About this blog:

This blog will feature tasting notes, reviews, distillery visits and whisky news with focus mainly on Scottish single malts. This will sometimes be accompanied by politically incorrect (whisky) opinions. You have now been warned! :-)
The views expressed here are entirely my own, unless otherwise stated.

Friday, 30 November 2018


After a detour to Speyside during my last review, we're now back on Orkney with that very highly marketed Viking Pride/Honour/Raven/Axe wielding distillery, Highland Park.

For this review we're staying with Gordon & MacPhails revamped Connoisseurs Choice series, relaunched as a part of the 50th anniversary of the first release of the series.

Highland Park has long been a favourite of mine and was one of the first whisky with just a little peat I started drinking back in my baby whisky years just after the turn of the Millenia. The distillery's got a very dedicated following on Facebook in the group 'Highland Park Appreciation Society' and now seems to be releasing single cask expression every other week. - How dare you? Think of how you're ruining the economy of those poor collectors!!??!! ;-)

Releasing single casks on a regular basis is one thing that has changed, but I also think something else has changed, sadly... and thats the casks they're using at HP - and probably also at Macallan, another Edrington great that uses predominantly sherry casks.

Now, I'm very sensitive to sulphur and seem to, in all the single casks I've tried since they started to come out, detected a variating degree of sulphury notes as well an vinegary edge to the sherry and to be honest I'm very sad to see this. This is probably due to a shortage of proper sherry casks these days, but still I feel its taking a wrong turn...

I know Edrington has long term contracts with a cooperage in Spain and promotes their wood policy (Highland Park - Spanish Wood Story on Youtube) and this is just me (and a few other critical voices) and many others doesn't seem to pick up on this. Whether they just can't taste it or they don't want to alienate themselves with the brand. I think the question here is if the cooperage is cutting corners with the quality of the sherry used for the maturation or if the sherry used for seasoning doesn't manage to draw out the unwanted very woody notes that comes from the fresh cask?? Certainly, the HP devotees in the before mentioned Facebook group doesn't seem to either mind or be able to taste this - some even praises this style :-O

Now, before you flame me for this statement, mind you, this is my taste (and a few others I've seen mentions of online) so lets leave it at that - I just feel sad that HP as I know it has pretty much disappeared over the last decade or so - as even the 12 and 18 standard bottlings are now showing traces of this, IMO...

In February 2019, I'll be revisiting Highland Park after a tasting I've put together with Distillery bottlings vs. Independent bottling, much more on how I think Highland Park is doing after that.

Right, rant over...

Let's get back to speaking of independent Highland Parks and this one from Gordon & MacPhail, who by the way, usually supply their own casks to be filled with new make spirit.

Stills at Highland Park, August 6th 2009 © The Malt Desk

Highland Park 1989 29yo 57% (07.03.1989/18.09.2018) Refill sherry butt#1087, 611 bottles, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice

Quite a sweet sherry coating dominates this, I think... Underneath though, there's plenty of charred oak, some mushroom earthy notes, honey glazed meat, dark overripe fruit and a floral note trying to come through... Pretty much standard Highland Park, right? Maybe expect for the heavily charred oak.

The no-water experience on the palate was a bit of a let-down! However... Just Add Water!

This one comes alive indeed with water. I getting into the territory of the old Original Bottling of HP 25, just amplified a bit due to the higher alcohol strength - We are, however, not quite there...

I get most of the classic HP traits as we did on the nose - the honey, the floral and dark fruit notes, charred and peaty notes, but the cask both the sherry and oak here is taking this one over a bit - especially the charred note reminds me a bit much of a BBQ event where the BBQ master is more busy drinking beer than tending to the grill ;-)

Like I said, give this one a teaspoon of water if you've poured yourself a 25-30ml dram and watch a little magic happen! Everything is amplified and your sherried Highland Park comes out - proper sherry - not the vinegar sherry style the newer Original Highland Parks carry these days! it'll lift not only the spirit in the glass but also your own experience of this HP!


