Category Archives: Highland Park

Highland Park Cask Strength Release No. 2 Review

I remember falling hard for Highland Park years ago. One of my best mates was the brand ambassador at the time I was courting HP (or maybe it was courting me?), and I vividly recall attending events he hosted and feeling like there was something kinda special about this distillery. Between his ability to evocatively express what I was picking up in the glass and his profound gift for marrying fact, history, and humor, I was probably the proverbial fish in a barrel. In fact, I know I was.

That doesn’t change the fact that Highland Park was, on the whole, releasing some pretty damn good malts. And quite regularly, at that. I think we can be confident they still have great casks in those storied warehouses, but I’m just not certain where they’re ending up these days. The core HP range is weaker than I can ever remember it being, the branding is a constant source of mockery for many folks (come on, guys, the Viking thing is played out), and the higher age statement releases have been stratospherically positioned, ergo pricing out many of the old vanguard. I hate to say it, but when it comes to Highland Park, there’s not a lot to be excited about these days. So this should be better, aye?

Well, not exactly. I can’t lie though, I’m surprised it took ’em this long to release a young cask strength expression.

Now…rumour* has it that this is 12-13 years old. Ummm…if you say so. It sure doesn’t drink like a dozen years. Is there 12 year old in it? Maybe. But this is no rounded and balanced dram. Blind, I’d guess more like 7 or 8. Probably to some folks’ liking, but I’ll pass on anything but a free dram.

Release No. 2. Sherry seasoned European & American oak casks. 63.9% abv

*Rumour = Whiskybase commentary

Tasting Notes

Nose: Mediocre, youthful, Highland Park. A fair few off notes, that do sort of softemn with a bit of time. Overripe fruits. Toasted marshmallow. Sour and maybe a tick puke-y. Heavy, boozy caramel. Palate: Burny, boozy, and the peat profile is slightly…burnt. A bit of decay. Slightly cloying and wine-y. A lot of spice and figgy notes. Not tooooo hot, all things considered. Drinks big, but not blindingly so. But definitely not ‘of age’, in my opinion. I think this is an experiment in hiding youth through active (seasoned?) casks and high abv. Finish: Not a great finish. A lot of time in the glass helps this one a lot, though. 76/100

Highland Park Full Volume Review

Highland Park Full Volume

47.2% abv

Score:  87/100


The Blasda of the Orkeys.  Had to be said.

Malts like this to, to me, are kinda like CCR touring without Fogerty.  Or the Doors continuing after Jim Morrison died.  You may still be trading off a well-established brand, but ultimately you’re not really giving fans what they want.

Highland Park without sherry is neat, but it’s not Highland Park.  Just as Blasda was a cool as hell Ardbeg (and, contrary to what you may have heard, very good), but let’s face it…it was just barely an Ardbeg.  Full volume is a bourbon cask-driven version of our Orkney darling, rich in soft vanilla, clean spice and firm oak, but lacking in the oomphy, gooey dried fruits that work to enhance that smoke and slightly peaty tang.  It is decent enough malt to be sure (and the price point is just over half of what the regular 18 is), but I probably wouldn’t reach for this one very often.

And dear lord, that packaging.  Bad.  So bad.

I’ll stick with my HPs with some age and sass to them.

Nose:  Vanilla and very clean smoke.  Homemade fruit salad.  Pepper and ginger.  Orange and mixed berry scones.  A touch of artificial cherry. More orange.  Peppered custard.

Palate:  Smoke.  New tooth picks.  Opening a fresh ream of paper.  Faint white pepper.  Overbaked pie crust.  A lot of fruit, but there’s a slightly too strong oak thread running interference.  Good mouthfeel.  Good arrival.  Then…it’s kinda downhill.

Thoughts:  Not bad, but rather pointless.


– Image & words:  Curt

Highland Park Fire & Ice Editions Review

Highland Park Fire

45.2% abv

Score:  80/100


One of two in this mini-series from Highland Park (I think this one came out second, actually.  We’re probably doing this backwards, but oh well).  The Fire Edition is a 15 year old malt finished in refill port wine-seasoned casks.  I have no clue what that actually means.  Same concept as sherry-seasoned barrels, I assume.  So…are these full pipes then, or maybe just hoggies?  No clue.  Anyway…

Nose:  Slightly muddled and barnyard-y.  Nutty.  A touch of rubber and some peat, of course.  Suede.  Faint coffee.  Damp hay.  Pepper and chili.  Cinnamon.  Faintly floral (dead, faint potpourri).  And an organic earthiness that isn’t entirely pleasant.

