven over 12 hours from Utah to get there.  There were some good people there.  As I state below, it’s just a shame you were meeting them under less than ideal conditions.


  • Operations 101.  My evening started at 5:10 PM when I arrived at the Hotel Nikko ballroom in time for the VIP entrance at 5:15PM (the regular crowd would gain entrance at 6:00PM).  Awesome, right?  Well, awesome except for the fact that I then was directed to a long meandering line that didn’t move very fast. I waited for a full 43 minutes, gaining entrance to the event room at 5:53PM.  No announcements as to what was happening occurred.  We just were told to wait.  And what did I actually wait for?  A wristband.  I waited online to exchange my ticket for….a ticket.  Though I won an Alcademics contest to get a ticket, I sure felt bad for the suckers who coughed up all that extra money for extra tasting time that didn’t occur.
  • SWAG 101.  But what about the free glass?  That must have been cool, right?  Well, only “Dram Club Members" who paid an extra $60 for that honor got a glass.  The VIP ticket holders and the regular folks did not (this is apparently different than from years past).  The rest of us got to drink out of catered wine glasses (you know, the cheap ones with dishwasher stains) that I had to find on my own.  Literally - I had to find them on my own.  There were no directions or instructions given when I exchanged my ticket for the wristband ticket - I literally went inside the event, and then after asking a booth about where the glasses were, had to go back outside to a side table hidden in a corner to pick up a glass from a tray that looked like it was the discard pile of dirty dishes.
  • Put Up A Stupid Sign 101. Even if you wanted to learn about whisky, you couldn’t hear when announcements were made as to the starting of the seminars.  There was no HQ inside the event at which to ask questions.  And the seminars themselves were located on another floor separate from the main event, without any signs that I could see to help direct people to them.  I wound up missing the first seminar I wanted to attend and had to ask 3 ‘helpers’ located outside of the actual event  before getting correct directions to the seminars.
  • Crowd Control 101.  As has been noted elsewhere, the space allotted for all of the booths and all of the people (one of the whisky icons told me that he had heard 1200 tickets were sold) was probably only big enough for a third of the booths and people that filled it.  So, instead of being able to try a whisky and carry on somewhat meaningful conversation to learn about it, you just had to try and shove and be one of the people holding their glass out for a pour.


I drank the other 45I drank the other 45

"The Greatest Whiskey Event"? Comparing the event to WhiskyFest almost seems laughable.  For sure, there were issues with WhiskyFest, too (i.e. whiskies being advertised that weren’t actually there).  But at least that wasn’t MaltAdvocate’s fault.

Whereas WhiskyFest gave the distilleries and the whisky the ability to shine, it seems that at this event, all the distilleries were trying to make the best out of a less than ideal situation in which they were put.

So, did I have fun?  Absolutely.  Would I pay to go again?  Eh.  The main thing that irks me about the event was that  all these negative issues made the event seem it was only a)about making money and b)about getting drunk.  The event was NOT about whisk(e)y.  It was not about the reasons that people pay to go there.  They and everyone else can get drunk on their own for less money.  Probably makes sense for the event organizers to realize that next year, and try to improve  upon their (or apparently go back to their prior) formula.  If not, there seems to be a few other festivals that are willing and able to take over.



Tasting Notes: Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 16

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 16: A tasty beverage.

A few months ago, we wrote reviews of  Harviestoun Ola Dubh (“engine oil”) beer after it had been aged in Highland Park barrels that previously held Highland Park  12 and 30 year old whiskies.  The only part of this limited release we were missing was the variety of Ola Dubh that had been aged in barrels previously holding Highland Park 16.  Thanks to my local D&M Liquor Store, I am able to celebrate Harviestoun’s entire catalogue, and present my tasting of the Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 16 aged in barrels filled with Highland Park 16.  I was exceptionally excited about this because Matt @ WhiskeyApostle commented that this was his favorite out of the 12 and 30 year - the one that was greater than the sum of its parts.

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special 16 Reserve

Bottle #: 16894

Bottled: Sept 2007

ABV: 8%

Head: very little cream.  Tan colored.

Body: deep and structured with very few, very fine champagne bubbles.

Nose: roasted cocoa nibs, brown sugar.  Earth and coffee.

Palate: roasted barley, dark chocolate, sweet cherries.  There is a tinge of finely ground espresso.

Finish: This is where the smoke comes in and it lasts.  It’s not outright maritime smoke, it’s not coal, it’s just some good chimney smoke.  The underbelly of it is sweet barley, though potentially that’s just the remnants of the roasted barley on the palate.