Friday, 23 November 2018


I've must not have tried much more about a handful of Inverlevens in the 20 years, I been drinking whisky. This means that my references for Inverleven is stretched thin by far. On the other hand, its pretty much like discovering a new whisky which isn't that bad, is it? :-)

Inverleven, however, are rarer than hens' teeth these days and the chance to try the below expression is a welcome opportunity to expand ones whisky knowledge - and with a rather exclusive bottling too.

Inverlevens scarcity these days are very much a result it being decommissioned in 1991, but up until then there were bottlings to be had - notably again from indie bottlers such as Gordon & MacPhail but also Duncan Taylor and The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Gordon & MacPhail Sample Room - © G&M Media Library

Inverleven 1985 33yo 57,4% (22.01.1985/06.07.2018) Refill bourbon barrel#33, 130 bottles, Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection

Delicate, sweet with vanilla, apples, honey and grassy notes. There's also some gingery and hint of something flowery in there. Some Muscato dessert wine peaks through giving this its hint of old as it rightly should. Very well chiseled but its also very straight forward and doesn't stray far from its path.

Love sweet arrival on stewed pears, candies lemons, fresh grass and vanilla. Its then taken over by a little oak, baked and flinty notes but the fruit is ever still present. Its again very delicate Only downside is that the finish comes across short for such an old whisky, IMO

Like I mentioned above, I've not had that many Inverlevens and this is, by memory, one of, if not the best of them... and even though its good, I still feel its missing something a little something - the short finish maybe?

Also, this was a very small sample and I would have loved to spend more time with this, but sadly this wasn't the case this time around...


Official sample provided by Gordon&MacPhail

Monday, 19 November 2018


I've always had a bit of a strange relationship with Glenrothes up through my whisky drinking year and its actually not that many years ago that I started to understand  the distillery and its often very, to me at the time, kind of 'middle-of-the-road' where you had to go to the indies to get something a bit of of the ordinary.

Working my way through more than bit of indie bottlings, many from Cadenheads and the SMWS, I started to see why this seemingly 'boring' (again, at least to me) distillery might just appeal to someone, still...

Its just a great base spirit and I certainly see why it has been a part of blending recipies. Its also a malt that takes time to mature, IMO - so grabbing a bottle of the Select Reserve disappointed me greatly. However, this indie release also a part of Gordon & MacPhails revamping of their bottling series - this time the Private Collection series - does carry quite a bit of age so I am expecting this one to deliver a nice experience.

Approaching Glenrothes distillery, May 5th 2012 © The Malt Desk

Glenrothes 1974 43yo 49,5% (02.12.1974/06.07.2018) refill sherry puncheon#18440, 276 bottles Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection

Bit of sweet/sour note at first pour it its gone after just under 1 minute.
The sherry cask comes through immediately, not at all accompanies by invasive oak of any kind, but just mellow honey and gingerbread, dried fruit and hints of polished leather upholstery, 'Old Dublin' sweet pipe tobacco and faint eucalyptus.


Ultra clean sherry sherry influence here - you seldom see sherry cask quality like this today unless it contains old whisky like this. This is just about the right drinking strength, IMO although maybe 1-2% more might have taken this even further... There's alcohol soaked fruits, plum cake, cinnamon and and orange peel and brown sugar. On the finish, some Haribo sweet licorices comes through with a
bit of nuts and mint.

Quite a lovely old dram, but I can't help thinking its missing a little something...


Official sample provided by Gordon & MacPhail

Monday, 12 November 2018


As a part of the 50th Anniversary celebration of the 'Connoisseurs Choice'-range, Gordon & MacPhail has during 2018 released some bottlings out of the ordinary. I'm about to review another below - stay tuned!

The Connoisseurs Choice-series has had different looks over the years, but if you're an experienced whisky drinker -and probably also if you're not- there's a good chance you will have come across these bottlings at some point.

© G&M Media Kit

I've already reviewed some recent bottlings released as a part of the 50th Anniversary celebration, their reviews can be found here and here.

For this next review we'll head up to the Orkney Islands just off the north coast of Scotland.