Palate:  Earthy and dirty.  Slightly cardboard too (almost cork taint-ish).  Orange.  Herbal and kinda leathery.  There’s a touch of smoke and an organic peatiness, but its all rather restrained.  A drying sensation at the back end (some tannins from the port, I imagine).

Thoughts:  Ultimately…not awesome and rather boring.  I expected bigger and bolder.  


Highland Park Ice

53.9% abv

Score:  81.5/100


And the other in the series.  Ice was a 17 year old HP composed from ‘rebuilt first fill bourbon’ casks.  Ummm…aren’t they all?  Or is they again just referring to inserting a few staves in the ‘bebuild’ and being able to call it a hogshead.  No matter.  More importantly, I suppose, these have been capped with virgin oak heads.  That should bring some spice and fat vanillins, no?

Nose:  Definitely noses as the fruitier of the two.  Quite some eucalyptus.  Peppered melons.  Floral notes (heathery).  With a touch a bubblegum.  Marzipan.  Cinnamon cookies.  Faint whiffs of peat and a soft smokiness.

Palate:  Vibrant – definitely moreso than Fire – but sharp and tangy.  Ginger.  Almost wine-y (ironic, considering Fire was the port-seasoned malt).  Lemon pepper.  More peat here.  Citrus.  An almond sweetness.

Thoughts:  Meh.  I do like it better of the two, but it’s still just okay.


Wrapping up:  Over-packaged.  Over-priced.  Over-promised.  Under-delivered.  Anyone else over Highland Park’s Viking obsession?  Once one of my unquestionable favorite distilleries has become a rather sad triumph of style over substance.  I’ll stick with the 12 year old.  It’s the only one in the range that offers any value (seeing as the 18 is now $220, the 21 about $350, the 25 running at almost $800 and the 30…fug.)


 – Image & words:  Curt

Highland Park Magnus Review

Highland Park Magnus

40% abv

Score:  78/100


You don’t come here for justification of the philosophies that support NAS whiskies.  And that’s good.  ‘Cause you wouldn’t find it.  However…if we have to have NAS whiskies, let Highland Park Magnus be an example to all.

Magnus is the latest cutesy HP to hit our shores (nosing out Full Volume by just a short bit).  It arrived with little fanfare, but quickly garnered a bit of a rumbling in the malt spheres.  Not because it was a spectacular dram (it’s not), nor because it was a bad dram (it’s not that either).  But because it was much more than decent and the price point was enough to have us all scratching our heads in bewilderment.  Is this the same brand that nearly doubled the price of the iconic 18 year old over the last few years?  Magnus landed and almost immediately hit LTO, retailing at about $35.  Even at full retail it’s rarely over $45.

While I have trouble getting excited over most young malts like this, I can’t help but be pleasantly surprised at the product’s placement.  It immediately ratcheted up my openmindedness and tolerance for imperfections.  Now this all seems like a case of ‘damning with faint praise’, but trust…at this sort of price it’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed.  It’s young, aggressive and almost certainly recognizable as Highland Park.  Even a modicum of malt experience should be enough to ensure the buyer knows what they’re getting into when the product lacks an age statement and has a sticker price that rubs shoulders with the lower tiers of Johnnie Walker.

A reluctant ‘well done, Highland Park’.  I’m still not on board with NAS (and never will be), but I get what you did here.

At the end of the day, though, if we’re going to call NAS whiskies a necessary evil (which I won’t), then at least this is the way to do it.  Dump it at the bottom of your range at an entry-level price point.

Nose:  Definitely a young’un.  Feisty and bearing all the hallmarks of what our beloved Iain MacArthur (he of Lagavulin fame) often refers to as ‘baby whisky’.  Malty and honeyed.  Not surprisingly, rather floral.  And sorta creamy.  Little bit of pepper.  Little bit of ginger.  Just a faint earthiness that hints at the pedigree.