Overall:  Wow.  This is tasty.  It’s a sipper, but not half-a-beer type beer.  You can easily sip this in one short sitting and be able to take down all of it.  You really can taste the influence of the whisky, too!  It is smoky, sweet, chewy - I’m sad that it’s gone.  It was well worth the $10.

Other Opinions:

  • RateBeer places it in the 98th percentile overall, though the reviews are somewhat all over the place.
  • RoyalMile finds the chocolate, smoke, coffee and malt.  They get leather which I did not.
  • The Daily Loaf finds many similarities, though they get more whisky influence (I think).
  • ThisRound didn’t find whisky and came up with soy sauce (which I missed, but found in abundance before on a Sam Adams Triple Bock).
  • BeerAdvocate’s overall is an A-.

40 Whiskies Under $40: Macphail’s Collection Highland Park 8 year old

Gordon & Macphail, a top notch whisky shop in Elgin, Scotland has been bottling its own versions of many single malts since 1895.  But now the shop has an answer to the problem of global economic downturn doubled down by rising whisky prices: the Macphail’s Collection of quality, young single malt Scotches.  The series includes a Bunnahabhain, a Tamdhu, and a Glenrothes, among others, all of which have been well received.  Here, I’ll be tasting their offering from the Orcadian distillery that is already known for great prices on excellent whiskies.

Macphail’s Collection Highland Park 8 year old

Cost: $32-35

Abv: 43%

Color: golden sunset

Legs: med-large beads, but long, slow, well-formed, and viscous; quality.

Nose: almost ripened berries and a musty, mossy peat; kiwi; meringue candies; and something vaguely oceanic like being in an old ship that was once at sea.  Water brings out floral and salty aromas.

Palate: a teasingly sweet vanilla-extract entry with a toasted malty note and a quiet hint of orange followed by spice development into cloves and the cacao and marzipan qualities found in older HPs; each flavour is slightly seared for a subtle smokeyness.  With water it becomes earthier with more cloves, and a smoked wood flavour comes out.

Body: light-medium; a touch round, a touch oily, but overall just pleasant to drink.

Finish: a touch of smoke on the gentle chocolate fade; delicate but very nice and slightly mouthwatering.

Overall: What a fantastic 8 year old!  Not sure where the honey & heather went, but there’s lots of character on the nose, with hints of what is to come from older HPs on the palate.  It might have been a little bit one (or two) dimensional if not for the lightly smoked flavour weaving its way throughout the drop.

Other Opinions:

  • Yossi at the JSMWS blog finds it to be a departure from other Highland Parks but loves it anyway, finding various types of fruity, ocean, and earthy notes.
  • Mr. John Hansell likes this “fresh, easy drinking, ‘anytime’ dram,” giving the “honeyed vanilla, mango, nectarine, pineapple in syrup, floral notes, and delicate brine” an 83/100.  The Macphails’ Collection bottlings received Malt Advocate’s Best Buy of the Year for 2009.
  • Drinkhacker also declares it “very easy drinking,” giving it an A-.
  • WhiskyMaggers MJ and DB give the 40% bottling mid-eighties scores, disagreeing widely on the notes.
  • Serge gives no notes but a score of 72.
Tagged: #Highland Park

Tasting Notes: The Un-Chillfiltered Collection Signatory Vintage Highland Park, Distilled 1990

A Painted Red Pepper of a Dram

Signatory Vintage The Un-Chillfiltered Collection is found everywhere.   Signatory was started in 1988 and they must have had some ridiculous connections to begin (if anyone who has tried to look into purchasing casks knows it’s not that easy).   They remain one of the few fully independent bottlers.  In addition, they purchased Edradour in 2002.  Whisky Distilleries has a whole bunch of info on them, so I suggest heading there for a good recap.  in general, I believe that Signatory offers an amazing opportunity to try single casks and unique bottlings, from any number of distilleries.  If you can get them for a good price, get them.  The only downside is that tasting notes are few and far in between, and since all their bottlings are generally limited, chances are that they won’t help inform your purchase.  So, you go with styles and distilleries, and hope for the best.

I would have said 14 years, but you’re the expert. Yes, WhiskyNotes proves that Signatory IS the expert.

The Un-Chillfiltered Collection Signatory Vintage Highland Park, Distilled 1990, Bottled 2005

Age: 15 years (distilled on 05.07.1990.  Bottled on 02.09.2005, which to me means 14 years, but who am I to argue with Signatory? Yes.  It’s 15 years old.  Thanks WhiskyNotes for pointing out the obvious that I missed)

Barrel: Hogshead.  Barrel no 232/308 from Cask No. 5976.

Abv: 46%

Color: dull translucent yellow

Legs: really slow, really sticky.  Not well defined, but medium large.