Now, Scapa distillery has long been living in the shadow of that more prominent Orkney Distillery - you know the one branding Norse Mythology and Vikings Galore (read: Highland Park) but I remember when visiting the Islands almost 10 years ago, locals telling me that they actually drank Scapa - not Highland Park... or they probably just collect Highland Park, but still drink Scapa ;-) 

This may have changed, of course, but I also have to admit I enjoy a good Scapa... There's not a lot of it out there - especially mature Scapa like the one I'm about to review...

Scapa Distillery seen from across the Scapa Flow, August 5th 2009 © The Malt Desk

Scapa 1988 30yo 53,8% (02.09.1988/13.09.2018) Refill bourbon barrel#10585, 148 bottles, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice

Quite an oily feel to this one...
Butter cream caramel and loads of vanilla, a dash of wet chipped wood, mineral notes, bit of chalk maybe? buttercups and freshly squeezed olive oil and a bit of salt/ozone as well. A couple of drops of water reveals oranges, sweet melon and a very honeyed side to this. Love this nose!

Thick creamy malt vanilla custard on a sweet bread sponge bed with lemons and orange marmelade on top and raspberries on top. A malt for The Great Bake Off! The malt is a driving force here, yes, but it comes along with a just a little oak influence to keep all the sweetness at bay.

It also still maintains its salty and mineral traits through to the palate as well.

I have a serious week spot for well balanced bourbon cask matured whiskies like this one and this really hits the spot for me!

Finally, before I'm flooded with questions on where to get this magnificent beast then -to the best of my knowledge- this hasn't been released yet.


Official sample provided by Gordon & MacPhail

Monday, 1 October 2018


As opposed to many other distilleries whos suffered multible openings/closures Longmorn seems to have maintained a fairly steady pace through history. It was opened in 1893 and even though it has changed hands a few times through history, it has always seemed to have kept running. Longmorn has for a long time been a favourite of blenders but has, through especially Gordon & MacPhail seen fame as a single malt also - I especially remember their 30yo offering as very good!

But lets take a look at these bottlings...
Gordon & MacPhail has launched these twin Longmorn casks from 1961, they're both refill sherry hogsheads, one from American oak and one from European oak. They've matured together in a warehouse in Scotland for 57 years

Marketed as Twin casks its then only befitting that Gordon & MacPhail Managers Richard and Stuart Urquhart is the G&M up-front image, being identical twins themselves.

These Longmorns are the oldest longmorns ever bottled as Single Malt and are only sold as pairs - or twins if you like - at a price of £30.000!

The 1961 twin casks, 512 on the right, 508 on the left © Gordon & MacPhail

Longmorn 1961 57yo (02.02.1961/xx.xx.2018) 40,8%, refill american oak sherry cask#512

© Gordon & MacPhail
Mellow and oozing salivating old oak, lots of malt and demerara sugar, Xmas Honey Hearts (baking), a cooling eucalyptus note and overripe oranges and brown banana, a pleasent gingery note and Muscato dessert wine as well. Very fresh for such an old whisky.

I was afraid the oak had gotten to this one, but no... Its there yes, but I don't find it at all invasive. It is, if anything wrapping and providing a litte wood sap. There's tea, ginger bread, a little tobacco, hints of walnut, more oranges and pretty much mirroring the nose except for a slight spicy (oak) attack on the finish.

Love this, even if it has a bit of oak - but thats to be expected in a whisky this old.


Longmorn 1961 57yo (02.02.1961/xx.xx.2018) 45%, refill european oak sherry cask#508

© Gordon & MacPhail
Clearly more sherried than its twin cask... again the nose is quite mellow but its delivering a minty and prune like nose along with very old school sherry notes, something not often seen today. Musty earthen floors, old wet oak, strong coffee with a dash of cocoa powder added. A slight burnt cask note adds to the experience. Stunning!

Lots of rhum and dark chocolate and espresso notes, mint, tobacco, prunes - all sorts of dark fruits in fact, some orange liqueur and very old cognac. Also a tad more drying than its twin...

Like with its twin above it there's a fair deal of oak present, but to me its not over the top. Just love, love love this old style!


To me, with these two, its simply just a matter of how much sherry you want in your whisky.