Palate:  Now here’s where things get a bit rockier.  Some lemon curd.  A touch of rubber.  Some peat.  Drying citrus pith (but not overly citric in terms of flavor).  A tad minerally (like sucking on a pebble.  More ginger and pepper.  Surprisingly oaky back end.  And something akin to dry grape skins.

Thoughts:  All told?  This is too young.  BUT…and it’s a big but (hush up with the bad jokes)…for this price point I’m okay with it.  Outprices many blends, and definitely more interesting than most too.  Definitely needs some time to mellow in the glass.


 – Image and words:  Curt



Highland Park Loki Review

Highland Park Loki 042

48.7% abv

Score:  90.5/100


Loki was the second release in Highland Park’s Valhalla series, following on the heels of Thor.  When word started trickling down the pipeline that these releases were imminent some of us historically-bent, Norse god hailing whisky bums began salivating in anticipation.  We knew the prices would be prohibitive, the whisky would be middling (in terms of age statements, not quality, that is) and the outturn would be quite limited.  Enough to deter many of the great unwashed, in other words.  But c’mon…a cask strength HP packaged up in a mini Viking longship?  That’s pretty badass.

Gimmickry and inflated price tag aside, Loki is a really, really good whisky.  Quite different than its forerunner Thor, but about par in terms of inherent quality.  This one wears its 15 years well, seeming maybe even a little more mature than that, and man…what a palate here.  Great late evening malt for nights when the wind is howling and the fire is roaring.

Nose:  Floral notes.  Spice and tobacco.  Some peat and pepper.  A little bit of orange, and just the faintest hint of peach.  A whiff of very dry smoke and an earthy, organic edge.  Beeswax and honey.

Palate:  Great delivery.  Some peat and smoke arrive early.  More of those orange fruit notes here too.  Sugar cookies.  Poached stone fruit with spice.  Lemon and warm honey.  A nice smoky linger over great rich fruit notes.  Thick and oily.  Probably even better on the palate than the nose, and gets fruitier with time.

Thoughts:  I recall initially liking Thor more than Loki, but I think I’ve swung back the other way.  Let’s not split hairs over scores.  Different malts, but we’ll give ’em the same marks.


 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

Highland Park Thor Review

036Highland Park Thor

52.1% abv

Score:  90.5/100


The mighty Thor.  A rather impressive entry into the Highland Park echelon, to be honest.  If you’ve been following along with the distillery’s output in recent times you’ll likely have noticed a bent towards not just a tie to the Norse / Viking side of things, but an outright embracing of it.

Thor is the first release in what Highland Park has dubbed the Valhalla Collection.  This is to be a four part limited edition collection.  Now…let’s just hope the shoddy debacle that resulted from the execution of Highland Park’s Magnus series is not replicated here.  Said issue concerned the first release of that series being ~6,000 bottles, the second ~12,000 bottles and the third….a mere ~3,300 bottles.  As you can imagine, the net result was a lot of Highland Park fans being unable to round out their collections, and none the happier for it. 

In this case, Thor debuted with a huge production run of 23,000 bottles.  The second Valhalla release, Loki, came in at 21,000 bottles (uh oh).  Let’s see where the next two end up.  Hopefully there’s a form of redemption in this one.

I’m not here to gripe, though.  Merely to provide a bit of forewarning to those out there who may not have followed the earlier saga.  Caveat emptor.  That and, of course, to share a few tasting notes with those out there who are about to hand over their hard-earned dollars.  Is Thor a worthwhile purchase?  Depending on the price point you’re comfortable with…yes.  This is a really good whisky.  Highland Park firing on all cylinders, to be sure.   

Wanna know what this one is like?  Let’s get ‘er done.

Nose:  Smoky, peaty and malty.  Some straw or hay notes.  Pepper. Somewhat porridge-y or oatmeal-y. Honeyed ham.  More thick honey and a meaty, almost marmite-like, note.  Beef Ringolos (like Beef Oxo almost).  Old cigar box.  Pretty sure there is some older whisky vatted in here.