Nose: Fresh paint is a definite.  Toasted almonds, opening up to citrus are underneath the paint.  There’s some coconut in there too.  It has been caramelized (or maybe it’s just burnt sugar with coconut).

Palette: This is surprising.  It has similar complexities to other Highland Park’s, but I was expecting something way sweeter from the nose.  This is extremely grassy.  It has a lot of fruit, too.  I taste pears and bananas.  But, not really any citrus, and not really any toffee / vanillin that the nose would suggest.  There’s a decent amount of smoke overtone here, but it’s not in the overpowering peat/bonfire sense of an Islay.

Body: Very buttery.  It coats your tongue.  Strangely, it’s also very light, which leads to the drinkability.  The buttery coating isn’t cloying as I find in other whiskies.

Finish: Some good red pepper smoke and peppercorn that stays on the tongue.  Red pepper because there’s definite smoke in there, but it’s sweetened somehow.

Overall: This is tasty.  I feel the flavor profile has changed  a bit as the bottle has gotten down to the last third.  I used to get more citrus out of it - the palette followed the nose a good deal more (and if I remember the correctly, there wasn’t as much fresh paint on the nose).  But regardless, the dram is, and always has been, decently complex, and always enjoyable.  I don’t think I’ll be finding another one of these (one of those last remaining, dusty tubes found in an oft-forgotten liquor store), but I will remember it well.  As always, if you have the opportunity to buy / taste a Signatory offering, go for it - you won’t regret it.

Other opinions:

Your guess is as good as mine.



Tasting Notes: Highland Park 15

All the love recently for Highland Park reminded me how much I particularly enjoy this Orcadian distillery’s whisky, and so here’s some tasting notes on their very delicious and unique 15 year old expression.

Highland Park 15 year old

Abv: 43%

Color: deep gold with a coppery hue.

Legs: rather slow, a nice medium-small size; this dram looks great and inviting.

Nose: floral at first, with jasmine, rose petals, and really a gigantic bouquet, overlaid with thick honey, and there is also a side of slightly salty pistachios; the ocean comes calling as well— a lot going on in this big but complex and dramatically layered nose.

Palate: Not as purely sweet, floral, or citric today as I remember, but more reminiscent of malty and spicy baked goods— the lemon-lime is there more in the form of subtle lemon peel, while the honey is laced throughout, and then the maltiness takes over with a subtle smokiness developing into lingering cinnamon and sugar.

Body: rounded, a touch creamy, but mostly just silky; this stuff was meant to be drank in large, savored sips.

Finish: spicy, with just the faintest and most pleasant touch of heat remaining.

Overall: always sort of considered the less fortunate middle-of-the-road dram among the three affordable standard HP releases (12, 15, & 18 year olds), this is billed as a drinkable whisky, perhaps for those who might not be ready for the bite, alcohol, or smoke of bigger boys. Well, it isn’t the exceptional 18 year, and it certainly isn’t as affordable as the delicious and amazing 12 year, but if you happen upon this bottle and feel so inclined to indulge, it won’t disappoint.  Great for sharing with friends at a casual tasting party, it won’t stop the conversation, but will definitely enhance it.  Can usually be found for around $70.

Other opinions:

  • well, Scotch Hobbyist has just done a tremendous roundup of tasting notes for all three of the standard expressions, and although I would have agreed completely with his notes before retasting this nectar, we still seem to overlap on much of the basic flavour profile
  • a couple different takes on the stuff in the “flat bottle,” from whisky magazine
Tagged: #Highland Park

Tasting Notes - Signatory/Edradour Tasting in Brooklyn

Last night I attended an Edradour/Signatory tasting at Heights Chateau, my local wine/liquor shop.  Ten scotches in an hour and a half, and probably the best local tasting I’ve been to in terms of host/taster interaction and sheer variety of whiskies.  The team from signatory was light on the schtick - no kilts, just down to earth conversation - and I got to taste a wide variety of whiskies.  Some of these were variations on old favorites, and others were brand new to me.  Let’s dig in.

Tullibardine 1993

Honestly, this bottle might have been the surprise of the night.  This is a bottle I own.  A friend brought it to a party I hosted, but stacked against the Islays that dominate my collection we came away thinking it was a rather plain whisky.  In a new context, this bottle came to life for me in a way it hadn’t previously.  Made from 75% bourbon and 25% sherry casks, the color is white wine and the nose was sweet with some light sherry on the end.  The taste was more tart and oaky with an upfront hit that I want to say is rubbery, but only because I can’t quite pinpoint the actual flavor.  The finish faded much too quickly to pure heat, but this was a pleasant surprise after my previous experiences with this bottle.

