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Friday, 31 July 2015

Port Ellen 28yo Whisky Review (Whisky Show bottling)!

Something special to mark the beginning of a short holiday, and something I'm not likely to ever see again!

Port Ellen. Those two words are enough to bring many whisky enthusiasts to their knees, and cashed-up collectors even more so! A whisky so highly prized and sought after, that it commands truly insane prices, both at auction, and during the annual official Diageo releases. This very special sample is from an independent bottling, but it is from one of just sixty bottles. Yes, just 60, so it's ridiculously rare. To put that into perspective, the annual official releases of Port Ellen usually number in the low-thousands, and are still very rare whiskies. While I try to review whiskies which are reasonably obtainable, this one just isn't, so I'm afraid you'll just have to live vicariously through me for a few minutes...

The sample was very generously gifted to me by brand ambassador-extraordinaire Dan Woolley, who personally rescued the bottle from the warehouse of the company / store who bottled it, The Whisky Exchange, in London. It was distilled in 1983, which puts it among the last Port Ellen whisky ever made, as the distillery closed it's doors that year. I've covered more of Port Ellen's history and particulars here, in a previous review, if you'd like more background information on this 'dead' distillery.

So this malt then rested peacefully in a sherry cask for 28 long years, before just 60 bottles were taken from said cask for this bottling, in 2011. It was released at The Whisky Exchange's annual Whisky Show, and was bottled at 51.1%, which I presume to be cask strength. There's very little information around on this malt, due to the obvious rarity, so that'll have to do!

This is the third Port Ellen I've tasted, the first being an official bottling from the 2004 release, and the other being a 25yo bottling from Signatory. The official Diageo bottling left me a little underwhelmed, I had expected it to blow me away, but it was utterly decimated by the 2013 Lagavulin Feis Ile I had tasted earlier that evening. Both of those were samples from the old & rare bar at last years' Whisky Live (Brisbane), which incidentally is only a few weeks away now. The Signatory Port Ellen, on the other hand, was part of a sample swap from a generous Dram Full member, and it was a big improvement. It was also from a sherry cask, as it happens, so perhaps I'm being unfair on the official. Things are looking good for this review, then!
Port Ellen 28yo sherry cask, 51.1%, TWE Whisky Show bottling.
Distilled in 1983, bottled in 2011. One of 60 bottles released at the Whisky Show in London, 2011.

Colour: Copper.

Nose: Light coastal peat, damp leather. Dry, rich, fruity, even grape-y sherry. Spicy oak, juicy fruit. Peat dissipates with a little time. Light golden syrup & melted butter behind. 

Texture: Medium weight, silky and soft. 

Taste: Surprisingly peaty, a little salt, some chilli heat. A dry, earthy peat, and quite spicy oak. A little grape-y sherry, maybe a tiny hint of old, dry barley, but the peat & spice are the main players here. 

Finish: Long and lovely. Spicy oak, dark woody spices. Quite soapy as well. Dried fruit and soft old leather, a slight hint of resin at the end. 

Score: 4.5 out of 5.

Notes: My favourite Port Ellen so far, what a shame it's un-obtainium! Surprisingly peaty on the palate compared to the others, and quite spicy as well, a very assertive European oak cask doing it's thing, I guess, but still quite complex once it settles down. The soapy-ness in the finish is interesting, and could turn some  people off, but I don't mind it. A great whisky. 

A huge thanks to Dan Woolley for this sample, which came from his own (incredible) collection. This is one whisky I'd never have seen, let alone tasted, otherwise. In fact I think I might owe him a couple of samples in return. If I have anything he hasn't tasted, that is, which isn't likely!

Since this special dram marks the start of a short holiday, I'm afraid there won't be a review from me next week, and that's also why this one is a couple of day's early. But don't panic, this short holiday happens to also involve some Australian whisky, and there will be a few special posts coming shortly afterwards. I'll be posting a few teasers on twitter, so feel free to follow me @TimJG84 for a couple of sneak previews. Otherwise, watch this space...


Sunday, 26 July 2015

Amrut Intermediate Sherry & Portonova Whisky Reviews!

Until recently, my experience of Amrut Indian whisky was quite limited, having only tried the standard 'single malt', the (very good) 'fusion', and the 'peated cask strength'. But after attending an Amrut tasting with the Dram Full (Brisbane) facebook group this week, that list is now a bit longer!

