I'm a big fan of the Highland Park distillery and was really excited to have the opportunity to try the new 1971 and 1976 Orcadian Vintages. Around 2009, Highland Park started the release of exclusive Vintage limited editions each inspired by the myths and legends of Orkney.
These two new whiskies are adding to the exsisting range of the 1964, 1968 & 1970 (sadly I'm yet to try the 64 & 68). Sometimes, it feels like the seventies was a peak time in many ways for what is seen as a 'golden age' of whisky production. Most seasoned whisky drinkers know of an elusive dram from this period and more than once I've heard geeks talk with reverence for the barley strain of both the 70's & mid 80's, "Golden Promise"! (whether it was used at HP is another question)
Golden promises aside, the Highland Park 1970 vintage was a stonking dram, courting much acclaim. The 1971 and 1976 both come from great pedigree and don't disappoint.
The 1971, aged in Spanish Oak, is a classic on the nose and I have to admit I've spent three days just coming back to the aroma without ever tasting it. When finally deciding to actually drink some, it was juicy, rich and superbly balanced. This is a skillful marriage of 17 casks chosen by whisky maker, Max McFarlane, which resulted in only 657 bottles.
The 1976 vintage is taken from a mixture of 13 American oak hogsheads and butts, which gives the whisky a creamy Orcadian smoke and a crisp spiced apple taste, delicious, but again only 893 bottles!
You'll be able to find both whiskies on the Highland Park site soon, but they come at a price reflective of their exceptionablity.
Highland Park - Orcadian Vintage 1971
Nose: The nose has beeswax candles & Manuka honey over an over ripened apricot. A little chorizo cooked with rosemary jumps out, but is replaced in quick succession by notes of hazelnut & roast chestnuts, almonds, rose hip, sage & Hessian rope, light menthol and ending on vanilla pipe tobacco.
After a little while the nose develops further and opens to sea salted caramel chocolate, cookie dough, extra thick cream on a Christmas pudding, fresh bread, pineapple, orange zest, pistachio, the cherry from the last sip of a Manhattan cocktail, brass grease, marshmallow from a Tunnock's tea cake, dark choc hobnobs and has a mild whiff of fresh salmon sashimi.
Palate: The palate is complex with sweet sherry, leather, hazelnut chocolate brownie and lemon zest to the front. A very light tobacco smoke comes in but is dowsed by the mouth watering reaction this whisky causes. More spiced elements develop into an almond base. Clove, cinnamon and plum wine come into a long finish.
The nose is much more active than the taste but both are sophisicated and satisfying. A dram that'll be remembered!
Highland Park - Orcadian Vintage 1976
Nose: Crisp green apples & creamy smoke mixed with lavender and cracked black pepper comes forth on the first nose of the glass. Pine resin and wood smoked oysters play harmonise and then draw into sun-dried strawberries, eucalyptus, cucumber, Lemon tart and coconut short bread biscuit.
This is a different pace of a whisky from the 1971 and has an element of petrol, which inspire thoughts of piña coladas and beautiful women on a sun drenched beach.
Palate: Spicy at first, it gives up sweetened apples and coconut milk coated vanilla slices. The thick custard from the vanilla slice lingers and light smoke follows, but isn't a major player. Cucumber and lemon trigger a mouth watering sensation different from the 1971, but all the same still very satisfying. This is a refreshing dram with mild pepper, tea tree and salted honeyed almonds to the end.
Lively, stimulating and fun this whisky is definitely the a product of 1976, the year of the endless summer, when people danced to ABBA and you could have a good night out for a fiver.