Palate:  More peat and smoke than expected.  A little less forgiving on the palate.  Astringent almost.  Sponge toffee with spice (??).  Anise.  Smoked wood at the back end.  16 year old malt must be the youngest in here.  There definitely seems to be notes of more mature whisky in this vatting.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Master Of Malt – That Boutique-y Whisky Company

Master Of Malt – That Boutique-y Whisky Company

Late last year (2012), the good folk at Master of Malt launched a new line of independent bottlings.  Perhaps it was a retaliatory gesture aimed at the creative geniuses behind the Dali-esque naming conventions and abstract tasting notes of the SMWS.  Or maybe it was a shot at Edradour in the way of ‘Aha!  We too can dupe the public into spending much on wee 50cl (500ml) bottles!’  Or maybe, just maybe…it was simply because they had access to some really good whisky and wanted to provide another alternative in the ever expansive market of independent bottling.   

Either way, all three scenarios are met head on with the new brand ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company’.  The niche here is how utterly ridiculous these bottles look nestled amidst the shelves of austere single malt Scotch whisky packaging.  Each label is adorned with comic book-esque drawings artistically reminiscent of a cross between ‘Where’s Waldo’, ‘Tintin’ and ‘Beavis And Butthead’.  The images are not random bits of artistic tomfoolery, however.  They are rather cleverly reflective of the distilleries captured within the glass, and depict some subtle secrets and whisky geekery, sure to have the whiskily-inclined salivating at unraveling all of the hidden meanings.

Now…much like the old adage ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’, it would be a big mistake to dismiss these releases as novelty items.  I mean really big mistake.  As much as the purists may prefer a more…ummm…elegant outward appearance for our snooty tipple’s daily wardrobe, the simple fact of the matter is as mentioned above:  there is some damn good whisky in these bottles.  As soon as these are naked in the glass, all doubt disappears.  We’ll come to some actual tasting notes and details in just a moment.

A little on the bottings themselves…

Each release is wax-sealed, cask strength and non chill-filtered.  Further, in a rather interesting move…they are also non age statement (NAS) whiskies.  If I understand correctly though, these are not single cask releases.  Rather they are built in small ‘parcels’ to a specific desired quality.  *(If I’m wrong here, please correct me).  Either way…the NAS approach will allow Master Of Malt much greater future flexibility in regard to batch variance.  Rest assured, friends…if any of you are naturally cynical about the whole NAS concept (and I know many of you are, especially in light of the whole 1824 deal) …these are not young whiskies.  You can tell just by nosing.

One other point to note:  While other independent bottlers seem to be struggling for some variety in their portfolios, MofM have managed releases from Port Ellen, Brora, Ardbeg, Macallan, Caperdonich, etc.  Neat stuff. 

At this point I am won over.  Can’t wait to see where they go from here.

Forgive the quality of photos (or lack thereof).  They were thrown together rather quickly in the  shop.


Secret Distillery (Batch 1)045

55.4% abv     486 bottles

Score:  89/100

Nose:  Tobacco and raisins.  Cinnamon and fresh scones.  Some floral notes.  Baking spices.  Fudge and caramel macchiato.  Honey.  Creamy caramel with fruit.  Rich, rich, rich.

Palate:  Surprisingly tart up front.  Followed by big, dark intimidating fruitcake notes.  Then some apple.  Think a’bunadh meets amaretto with a wee splash of Southern comfort.

Thoughts:  A neat one.  Both in character and out of character at the same time.  Like seeing this distillery in another dimension.

*Secret Distillery’s real name rhymes with Ben Schmarclas.


Macallan (Batch 3)048

43.4% abv     245 bottles

Score:  86.5/100

Nose:  Bread dough.  Nice spices..and lots of ’em.  Some apple pie, heavy on the cinnamon.  Some old library notes.  Buttery sauce.  A little atypical of Macallan.

Palate:  Creamy and spicy.  A fair bit of dry oak.  Over-toasted marshmallow.  Grape skins.  Bitter chocolate.  Fairly tannic.  Zippy with spice and very pleasing apple notes.

Thoughts:  Not a bad whisky, but the low, low abv makes me think this one cooked in the warehouse for a while.  If this is indeed and older dram…I’m a tad underwhelmed.