Presented by Ian from Alba Whisky, Amrut's Australian distributor, and graciously hosted by The Gresham, we tasted a total of seven expressions of Amrut whisky, including two rare Blackadder independent bottling's, generously supplied/sacrificed from the personal collection of Dram Full Brisbane's head honcho. Those two were actually my first Blackadder's, and they were both very impressive. Definitely an 'indie' to look out for.  

I've covered the particulars of Amrut distillery in more detail in this previous review, but they've been releasing some interesting whiskies recently, and thanks to Ian, I have samples of two of those to review, for your reading pleasure! Both of these use the same, quite unusual, maturation technique, albeit one in sherry casks, and the other in port casks (can you guess which is which?). There's actually a clue in the name of one of them: No, not 'sherry' or 'port', that would be too obvious. It's actually 'intermediate'!

Both of these whiskies start out in a mix of ex-bourbon and virgin (new) oak casks, are then transferred to fortified wine casks (sherry and port, respectively), and are then transferred back to ex-bourbon casks for finishing / marrying prior to bottling. Hence the sherry / port cask maturation is the 'intermediate' step in the maturation process. This last step is very unusual, and the thinking is that it allows a better integration of the different cask influences. Amrut is, to my knowledge at least, the only distillery to have used/tried this unusual technique.

Both are also NAS, and will be young by Scotch standards, but as we know, whisky matures faster in hotter climates, so that should not put you off. Amrut also do not chill filter, or any colouring to, their malts. Both of these are also made from Himalayan barley, which is different! I'm comparing these two back-to-back, since they use the same maturation technique with different casks, for science...
Amrut Intermediate Sherry, 57.1%, NAS. Bangalore, India.
Non-chill filtered, natural colour. Matured first in ex-bourbon and virgin oak, transferred to sherry casks, then back to ex-bourbon casks before bottling. Hence 'intermediate sherry'. 

Colour: Rusty red.

Nose: Definitely a sherry monster, with a different edge. Sultanas and currants, spices (cinnamon, clove, cardamom), mild honey sweetness. Roasted nuts, cherry cough syrup, vanilla pods. 

Texture: Syrupy, quite weighty. A little heat.

Taste: Very spicy - chilli, cumin, ginger, cardamom. Semi-dry sherry, cough syrup, strong tea. Quite intense and feisty, but not harsh or rough.

Finish: Short-medium, still spicy. Some vanilla, and slightly nutty oak.

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Very nice. Quite a lot of spices, and not overly sweet, quite complex. Especially for the age. 
Amrut Portonova, 62.1%, NAS, Bangalore, India.
Non-chill filtered, natural colour. Matured fist in ex-bourbon and virgin oak, transferred to port pipes, then back to ex-bourbon casks before bottling. 

Colour: Slightly darker & redder.

Nose: Stewed berries, very jammy. Magic marker / nikko pen. A little spicy, but less so than the sherry. Sweeter, as well. 

Texture: Syrupy, a bit of heat. 

Taste: Strawberry and plum jam, spicy - chilli, pepper, hint of curry leaves? Dark caramel / molasses. More heat in this one, but it is 5% higher strength, so that's a given. Again not harsh or unpleasant, though.

Finish: Medium, dried fruits and oak. Becoming quite dry. Mild tannins. Raisins / sultanas at the end.

Score: 3 out of 5.

Notes: Still a decent dram, but not as good as the intermediate sherry, for me. Although I'm starting to wonder if I'm not a big fan of port cask matured whisky without peat. 

And the winner is: The intermediate sherry, clearly. Feels a little more integrated and polished, for me. Maybe the smaller sherry casks are working a bit harder than the larger port pipes? The portonova seemed more popular at the tasting, but this is only my opinion, after all. I'd have no problem lining up either of these against a Scotch, for something a bit different. In fact they remind me a little of Kavalan whiskies in character or 'spirit' (pun intended). In a good, and refreshingly different, way.

However, price must also come in to the equation. Both of these are around $160-170 in Australia, which is a substantial amount, especially when compared to Scotch. But you generally are getting more ABV for your buck with the Amrut. My pick of the range, though, is still the fusion. At around $90-100 it's pretty great value, is still bottled at 50%, non-chill filtered and natural colour, and has that little bit of peat from the Scottish barley component, being made from 25% peated Scottish, and 75% un-peated Himalayan, barley. 