Read more about the casks here and watch a couple of youtube videos about these bottlings here: https://www.gordonandmacphail.com/longmorns/

Official samples provided by Gordon & MacPhail

Wednesday, 12 September 2018


Forgive me... a week has gone by since my last review was posted...

With the risk of sounding like you're sitting in a confessional at Mortlach Church this, yet to some unknown distillery, continues to have a following among whisky anoraks. Although some may have lost their faith and fallen from the good Mortlach grace, or atleast, fallen from the official bottlings from this iconic Speyside distillery, many continues to drink independently bottled Mortlachs.

Sadly there aren't many indie bottled Mortlachs out there these days even though a failed attempt by the distillers to re-launch Mortlach as an ultra premium malt in 50cl bottles should have left them with enough stock to sell on to independent bottlers as sales of that re-launch/revamping failed miserably.

Late July 2018 a press release revealed another attempt to re-lauch Mortlach,  this time with a 12, 16 and 20yo bottling (woohoo, ages statement is back in the entry level bottle) and pricing from £50 to £200, but this time in 70cl bottles.... However, with the general price increase, this will pretty much stay on level with the previous releases, sadly...

I know the bottling I'm about to review also will have carried a significant price tag as well, but as far as I know its sold out and I haven't been able to confirm its original price when writing this review but rest assured that I'd be happy to spend a good handful of money on a bottling like this.

Mortlach Stillhouse, May 1st 2010 © The Malt Desk

Mortlach 1981 31yo 54% Dist. 05.02.1987/bottled 03.07.2018 Batch 18/061 Refill sherry hogshead#425, 200 bottles, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice Cask Strength

Colour is dark mahogany - appearance in the glass is thick with slow logs on the side of the glass

© G&M
At first a dash of oak, then notes of old dark well matured Rhum and not whisky plus spiked Bailey's Iced Coffee, extra strong coffee added. Classic old style sherry notes with lots of dark fruits, add to that burnt toffee and wet bung cloth. Love this!

Quite a drying feeling upon arrival, but its them filled with brown banana, figs and dark chocolate and strong coffee notes.

The finish goes on forever with a bit of drying oak and those love old school sherry notes. Lovely, just... Lovely!

Its a sherry monster for sure and no real sherried sulphur notes in this one - only hints of Mortlachs own style of spirit sulphur. This one will be popular among the lovers of this particular heavily sherried style - incl. me


Official sample provided by G&M

Wednesday, 5 September 2018


We're staying north of Inverness for this next review.
Clynelish is one of my all time favourite distilleries and the standard 14yo bottling from the distillers at Diageo is one of the best reasonably standard releases out there, IMO

I last passed the distillery in late September 2016 on a whisky trip together with 4 whisky friends to discover the tours and prices had gone mad! Tours with tastings that were just the slightest bit interesting for the whisky anorak started at £100! Glad we had a bottle of Glenmorangie 1979 and Brora 1983 back at our holiday house, I had brought back to Scotland for our groups mutual enjoyment.

Prices aside, Clynelish makes a great whisky and this one from Gordon & MacPhail is no exception. Something extraordinary just happens to the Clynelish spirit when it passes 20+ years.

On to the review:

Clynelish Distillery fenced off during renovation in October 2014 © The Malt Desk

Clynelish 1989 28yo 49,8% Dist. 15.11.1989/bottled 26.06.2018 Batch 18/035, Refill American hogshead, 221 bottles, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice Cask Strength

Colour is straw - quite thick feling to this when swirled gently in the glass

A slight dusty and moldy warehouse note pops op at you right away only to be pushed aside by mild oak and bit of that trademark oily/waxiness often found in Clynelish. Just after that an incredible fruit burst comes through with lots of apple, pears and bananas accompanied by honey and a faint briny note. Just lovely!

Lovely thick and mouth coating. There are juicy fruits of a more tropical style this time like a multi fruit juice style thing. A few drops of water brings out a little ginger and turns it more citrussy in style and adding some sugared candy sticks notes to it as well.

A lovely Clynelish for sure! I'd love a full bottle and the time to explore this further..