Caperdonich 1996 

This is the main single malt in the Chivas Regal blend.  The color was white wine, and the nose was a fantastic combination of fruits, flowers and vanilla.  I almost want to say like peaches and cream.  The taste was more flowery with another flavor I couldn’t quite put a name to.  The finish was medium long.  Overall, this was like a more mellow (read: less floral/perfumey) Rosebank.  Really nice and worth checking out.

Bladnoch 1992 Un-Chillfiltered

Only independent bottlings of this are available.  Again there is a floral nose, but it is different from the Caperdonich.  There is a scent reminiscent of the butter on movie popcorn.  This carried over to the taste, but faded quickly to a purely hot whisky when some water was added.  The finish had a perfume quality reminiscent of a lowland scotch and it built up as I took more sips.  Overall, it was too much flowers and perfume, and I wasn’t loving this scotch.

The Glentrothes 1994 Un-Chillfiltered

Made from 100% bourbon casks and a nice gold in color, this was a smooth scotch that had a lot of vanilla on the nose and a citrus taste.  It’s more complex than most offerings from the Glentrothes, and it lacked the “tequila nose” I normally associate with the Glenrothes.  It’s also a lot bigger than a normal Glenrothes - maybe that’s the non-chillfiltering coming through.

Highland Park 1985 Cask Strength

This is a 20 year old HP  bottled at 54%.  There’s peat and salt on the nose, and a whiff reminiscent of black magic marker.  The taste is salty, and this is much more aggressive and less creamy than the 15 or 16 year old.  It’s closer to a Laphroaig than most Highland Parks that I’ve tasted.

Ben Nevis 1992 Sherry Cask

The color is coppery on this sherry monster.  It tastes like the Mortlach 17 I have from Malt Trust.

Caol Ila 1996 Un-Chillfiltered

Getting towards the end of the night, my tasting notes start to taper off, but I noted that this white wine colored dram had the typical coal smoke flavor of Caol Ila with some salt and brine, and a finish that went on forever.  I’m always a big fan of Caol Ila and this was no exception.

Port Ellen 1982 Un-Chillfiltered

This was the dram that paid for admission to the tasting ($30 for the whole event).  Pale gold in color, this 25 year old had the typical tangy smoke of Port Ellen.  Energetic.

Edradour Ballechin Madeira Matured

This was a star of the evening.  Coppery gold in color with a massive amount of peat on the nose (50 ppm), this old farmhouse whisky seems simple, but then the madeira begins to creep out behind the peat, adding a layer of complexity.  Really nice if you are a peathead looking for something different.  The craziest fact of all, it’s only a 5 year old!  This one is going on my Christmas list.

Laphroaig 1991 Cask Strength

My notes are non existent here, but if I remember correctly this 16 (?) year old was less like the 15 year old or the new 18 and more like the Cairdeas festival bottling (at least on the nose).  Most interesting, it stood up well to the monster peat of the Ballechin.

As an added bonus, I got a sneak peak at the Edradour Ballechin Olorosso matured whisky due out later this year.  Hard to do a solid tasting after 10 whiskies, but this had a similar profile to the Madeira matured Ballechin - which is to say it was great - but I’d need to do a real side by side when I’m sober to get a good comparative analysis.

Elana at Heights Chateau also generously shared some slightly-watered Octomore, which I found to be surprisingly balanced for all the hype about the peat levels. Thanks for the taste, Elana.  I owe you a dram of Supernova when I get my bottle.  And congrats to you and the guys from Signatory/Edradour for an excellent event. 


The Whisky Travels: Stansted Airport in England

In March of 2009, as I was becoming a big fan of whisky, I had the opportunity to go on a trip that pretty much took me around the world.  Though still a novice in the world of scotch, and at the beginning of a very steep learning curve on which I’m still somewhere in the first third, I knew an amazing place when I saw one.  This place was World of Whiskies, and apparently is located only in a few airports - Stansted, Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh, and Glasgow.  It is travel retail at its finest (once again, before I even understood what that means).  But, imagine going to your local liquor store, or local mall and entering an Apple store or something like that.  Now, imagine that the entire store is filled with whisky.  The entire store.  The selection is unbelievable, from the rare distillery bottling, to potentially rarer independent bottlings, to travel retail exclusive bottlings.