Clynelish (Batch 2)042

50.6% abv     319 bottles

Score:  92/100

Nose:  Lavender and perfume.  Some pepper.  Nougat and honey.  Lemon poppyseed muffins.  A little orange juice.

Palate:  Wow!!  Old wax and dunnage warehouse.  Just extinguished candle.  Oil lamp.  Charred oak.  Some smoke.  Sooooo old school.  Cinnamon.  Apple juice and skins at the back end.  One of the all time great palates.  Loved it.

Thoughts:  Some disconnect between nose and palate, but they are at least complimentary.  The palate though…gad!…extra points for sure.  Just wow!


Springbank (Batch 2)053

53.1% abv     450 bottles

Score:  88.5/100

Nose:  Pickle.  Dust and pine.  A bit of peat, yeah.  Flinty.  Winter wood fire.  Clove and pepper.  Pine sap.  So odd…so unique…so intriguing.

Palate:  Now there’s the smoke.  Kinda oily.  Notes that should only be found in older whisky (wonder how old this actually is).  Some great sweetness meets the machine smoke.  Some figgy notes with honey.  Smoked fruit skins.  Pear, apple and currant.

Thoughts:  Very different for a Springbank.  The pine and pickle notes really threw me off, but surprisingly…worked out just fine in this one.  I liked it.


Highland Park (Batch 1)047

44.7% abv     241 bottles

Score:  88/100

Nose:  Sweet nose with a great composition.  Tangy jam note.  Peach, orange and lemon.  Warm leather and a very inviting salty note (makes the mouth water just inhaling it).  A touch of oil.

Palate:  Smoke and earthy notes.  Hay.  A mix of green and purple grapes.  Walnut.  Old school heft and some moderately subtle sherry-like tang.  Tart marmalade.

Thoughts:  Balance, balance, balance.  Again…a little out of character, but not too far off the path.  Not bad at all.


Bowmore (Batch 2)038

49% abv     292 bottles

Score:  89.5/100

Nose:  Farmy and iodione-heavy.  Rubber, smoke and other such.  Lemon zest.  Damp soil.  Smoky fruits.  Gravel dust.  Dry ash.  Sultanas.  Develops a bit of orange and some creaminess, surprisingly…but only if you give it a bit of time.

Palate:  Oh yeah!  Oily..smoky…earthy, and rich in dark red and purple fruits.  Think Laimrig meets motor oil.  Plum and purple grape.

Thoughts:  A well-earned 89.5.  Maybe even closer to a 90.  This is a neat Bowmore.  These recent profiles that combine jammy fruit notes and industrial oiliness…win.  Just win.


Caol Ila (Batch 1)039

45.8% abv     732 bottles

Score:  88/100

Nose:  Prickly and briny.  Peat and smoke.  Sweet and citric at the same time.  Orange oil.  Olives.  Candy sweetness.  A dusting of salt and pepper.

Palate:  Very Caol Ila.  Some melon with citrus.  Toffee and smoke.  Oyster with salt, pepper and lemon.  Wet rock.  Ocean shoreline.  oil.  There are some notes that make me think of Kilchoman (if that distillery’s malt were a little more mature).

Thoughts:  Damn decent Caol Ila, but definitely not the best of the indies I’ve tried.  Particularly liked the oceanic notes and oily saltiness.


Look forward to future releases.

Thanks to our mate, Andrew Ferguson at Kensington Wine Market, for the chance to try these. 


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt

Highland Park Earl Haakon Review

Highland Park Earl Haakonbarry's place pics 090

54.9% abv

Score:  91.5/100


Third of the Magnus series.  18 y.o. from 2011.  Limited to 3,300 bottles.

Concluding the saga…

The final chapter of the Magnus series by Highland Park.  Here  we have an 18 year old release, and wow, did this one stir up some consternation.  HP released the Earl Magnus expression in a limited run of 5,976 bottles.  The follow-up was Saint Magnus at 11,994 bottles.  Now, here we are with the third, and final, edition in the series, released in a run of 3,300 bottles.

Yep…you can see where I’m going with this.