Official sample provided by G&M

Saturday, 1 September 2018


Its been quiet here for a while - the reasons are many and some of it personal, so on to the whisky :-)

Whisky Merchant and Independent Bottler, Gordon & Macphail, based in Elgin (Speyside), Scotland is celebrating its 50th birthday of their Connoisseurs Choice series this year and that means new bottlings galore, 37 in total actually, including some bottlings over the age of 30.

I've chosen to start with a review of an Old Pulteney from 1998, a bottle that I've also just recently bought a bottle of. I've always had a soft spot for this distillery and its remote location in the far north of Scotland in the town of Wick has only left me to visit this place just under a handful of times even though I travelled Scotland at least a couple of times a year for the past 18 years.

Like I said, I've always had a soft spot of this distillery, especially the 17yo official expression and the oh, so glorious hand bottlings offered to those who make their way up to the north of Scotland. Often these handbottlings have been matured in first fill ex-bourbon casks as the Pulteney from G&M I'm about to try, so expectations are high.

Cask available for handbottling on 20th October 2014 © The Malt Desk
Old Pulteney 1998 19yo 57,5% Dist. 26.08.1998/bottled 21.06.2018, Batch 18/049, First fill ex-bourbon cask, 192 bottles, Gordon & Macphail Connoisseurs Choice Cask Strength

Colour is copper - quite heavy and oily in the glass

Initially quite heavy on the oak but more is lurking in the background. Have to give it some time zzzZZZzzz... After a good 15mins the oak has settled to a sawdusty note, vanilla spongecake, malt and breakfast tea.

Water makes this go cloudy in an instance (Welcome NCF) Out comes hints of citrus fruit before its all oak and malt galore.

Lots of oak on the palate as well, so you have to like that. Again some fruit (overripe apples and pears) is present behind the oak, but its struggling a bit to come out. The finish is all on oak, malt and hints of dark chocolate.

Luckily I like a bit of oak in my whisky, but I think this one has maybe spent a year or 2 too long in the cask. 19 years in a first fill bourbon cask is a long time and it shows in this whisky. Am I glad, I bought a bottle before tasting this sample? Yes! Will I be drinking it and not passing it on? Certainly! It just posseses a style that is maybe not to everyones liking...


Official sample provided by G&M

Monday, 31 July 2017


Those checking in on The Malt Desk blog itself will have noticed its been quiet for about 9 months now.

Instead I've updated the The Malt Desk on Facebook and occasionally Twitter (@themaltdesk) with what I have been enjoying on the beer & whisky front...

So why this period of silence? To be honest, I'm not liking the path the whisky scene is on. I've previously expressed my thoughts on this and while I was thinking it had to stop, it has only gotten worse... Looking at how often I updated the blog during 2016, hell even 2015 its probably was a long time coming...

So what am I referring to? What's the reason I needed a break and are still considering if it should permanent? Well, several things actually... and this is going to piss off some people, but frankly I've never been a part of the political correct crowd, so I really don't care...

The reaction to this piece will reveal peoples standpoints clearly on the below issue and I hope that it at the same time can spark some debate...


Ok, let me begin with the a general observation - and you probably knew this was coming if you've read previous posts on here.

All whisky (no exceptions!) I've bought in my 17 years as a whisky lover has been with the intend to drink. I also do not encourage investing in whisky as it just drives up prices for real whisky lovers. That said, I also recognise market forces of supply and demand, but there's also a silly-limit on pricing in effect here at The Malt Desk. No whisky are IMO worth what some are sold for these days and I have also myself parted with a few on that account, but people spending silly amounts of money on whisky really have more money than sense.

I'm a member of a large number of whisky-related Facebook groups and also the (co)admin on a few. In lots of these, often the first thing asked by (new) members is 'What's this bottle worth?' and often its asked about a bottle of no particular value, so clearly more and more people are trying out their luck as whisky investors. Some are actually asking what their supermarket whisky is worth? Really guys?? Stop it, just stop it! If this is the depth at which your investment and interest in whisky runs, you should probably find another place to spend you money, 'cause right now you're just coming across dumb!