I was there with friends and took part in a few tastings (a Bowmore with an age designation I don’t remember, a Highland Park 21 (I know.  I wish I knew what this meant back then), and one more I don’t remember except for it was a speyside) and ultimately wound up not purchasing a single thing nor taking any notes on what I was sipping.  Sigh.  Things you learn.  This was at the beginning of a three week long travel period that would take me from place to place, and I did not want to lug a bottle of whisky around with me.  I regret this, and obviously would do better if I have the opportunity to go back.  However, I did have the foresight to take some pictures of the store to show to friends back home.  I humbly share them with readers of WhiskyParty and apologize that in hindsight they are not as directed as I would like, not as selective as I would like, and not as thorough.  But hey, that’s one of the good things about whisky, right?  The more you learn, the more fun you have, and the more you regret earlier moves you made.  All my pictures (including a 43 year old Bowmore from 1965 for 6000 pounds) are below.


40 Whiskies Under $40: Highland Park 12 year old

Highland Park is that northern-most Scottish distillery, located in the Orkney Islands, that gets constant mention and conistent praise within the Scotch enthusiast and expert community.  While the vintage releases and older expressions are favored by longtime drinkers, the younger bottlings get credit for being both balanced and unique, as well as being a great way to step up to a more interesting (and/or peated) class of Scotch whisky for those who are otherwise content with the high-volume Speysides.

Highland Park uses Sherry maturation, though never overpowering any of its standard releases with it, and a heathery-peat smoked barley, as well as hard water, to craft their exceptional whiskies.  And the 12 year, though rising in price of late, still costs near the $40 mark.  At that price, this is an excellent deal.

Highland Park 12 year old

Abv: 43%

Color: deep orange amber.

Legs: medium sized beads, quite slow indeed.

Nose: honey, burnt butter, whiff of smoke, heathery flowers, mixed berries.

Palate: there is a honeyed, soft maltiness right away, with very nice flavor movement toward a complex melange of wood smoke (like burning oak twigs), heather, citric fruits, and mixed spices.

Body: medium with a nice, quiet oiliness.

Finish: medium-to-long; quite nice with lingering maltiness, spices, and smoke.

Overall: Accessible to the beginner (i.e. smooth) with a balanced complexity for the enthusiast, the youngest standard expression of this Orcadian distillery tastes exceptionally well-crafted. There is just enough (heathery) peat, sherry maturation, local terroir, and oceanic influences to create a well-rounded and yet interesting whisky. No flavor is out of balance, and the total experience is impressive.  At $35-40 for 750 ml, this might be one of the best deals in whisky.

Other opinions:


Tasting Notes: Heights Chateau Presents: A taste of Scotland with Speyside Distillers and Scott’s Selection

Hello again everyone. I am back from my travels and plan to be posting regularly again. As the WhiskyParty writers are fortunate (or unfortunate in some circumstances) to travel a bit, we decided we would post as much as we can about whisky around the world. So, expect some postings about whisky from Dubai, Ireland, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand from me in the near future.

First, I wanted to post my impressions of the tasting I went to with WhiskyParty at Heights Chateau in Brooklyn back on June 9th, 2009. All in all it was a very fun night that ended with me buying WhiskyParty an expensive wedding present and myself an expensive “I drank too much and didn’t leave my credit card at home” present.

Notes we learned on The Speyside distillery :

  • 1 of 4 distilleries that do everything manually
  • Use bourbon barrels exclusively so that they can be strictly kosher
  • The only strictly kosher distillery

Notes we learned what not to do at a tasting :

  • Do not have a slightly larger jovial man wear a kilt and sit in a chair with legs splayed
  • Do not offer up only one glass with no paper towels for cleaning
  • Pour more than 1/4 oz pours, or at the very least, have 1 1/4 oz pour for tasting at cask strength, and 1 1/4 oz pour for tasting with water

Now for the tasting notes.  I did my best, but the tastings went pretty quickly so I wasn’t able to spend as much time as I’d like on them, and obviously tasting 13 scotches in one sitting is going to make your notes slightly jumbled.

Speyside 12

N: varnish, clean
P: grapes, berries
F: long, dry
O: Actually tasty.  Not like a blend, which is my problem with many of these cheaper scotches (they taste like Dewars to me).  This one was more unique.  Very drinkable, but not my favorite as there was not much peat smoke, vanilla or toffee.  8.5/10

King’s Crest 25 Year Old Blend

C: Orange Yellow
L: Small, slow
N: Vanilla, toffee, berries
P: Cherries, vanilla, no bite on tongue, smooth
F: Bright, a bit too sweet, explodes long with some fruit again.
O: Not bad, but coming in over 2 bills is way too expensive.  8.4/10

Now all the following drams are Scott’s Selections

Auchentoshan 1983, 21 years old, 105 Proof

C: light yellow
L: small, quick
N: Toffee, vanilla, grass, a little fruit with water
P: bitter, rubber, even brighter with water
F: nutty, sweet pistachios that turns slightly bitter with water.
O: Eh.  8.1/10

Glenlivet 1977, 27 years old, 106.2 proof

C: a pale yellow like chamomile tea
L: small, quick
N: Floral, and a touch of vanilla
P: fruits, toffee.  With water, the sherry really comes forward and somehow vanilla is right with it.
F: Caramel, long fruit.  With water, sweetness overpowers and becomes a bit sickly.
O: At this point, I’m a little worried about the tasting. This is once again okay, but hasn’t blown my mind or reached any of the right notes.  8.5/10

Macallan 1989, 18 years old, 106.2 proof, bourbon casks not sherry.

