Highland Park Earl Magnus Review

Highland Park Earl Magnus

52.6% abv

Score:  90.5/100


First of the Magnus series.  15 y.o. from 2009.  Limited to 5,976 bottles.

Some history from the packaging:

Earl Magnus Erlendsson was born in 1075 when the Orkney Islands belonged to Norway. His Viking ancestors were terrifying warriors whose code of heroism, hatred and honour through vengeance framed their brutal lives. Into this world came Magnus, a man unlike any other Orkney Earl, spreading Christianity.

The peace-loving Magnus was unlike his cousin Haakon who remained imbued with the fighting spirit. Haakon was envious and ambitious, striving for self-glory. Their history is a classic tale of the struggle of good versus evil; the treachery and tragedy of the life of Earl Magnus accounts for his prominence in northern literature.

Magnus reigned jointly with his cousin Haakon from 1108 until 1115 when their followers fell out. Peace was negotiated and the Earls agreed to meet bringing only two ships each. The treacherous Haakon arrived with eight ships and captured his saintly cousin. The Norwegian chieftains decided that one of the Earls must die. After the refusal of his standard-bearer to undertake the task, Haakon ordered his cook to kill Magnus which he did by striking him on the head with an axe.

The life of Magnus is celebrated in two Icelandic Sagas and in the Orkneyinga Saga; he was buried where he died and legend has it the rocky area around the site immediately became a green field.

The fame of Magnus, canonized only 20 years after his death, has been maintained by the stunning cathedral built by his nephew in Kirkwall; St Magnus Cathedral was referred to as ‘incontestably the most glorious monument of the Norwegian dominion to be found in Scotland’ by J. Moodie Heddle, Orkney and Shetland, 1920.

Work began in 1137 and continued over several hundred years. In 1917 a secret cavity was found in one of the columns; in it was a box containing ancient bones including an axe-wounded skull. The influence of Earl Magnus spread far and wide; the forename became popular in Orkney, notably in the case of Magnus Eunson, a man forever associated with the founding of Highland Park distillery in 1798.


A little late, but please forgive the long-winded nature of this review.  There is simply too much to compress.

Starting in 2009, Highland Park began releasing the ‘Magnus Series’.  These were young-ish whiskies (between 12 and 18 years, depending on the edition) that were bottled at cask strength in snazzy old school packaging.  The bottle itself is a tribute to days of yore. It replicates the hand blown flawed vessels of the 1800s. It leans, it is bubbled and it is perfectly imperfect. The bottle comes packaged in a hinged wooden frame and sports a suitably archaic-looking label. Stunning visually.

But…here the foray into times of replication comes to an end.  The whisky itself is a fairly contemporary dram, really.  Nothing of the more raw nature I’d expect in an attempt to recreate an old school style of malt.  Having said that…I don’t believe Highland Park intended to create any sort of profile that was an homage to the past.  They wanted to play to marketing and simply release a fine dram.  And they succeeded.

Highland Park brand ambassador, Gerry Tosh, referred to this as being 15 years old, but with some older whiskies in it as well.  Not surprised.  There is a hefty bit of fruit here that I would associate with a few more years in the cask.  Either way…nice bit of cask selection and vatting by our friends at Highland Park.  They’ve created something unique, but still comfortable and recognizable in their stables.

At 52.6% abv this whisky is hefty, but surprisingly mellow.  Nice sipper with a great delivery and very pleasant lift and denouement.

Nose:  Honeyed and floral.  Cowsheds.  Pepper.  A touch of cherry.  A little of both orange and lemon.  Dry smoke…like burning fields.  Herbal and meadowy.  Lovely and quite a bit fruitier than I would have expected from Highland Park at this age.

Palate:  Farmy right off.  Some smoke and apple notes.  Sweet arrival, slightly creamy, then bittering just a bit.  Dries to the sides of the back of the tongue.  Nice sipper, if not as in depth as the nuances on the nose would hint at.

Limited edition.  If you didn’t get one right away…you probably won’t.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

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