I had hoped that when distillers started raising their prices to take their share back from the secondary market, it would slow down, but it just seems that more and more people are trying to make a quick buck as the word of how popular whisky has become spreads around. Instead this has lead to a general increase in prices in both the primary and the secondary market :-/

Latest silly priced whisky on the secondary market is this Karuizawa... almost the same price as an Audi A8 in the UK.

So do you want this?

Picture from a facebook feed...

or do you want this? The choice is easy - at least for me... Audi it is...

The most scary part is that its not even the most expensive whisky sold at auction... according to thespiritsbusiness.com its this Macallan 64 year in Lalique Cire Perdu Decanter sold at a staggering £353.747 in 2010

Photo credit: Audi.dk


I've also decided to turn the spotlight on the whisky blogging community...

I'm sure you have all noticed how the blog/vlog scene has litterally exploded over the past 5 years. Now, I've met some great people over the years from this crowd, both domestically and abroad (you know who are!) but there's also a crowd that I'm not terribly impressed with. I'm not gonna call out anyone specific here, but to me it seems that all more and more 'bloggers' are doing these days are brown nosing the distilleries/brands and appearing as nothing but an extended marketing department.

They can be doing it to receive free samples, of course, but reading many of these posts it more and more looks like a select crowd are trying to line themselves up as potential candidates the next time one of the whisky companies are hiring a new brand ambassador. I honestly don't think its pretty and certainly not trustworthy, yet the crowd doing it just seems to get bigger and bigger.... and nobody likes a suck-up brown nose and doing so entirely destroys your credibility.

Let me also add that I do get sent the occasional free sample but I'm also fortunate enough not to have to rely on samples to keep my blog going. I also run the local whisky club and have a fair stash to drink from as well. What I'm getting at here is that when I say something is good its not because I'm trying to get whisky companies sending me (more) samples - you can believe it unless your personal taste differs significantly from mine. That is also why I would like to ask you as a reader to go independent - not this blog in particular, but I do suggest you remain critical towards the little too glorified style of writing towards some, honestly, fairly average products we're seing these days....

There are still indeed some good whisky blogs out there, no doubt about that... but as with everything else - be picky, like when you spend your hard earned money on a bottle of whisky.


Since 2010 and up until last year (2016), I've been a regular at the Spirit of Speyside Spring Festival, so 6 years in a row... I've watched it grow year after year and accommodation and events getting harder and harder to book - that's one thing... there's only so many beds in central Speyside where everyone wants to stay.

There is no doubt that the Spirit of Speyside Spring Festival is good for the economy of the entire area, but I just can't help feel some of the spirit has disappeared over the past few years, when the big players decided that a posh crowd should drive some of the events forward. To be honest, I now feel that regular people has been driven out by introducing very expensive events that just a couple of years ago just cost half of what they used to.

To me, it now all seems about arriving in your Range Rover Sport, £200/night accommodation and mediocre off the shelf whisky bottlings presented by posh London drinks writers and people being on location and drinking the before mentioned whisky they could just as well have bought at their local retailer at a fraction of the price.

This became even more clear to me when I browsed through this years events for #dram17 as the festival is now tagged on social media. What struck me first was that there were fewer events I was genuinely interested in - and the ones I was interested in were all £100+ which to me are 2 other symptom of the regular punter being excluded... and before the critics cry out that its only because I can't afford this and/or I'm an old fart hanging onto what whisky was 15 years ago, let me just make it clear that I do all right, but like I mentioned above in the 'Investors' section I do have a silly-money limit and some of these events crosses those limits when you look at the price/quality ratio these days.

So for now, and in my opinion again of course, the Spirit of Speyside Spring Festival has been taken over by the posh crowd and shareholders in the big companies demanding profit. E.g. how much whisky are the guys at Macallan expecting to sell with they new distillery coming online before long? Let's hope for them its not all going to be all Teletubby land up there. I hope they'll still make decent whisky - that is if they'll give it time to mature in good quality casks... If you want to get a glimpse of what the Spring Festival used to be like, then visit the Dufftown Autumn Whisky Festival, its (still) less crowded and arranged by whiskylovers in Dufftown and the The Whisky Shop Dufftown.

** edit ** This piece was supposed to be posted just over 3 months ago, well before the I was on my way to the Campbeltown Malt Fest 2017. This would my 5th time going to Campbeltown but my first time at the festival and from what I was told, it was a festival still in a relative pristine condition.