C: Pale yellow
L: quick, large
N: toffee cream
P: too bright to really get anything.  Remains bright with water added.
F: sweet, with a sprinkling of brown sugar that becomes a bit too much like caramel with water.
O: I know I like Islays, and the national sales manager Brian doesn’t, but I’m still waiting for a great scotch worthy of the price tags next to the bottles.  8.3/10

The Glenrothes 1980, 25 years old, 111.6 proof.

O: 8.1/10.  I’m a big The Glenrothes fan and this just disappointed me.  It tasted like the three above it.  Sort of this muddled jumble of all the notes it should have, without the right mix (sometimes Vanilla overpowers, sometimes it gets too sweet, sometimes it just tastes like someone poured me some Dewars that’s been sitting around in plastic for a few years.

Aberlour 1989, 18 years old, 105.6 proof

N: Cherries, chocolate
P: Cinnamon and sugar
F: Peppery and short
O: This was decent (unfortunately I didn’t record a grade) but still only marginally better than the ones above it.  It hit some interesting notes, but seemed incomplete.  Probably one of the better ones yet, though.  At least because of that cinnamon taste that I had never had with scotch.

Longmorn-Glenlivet 1967, 36 years old, 104.4 proof, Bourbon first fill

C: Copper
N: candied yams, vanilla cream and some green notes
P: a bit too bright without water, but a satisfying sweetness with a  few drops added
F: medium length swell across the tongue that accentuates but doesn’t overpower.
O: Alright.  This was pretty good.  The age mellowed the sickly sweet I was getting from the previous drams and this scotch hit the right notes without overpowering.  No smoke, obviously, but real tasty.  9.0/10

Glenlivet 1971 Sherry Cask, 36 years old, 106.2 proof, very rare as the liquid was filled into the wrong barrells

O: I got a bit of toffee with a lot of pine cabin on a hot day.  Lots of forest and wood that was interesting to taste, but not necessarily tasty.

Highland Park 1986, 21 years old, 108.2 proof, bourbon barrel.

C: pale yellow
L: Small, quick
N: alcohol burn and brine.  Salted fire with a bit of water.
P: Brine.  seaweed in a poppy fire with water.
F: salty sweet with a clean fire to finish.
O: not bad, but not great.  Pretty enjoyable to get that much brine out of a Highland, though.  8.8/10

Bruichladich 1990, 14 years old, 116.2 proof

C: almost clear
L: though this isn’t very helpful, I have either really slow, or really fst (I saw lines but no legs drop, and we were moving too quickly to investigate further)
N : fruits and flowers
P: light and grassy, with water becomes fruit forward with a tinge of smoke trying to peak through
F: sweet and clean with a bit of bitterness on the after.
O: Once again, an alright dram, but nothing that I’m writing home about.

Bunnahabhain 1988, 16 years old, 107.6 proof

N: cotton candy, delicious.  like The Glenrothes 1990 but without vanilla
P: Oily sea, a little fruit. With water smoke comes forward (oily, of course),  with the sweet fruit sitting behind it almost imperceptibly
F: briny without smoke, a good burn that is long and lasting
O: This was way interesting.  Totally sweet on the nose and totally salty and smoky on the tongue.  My mind was confused completely by the juxtaposition within the same dram.  This was one of the ones I tried again at the end of the night and enjoyed it.  8.9/10

Caol Ila 1984, 22 years old, 105.4 proof

N: Fire, raging forest fire, with candied coating
P: Salty sweet smoke.
F: Pork crackling, salty, overdose of campfire.
O: A great Caol Ila (though I’m not sure the price was justified).  8.9/10

Once again this was a great night.  I thank The Speyside for doing it as I learned a lot, and got to taste some great whisky (and they even got a decent amount of cash off of me).  I think my big hangup on the event was that some of the scotches tasted way too similar without there being anything really unique about them and that the price tags next to the bottles just weren’t justified as there was similar tasting and maybe even better stuff out there for cheaper.  My recommendations on the whole night would be the Longmorn-Glenlivet 1967, the Bunnahabhain 1988, and a toss up between the Caol Ila 1984 and the Glenlivet Sherry Cask 1971.