What I would like to see is a peated Amrut, matured in this 'intermediate' style. In fact, I would like to see, and taste, an Amrut made from peated Himalayan barley. Currently, all of their peated barley is shipped from Scotland, ready-made, if you will. Yes, it would be more costly, because they'd have to source the peat, and malt & peat the barley locally. But it would be more Indian, and perhaps more authentic.

Thanks to Ian McKinlay from Alba Whisky for the samples, and for coming up to Brisbane for the tasting. Likewise to Mr. Dram Full Brisbane, Othmar, for organising the whole thing, and giving up his whisky.


Sunday, 19 July 2015

Jim McEwan Tribute & Bruichladdich 22 yo Whisky Review!

Unfortunately this review starts on a rather sad note. For those who aren't aware, Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich's Master Distiller, is retiring this coming week. On the 23rd of July, 2015, to be precise. So, rather than just a review of 'Laddie 22', which I've wanted to try for quite some time, this is also a tribute to the man who helped create it.

It's quite possible, I think, that if it weren't for Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich might not have 'made it' at all. Certainly it would not have reached the heights that it has today without his hard work. After a massive 52 years in the industry, Islay-native Jim has gone from being an apprentice cooper (building barrels), to master distiller at what is, in my opinion, one of the top distilleries in Scotland, and is now hanging up his hat.

Bruichladdich distillery was 'moth-balled', basically shut down, in the mid-1990s, until a group of private investors purchased the distillery in early 2000. They hired Jim, who was working for Bowmore at the time, to help bring the distillery back to life. They rebuilt the distillery, keeping much of the original equipment, and re-hiring much of the staff, and it began producing whisky again in 2001. These days the distillery is owned by Remy-Cointreau, but you'd be hard-pressed to find any obvious differences so far, which is promising.

Aside from 'laddie's excellent un-peated range, we have Jim (and team) to thank for bringing us Octomore and Port Charlotte whiskies, and of course the Black Art series. We also owe him thanks for the decisions to not chill filter, to bottle at a decent strength, to not add any artificial colouring, and to mature and bottle their malt on-site. Bruichladdich is, in fact, the largest private employer on the island of Islay, not including the local farmers who are supplying barley to the distillery. 

Jim's incredible passion for his island home, his workplace, and whisky in general, is totally genuine, and ingrained in his soul. I was lucky enough to see him in action during one of his many tours last year, so I can tell you first-hand that his passion is also infectious! It shows in the distillery's tasting notes as well, I think, which are really whisky poetry. Have a browse here for proof, but I should warn you, you'll want to drink whisky afterwards. And during. The man is truly a master distiller, and a true whisky legend.

Seeing as Jim currently lives on the distillery site, I don't think we've seen the last of his influence just yet, but with his retirement, current assistant distillery manager Adam Hannett is taking the reigns as head distiller. He's been learning from Jim for some time already, but he has some big shoes to fill. No pressure! Anyway, let's raise a glass to Jim, and drink some Bruichladdich!

The 'Laddie 22yo is one of the oldest malts Bruichladdich have released, and is part of their un-peated range. It was bottled at 46%, due to it being released prior to the distillery's move up to 50% as their standard strength. As with all 'Laddie's, it's non-chill filtered and bottled without adding colouring. Let's just remind ourselves what a massive expanse of time 22 years is. I was in primary school 22 years ago! So this whisky has sat peacefully in ex-bourbon casks, in Bruichladdich's warehouse on Islay, breathing in the sea air, for quite some time. This also means it was distilled prior to the distillery shutting down, and was selected by the new team, when it re-opened, to go the distance. Sounds promising...

Bruichladdich 'Laddie' 22yo, 46%, Islay, Scotland.
Ex-bourbon cask matured, non-chill filtered, natural colour. Un-peated.

Colour: Yellow gold.

Nose: Stewed banana and apple, sea breezes. Fresh, buttery pastry and creamy caramel. Salted, toasted nuts, vanilla ice cream, slightly floral.

Texture: Medium body, no heat at all. 

Taste: Creamy & light, slightly salty. Stewed fruits, lemon oil, some spice. Dried malted barley and some dry, spicy oak. 