This year however, and to the surprise of my seasoned Campbeltown Malt Fest goers as well, it seemed like all the bottle chasers and flippers also made their way to the wee toon this year. The good folks at Springbank and Cadenheads tried their best by limiting the number of bottles available per person and by introducing personalised labels this year, but still some bottles hit both retail shop and secondary markets - at a heavily inflated price, of course... I'll most likely be coming back for next years fest and knowing the folks at Springbank/Cadenhead there'll probably be another restriction or 2 in place next year, which is absolute fine with me.

The wee toon on Kintyre :-) © The Malt Desk 2017

Bottom line must be that there's no holy ground anymore...
Anything is fair game during the hunt for profit in the world of whisky these days... and on that note we get to my final section


OK, Lets take a look at the whisky industry in general here, first the big companies...

Let me start here by saying I'm not specifically lashing out at any one specific company and I'm purely using Highland Park as an example as its been highly profiled so everyone will probably know what I'm talking about and it can then easily be transferred to other companies and brands, e.g Ardbeg or similar

Now, while I do like and even applaud a well made branding from a strictly professional point of view I might add, e.g. the Highland Park Viking theme is extremely well done! Vikings sell! BigTime!
The viking culture, mythology, history all hits spot on with many, not only here in native Scandinavia, but everywhere around the world, adequately fuelled by the HBO TV series 'Vikings' and 'The Last Kingdom'... and its great when a brand succeeds, right? Good for business, jobs etc... yes, but not good for pricing and the punter on a budget who, much faster than usual, is left behind with a bittersweet taste in his/her mouth - not from the whisky but from not being able to buy what may be their favourite whisky.

Many brands have now reached a pricing level where average income punters have to think twice before they go spend their hard earned money on a bottle of malt to numb a hard days work. There are, of course, cheaper options if you just want to numb yourself, but if you want to have it taste good at the same time, your options are getting more and more limited and the sinner is the premiumization of brands and the luxury that is starting to get associated with them, much like what I commented above in the section of Whisky Festival-section.

The brands these days are simply tapping into a whole new customer segment, a segment with more money, more prone to the eat up the marketing and the 'make you feel a part of something special'-segment, and 'look at me'-social media generation, Millenials who's made a buck and are willing to spend it on being a part of something, when what they're really buying is a bottle of booze and a feeling...


Do I sound like a bitter old man? Maybe... Am I bitter old man? Maybe... but it doesn't change the fact that this is the direction not only whisky but our entire society is heading in - and I'm not sure I like it...

I'll close with a note for those getting into whisky these days... Unless, you're really well off and can afford to buy older bottlings for silly money, you're getting screwed with regards to how single malt whisky from your favourite distillery is supposed to taste like, IMO... but like I said, if you have enough money, you don't care you just buy the old stuff at a premium not caring if you're getting screwed in another way...

Instead, you should be asking yourself this... 'Would you be willing to pay a premium for new releases today if you know that a much better quality was available just a decade ago?' If you're serious about your money and the quality of your whisky, then the obvious answer to that question should be a big 'NO'...

Do you still want to get into whisky? Its a race, I tell you... a race - and you might want to consider if its worth your time...

Wednesday, 26 October 2016


Its been a while since the last update here on The Malt Desk itself. As always other stuff (life) seems to interfere incl a 10 day trip to Scotland (Speyside & North Highlands) did provide for updates for The Malt Desk's Facebook page and Twitter (@themaltdesk)

But there has also been a streak of writers block much derived from some of the things happening with whisky at the moment but I will not get into that in this post...

In March this year, at the Danish Whisky Fair, plans were revealed to me that Highland Park try and return to their roots and start doing stuff like single cask bottlings for various markets again - something that had not been done much of over the past 5+ years... and on the 15th October this year, the first single cask for Denmark in a number of year was released as a part of Danish Distillery Braunstein's Whisky Fair. The bottle is a 2003 12yo heavily sherried release that immediately caught the attention of Highland Park fans - especially through the Highland Park Appreciation Society group on Facebook.