Tastings from The Speyside and Scott’s Selection

Last night StrongLikeCask and I went to a whisky tasting with the US Ambassador for The Speyside and Scott’s Selection.  I’ve got tasting notes below, but first a few observations about whisky tastings at local liquor stores:

  • If your taster wears a kilt, he shouldn’t sit down on a chair in front of you (seriously).
  • It might be useful to bring your own Glencairn glass.
  • Multiple tastings get to be a problem if you keep using the same glass for each new dram.

Sniping aside, this was a great tasting put on by Heights Chateau, my local wine store.  The whiskies were impressive - mostly 20 - 36 year old vintages from Scott’s Selection - and the $40 price tag was well-worth it considering the average price per bottle of what we tasted was somewhere in the ballpark of $175, and one bottle even went as hight as $332 (a Glenlivet 1971 Sherry Cask, only 3 barrels of which were ever made).   The Speyside Ambassador had great stories to tell about his own distillery and the whisky business more generally, and the two hour tasting flew by.  At the end of the evening, StrongLikeCask bought me a bottle of Longmorn-Glenlivet from 1967, my favorite dram of the evening, as a belated wedding gift.  That was a steal.

Quick note - some of these drams were hard to identify, especially stacked one on top of the other, and at times we moved pretty fast.  That’s why not all of the tastings contain notes on color, nose, taste, or finish.

Tasting Notes:

The Speyside 12

The Speyside is a relatively new distillery, having been in operation for only 15 years.  As such, the 12 year is their signature malt.  It’s also one of only 4 distilleries in Scotland whose distillation process is completely manual - no computer automation is used in their process.  They produce 86 barrels per week, and are the 3rd smallest distillery in Scotland.

Nose: Suprisingly alcoholic for one of the only non-cask strength whiskies we tasted.  Hints of citrus and vanilla.

Taste: The citrus resolves into orange upfront, with a slightly floral finish.

Overall: A surprisingly nice dram considering it’s $38 price tag.  I actually enjoyed it quite a bit more than some of the older vintage whiskies.  This may be worth returning to for a full 40 Under $40 review.

King’s Crest 25 (Blend)

Very tough to identify.  Maybe some bananas and caramel.  With a price tag of $222, I really didn’g “get” this whisky.

Auchentoshan 1983 (21 year)

Color: straw

Nose: Floral, but lacking a perfume quality found in Rosebank.

Taste: Identical to the nose.  Very light alcohol profile.  I should note that this is one of the few single malts that is triple distilled.

The Glenlivet 1977 (27 year)

Nose: Huge alcohol profile.  Tough to get anywhere near the glass.

Taste: Some cinammon.  Banana and spice.

Macallan 1989 (18 year)

This was interesting in theory - it’s a Macallan aged in a Bourbon barrel rather than the usual Sherry cask.  I couldn’t identify any difference between this and the Glenlivet 1977, and have to say I prefer the sherried version.  This and the Glenlivet 1977 may well be my least favorites of the night.

Glenrothes 1980

Color: pale gold

Palate: Chewy

Aberlour 1989 (18 year, Bourbon Aged)

Color: Straw

Taste: The ambassador said this was a cinammon bomb and he was right.  Very rich.

Longmorn-Glenlivet 1967 (36 years)

Nose: Campfire

Taste: Burnt, or carmelized fruit.  A little vanilla.

Overall: Hands down my favorite of the evening.  The smoke/peat is very dry and not at all phenolic like a Laphroaig or Lagavulin.  It actually reminded me more of a Springbank than anything else.  This is the bottle that StrongLikeCask picked up for me.

Glenlivet 1971 Sherry Cask (36 Year)

Nose: Lemon Zest

Taste: Candied - and interesting mix of sherry and cinammon.  There’s a tightness to the sherry as well.  It’s not a big dram.

This is the most expensive bottle of the evening ($332).  According to the Ambassador, it comes from one of only 3 barrels ever made.

Highland Park 1986 (21 Year)

For some reason, I got very little out of this dram.  My only note from last night is “seaweed.”

Bruichladdich 1990

Non-citrus fruit.  Maybe berries.

Bunnahabhain 1988

Nose: Thin, almost like a tequila.  Reminds me of the Glenrothes Select Reserve.

Taste: Some nice smoke.  The taste in no way resembles the nose.  It’s a little incongruous and slightly surprising.  Like drinking two whiskies at once.