So…first release does ok.  More than ok actually.  It sells out quickly, with quite some buzz behind it.  Time for edition two…let’s make more this time around.  Double it maybe!  Well…doubling the batch worked well.  All ~12,000 or so sold out.  Happy guys (and gals) at Highland Park, I would imagine.  Alright…let’s close out this story with a lovely 18 year old and release…a third as many bottles as we did with the second release!  Great idea!  Wait…what?

I saw a video with Highland Park brand ambassador, Gerry Tosh, explaining this very issue, wherein he acknowledged that they upset some people with this release.  He said it was a mistake.  They made too little and realized too late.  Hmmmm.  I don’t buy it.  This distillery produces lots of 18 year old whisky.  There is no reason they couldn’t have vatted another handful of casks in to beef up the production run.

I think there’s more to this one that we’re hearing.  Egregious error in judgement either way, I’d say, when you upset that many collectors and loyal fans.  The worst part of it?  This release is the best of the bunch.  Ok…maybe that is the second worst part of it.  The worst might be the price jacking we saw with this one.  Ouch.

Anyway…enough grousing about what is, in all honesty, one of my favorite brands.  I am a big fan of this distillery.

This particular whisky, Earl Haakon, is a rather exceptional 18 year old, full of beautiful depth and a wide bouquet of sensory treats.  As with the others in the range, this is a big, bold cask strength whisky, rather typical of the Highland Park profile, if not necessarily typical of their usual method of delivery (here we have it natural…cask strength…nekkid…novel).

The story of these ‘Magnus Series’ releases can be found in the review for the Earl Magnus.  I won’t deign to repeat myself and bore you again.  You’re only here for the tasting notes, right?

Nose:  Dusty, but sweet and sexy.  Very big honey notes.  Orange.  Smoke.  Lovely mature peats.  Some dusty grain silo.  Old leather gloves.  Back to honey and cherries.  Wow…what a great nose!

Palate:  Sweet honeyed fruits.  Gawd!…really, really nice fruits.  Maybe slightly orange-heavy.  Some smoke and coal.  A bite of pepper and clove.  Anise.  Graham cracker.  Very nice finish, long on smoked granny smith apple skins and honeyed barley.


– Reviewed:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Highland Park Saint Magnus Review

Highland Park Saint Magnus088

55% abv

Score:  88.5/100


Second of the Magnus series.  12 y.o. from 2010.  Limited to 11,994 bottles.

Here we have the second release in the Magnus series, following on the success of 2009’s Earl Magnus.  For this edition, we’re looking at a slightly younger malt than that edition, clocking in at a mere 12 years (possibly plus an older cask or two in there for good measure).  The first release was 15+ years old.  Seems like a slightly illogical succession, especially seeing as how the third in the series was an 18 year old.  Hmmmm.

In following the Magnus tale, at this point our hero had taken an axe to the noggin, met his maker and been canonized.  And now, Sainthood seeming to suit Magnus just fine, we find ourselves curled up with a bottle of Highland Park’s 2010 follow-up release…Saint Magnus.  I provided the history lesson in the review for the previous release, Earl Magnus, so let’s skip on ahead to the whisky itself. 

I like this whisky.  I don’t, however, like it as much as I did the Earl Magnus.  I’d venture further to say it is certainly the least spectacular of the three.  What you’ll find here is a much dirtier drink.  More ‘workingman’, by nature.  That, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, but it simply doesn’t seem to have the refinement of the others in the range.  As contrary as this may sound…it is the right selection for the series though.  I simply would have released this one to the market before the other two.

Nose:  This is a maltier and meatier dram than Earl Magnus.  Typical Highland Park flares of honey.  The other HP hallmark, heather floral notes, is quite dialed back.  Some pepper and a hint of matchstick.  Smoky and slightly earthy or peaty.  A bit of mildly vinegary bbq sauce (perhaps this ties back to the olfacory meaty connections I am drawing).

Palate:  Very much in line with what I would expect based on the nose.  Barley.  Very dry smoke and peat.  Certainly the most old school of the three.  Quite reminds me of an older style blend.  Organic and natural in its development.  Quite long on the grains as it fades.

I should note here…they essentially doubled the production run on this one.  I note this as it will be a talking point in the write-up for the third edition, Earl Haakon. 


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

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