I decided to order the 2 bottles per person limit in pre-order and upon receiving the bottles, the online chatter about this bottling had really taken off with most asking how to get a full bottle as it had sold out over the release weekend or asking how to obtain a sample. Some had also tasted it at the Braunstein Whisky Fair and was raving about it, statements that spiked my curiosity further. After posting of my (so far closed) bottles bottles on Facebook, I had more and more people asking for my opinion on it - both in regular posts and in private messages which means there must be at least a few people out there that values my opinion ;-)

Anyway, its good to see Highland Park returning to releases like this. The only sad thing is that people are selling them off straight away for a profit...

Oh, wait I just did get into one of the things that's been keeping me away from the blog for a while...

So, let's take a look at this single cask Highland Park... 

I had a couple of friends try this one out as well and got a couple of interesting descriptions from them :)
The most descriptive one must be this from my friend MBO:
"This whisky is so massive that its the fluid embodiment of Brand Ambassador Martin Markvardsen, sweaty and reeking of masculinity in nothing but a kilt charging down onto the beaches from the cliffs of Yesnaby while wielding a two-handed viking broadsword, defending the Islands from whisky raiders"
My other friend MP was a bit more traditional:

"This whisky is such strong sherry influenced whisky, so strong it resembles red  balsamic vinegar and spicy oak juice and leaves little else to the drinker"

You can read my personal notes and thoughts below the picture...

The entrance to Highland Park Distillery, August 6th 2009 © The Malt Desk

Highland Park 2003/2016, 12yo, 58,3%, 1st fill European Sherry butt#5878, 648 bottles, Distillery Bottling for Braunstein & Friends, Denmark

Colour is dark mahogany
Lets hope it doesn't have any s-notes - regular readers will know I'm sensitive to that :O

Huge on sherry and struck matches on the nose, turning towards reduced tomato glace - a little sweet peat smoke is surfacing, but its struggling to make its way through. There's some dark chocolate, charred oak and with water some café latte and mentholated notes. The peat smoke is also more noticeable now along with a fruity sweetness subdued by the strong sherry, charred and struck match notes. The reduced nose down to maybe 45% leaves little or no trace of unpleasentries.

Again big on the sherry, red balsamic vinegar, charred wood chips and prune juice, grilled beetroot left too long on the bbq, dark old style sugar cane rhum and burnt molasses, spicy sherry oak notes, burnt grilled sausages, damp peat and something like inhaling the smoke from burning your organic garden waste. The finish is carried a long way by the sherry but then gets the dreaded pop-up of sulphur of the matchstick kind - like on the nose. 
It's certainly quite a massive release this one and in trying to come up with a conclusion to this one and it must be that, as my initial impressions followed through...

Closest comparison I'll make is that its a Highland Park 'Dark Originis' on steroids. That said, there's still something more in this one as in quite bit more sherried, there's more peat smoke and charred notes. Sadly there's still noticeable matchbox sulphur in here too. I know that a lot of people like this note and on top of that statistics also shows that close to 30% of all people can't even pick up the note.

I remember older bottlings of Highland Park not having this distinct note (reference here are the old OBs e.g. the 12 & 18) and when I argue this its because I also find it, very vaguely though, in the new releases of the OBs and vaguely probably because they've:

 Been watered down to 40/43%

2. The amount of first fill casks going into these are obviously smaller than when dealing with a single cask bottling like the Braunstein & Friends-bottling 

I'm sadly left with the feeling that its just the style of sherry casks Highland Park get from their contracted bodega - or at least it was back in the day when this cask was laid to rest in 2003.

What I'm then left to ponder over is whether the 30% not able to taste these notes + those that like these notes is such a large part of the customer base that its not worth spending time and money trying to get rid of it??

All these things said (some less flattering) its still good whisky as you can water your way out of the matchstick sulphur in this - or at least down to an acceptable level. Luckily for me the matchstick kind isn't the type I'm overly sensitive to (its the rubbery kind) so Yes, I can drink this neat but the presence of matchstick sulphur just irritates me as this bottling could have been a belter without it!

Are you looking for a score? ok, I'll give you one...