Caol Ila 1984 (22 Year)

Nose: Barbeque, slight hint of that tequila smell from the Bunnahabhain lurking in the back.

Taste: Tangy barbecue straight out of the smoker.  Awesome.


Two Indie Highland Park 13 years

During my run of HP tastings, I decided to indulge in a couple of independent bottlings of the stuff. The first is from Signatory’s Un-chillfiltered series. The second is by an excellent bar in Chicago, Delilah’s, done specially for their 13th anniversary (and, thusly, only available to you if you visit the Windy City’s northside).

Highland Park Signatory Un-chillfiltered 13 year (dist. 1993) Bottle no. 34/339, matured in a Hogshead

Alv/vol: 46%

Color: very pale gold, like a white wine

Legs: medium beads, pretty slow drop

Nose: floral, rose petals, sea salt and brine, alcohol, cold biscuits, honey and cranberries developing with time

Palette: warm honey up front, lots of rotted wood, a smokey note buried in there (what I imagine used charcoal tastes like), some apple turning to apple cider, then to vinegar.

Body: medium-full bodied, slightly metallic feeling

Finish: medium-long finish, woody

Overall: I remember liking this one more… maybe it went bad in the bottle (but after just one year opened?) Still, good nose.

Score: 5.75/10

Highland Park 13 year old, special Delilah’s bottling from a 2nd fill sherry butt

Proof: 115.4

Color: deep cherry red

Legs: sm. beads, med. drip

Nose: cherries, marshmellows, orange creamsickles, alcohol

Palatte: lots of berries, honey, malt, and a light smokeyness with definite hints of bacon; the sherry fruitiness is balanced nicely by the honey to create a deep berry flavor, rather than just light fruit.

Body: full with a slightly rounded mouthfeel despite the alcohol

Finish: nice, long, leaves the stain of cherries, strawberries, and other berries, along with some charred oak just behind the tongue.

Overall: Great. Much more enjoyable than the Signatory. Complete opposite, straight away from the color on down. So much sherry, what with the straight bottling from a 2nd-fill cask and all. But, the HP flavor profile (deep and intense) was able to handle all that sherry quite nicely, providing a very berried but yet balanced treat. So if you’re ever in Chicago…

Score: 8.6/10

Tagged: #Highland Park

Highland Park 12, 18, and 25 year olds

There had been some debate between friends at the Whisky Party whether Highland Park, the northern-most distillery in Scotland, produced scotch that is good, great, or (imagine this), average. I am personally an HP apologist, and I sat down over the last week to taste a handful of their Orkney-born products. One thing that became even more apparent than usual is that HP is anything but usual. With the hardest water in Scotland, peated maltings, Orcadian sea breezes, sherry casks, and loads of heather in the stream beds, even their affordable and accessible 12-year is a whisky unto itself.

Highland Park 12 year old (new packaging)

Abv: 43%

Color: deep golden amber

Legs: med.-large beads, medium-slow drip.

Nose: big heather, sweet flowers, touch of grass, hints of some subtle fruit.

Palate: malty, honeyed, and smokey, with movement toward soft milk chocolate and berries.

Body: oily and pleasant; medium bodied.

Finish: subtle but long, very enjoyable without being very intense; a grass-fire smokey ending.

Overall: a very nice, complex, balanced, and relaxing drop. not challenging, but it never stops offering flavor. So good.

Highland Park 18 year old (older packaging)

Abv: 43%

Color: copper

Nose: Lemon zest, saltiness, oak, a touch floral, becoming creamy vanilla with maybe an old blueberry after time in the open air.

Palate: toffee, smokey oak, almonds, pine nuts, salt.

Body: firm and just a tad buttery, with flavor happening all over.

Finish: still going… touch of smoke turns to intense mocha that just lasts forever.

Overall: There’s so much to this; one of the most complex and pleasurable drams around, for my taste.

Highland Park 25 year old (older packaging)

Proof: 101.4

Color: crimson gold

Legs: small-med. beads, deathly slow.

Nose: butterscotch, plums, nuttiness, banannas & fudge, all ensconsed in raw honey.

Palate: cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, fudge, bananna-nut bread, fresh coffee beans, and more.

Body: medium-full; spicy and hot mouthfeel.

Finish: honey into different nuts, oak, etc, that keeps moving while it lasts and lasts.

Overall: Wonderous, but tending away from the playful honey and smoke of the 12 and developing the nuttier, earthier flavors present in the 18. Definitely similar to the 18, but with even more complexity and a depth of flavor all its own. The nose was ridiculous, and I didn’t even have a decent glass for nosing. If I had, it might have been sensory overload.

Tagged: #Highland Park