Finish: Medium length, juicy barley, white pepper, a little honey. Drying with a dash of spice. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Notes: Surprisingly fresh & light for it's age, the un-peated laddie character is still there, but it's matured and mellowed. Very easy drinking and well-balanced. Unfortunately it's a little hard to find now, likewise the 10yo and 16yo 'Laddie's, with the un-peated range having mostly moved to non-age statement, like many other distilleries. 

That doesn't make them less enjoyable though, the standard 'laddie classic' is still a great entry-level malt. In fact I believe they've also increased their standard bottling strength to 50% as well, which certainly helps ease the pain! The 22yo is still available here and at Dan Murphy's on-line, and both are quite reasonably priced, but stock has to be running low.    

A review of Black Art may have been a more fitting toast to Mr. McEwan, it having been his secret recipe malt, but the 3rd release was one of my first reviews, and is now quite hard to find. But, that bottle isn't empty yet, so I'm enjoying a 'wee dram' of that mysterious malt as I write this. In fact, let's have a toast. If you like, grab a glass of Bruichladdich / Port Charlotte / Octomore, stick The Proclaimers on, crank the volume, and toast Jim with me. Unless you're at work, then perhaps use headphones...

A heart-felt and humble thanks to you, Jim McEwan, for your hard work over the last 52 years in the industry. You've helped bring Bruichladdich back from the grave, I'm sure it's been a labour of love, and it's not going anywhere now. Thanks for pushing the boundaries, sticking to your (and our) values, and being a true master distiller. Enjoy your retirement, and may your glass never run dry! 

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Benromach Hermitage Whisky Review!

I was going to tie this one in by mentioning Bastille Day, commemorating the French revoluton, which is a few days away. How does Scotch tie in with Bastille Day? The clue is in the 'Hermitage' in the title. This Benromach single malt has been finished in a French red wine cask.

But honestly, I just wanted to try this whisky, because I have a feeling it's going to be a good 'un. If it makes you feel better, feel free to read this review in a French accent!

I would definitely rank Benromach in my top 5 mainland distilleries. Why? I've covered the distillery in more detail here, but basically, because they do excellent work. They use a slightly higher peating level than most Speyside distilleries, aside from their excellent heavily-peated expression, Peat Smoke. Oh, and they only use first-fill casks to mature their whisky. Tres bon!

Speaking of which, this one has been matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, and finished in Hermitage red wine casks from Northern France. You may notice that the bottle does not have an age statement on the label, but it does have something handy on there: the year it was distilled, 2005, and the year it was bottled, 2014. So it's basically 8-9 years old. Around 6-7 years of that was in ex-bourbon casks, and just over 2 years (27 months) in the ex-red wine casks, most likely of the Syrah grape variety (similar to the Shiraz in Australia).

The Hermitage expression is half of Benromach's current 'wood finish' range, the other half being the 'Chateau Cissac', which is finished in different french red wine casks, and for slightly less time. They're both limited releases, and are bottled at an almost-there 45% ABV, but I can't find any word on whether or not they've been chill filtered. The standard 10yo is supposedly lightly chill filtered, whereas the 57% version is non-chill filtered, so I can't be sure, but I'm guessing the Hermitage has been lightly chill filtered. C'est la vie, let's give it a go!
Benromach Hermitage, NAS*, 45%. Forres, Speyside, Scotland.
*Distilled 2005, bottled 2014, matured for 6-7 years in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, and finished in Hermitage red wine casks for 27 months. Natural colour, unknown chill filtration.

Colour: Rust / bronze.

Nose: Red berries in heavy sweet syrup, a little grassy, molasses / treacle. Dried red apple, hint of dry smoke behind the fruit. Quite fresh & dynamic.

Texture: Light-medium, no heat. Easy drinking, but not too light. 

Taste: Nice bit of smoke up front. Not as sweet as the nose, quite dry in fact, but that works for me. A little spice (cinnamon), some dried red fruits, fresh barley and hay. 

Finish: Medium. Some oak & spice, becoming quite dry, biscuit-y malt and hint of dry peat right at the end. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Notes: Very nice, the nose & taste are great, could use a little 'more' on the finish, though. Really like the smoke up front on the palate, quite unexpected. It doesn't hang around, but it's there. I couldn't identify a huge amount of obvious influence from the red wine cask (tannins etc.), which is fine by me... 

Certainly quite different in profile from the other Benromach's I've tasted so far. They've all been great whiskies, and the Hermitage is too. It's a limited release of 4200 bottles, though, so it may not be around for long. Regardless, it's very well priced here at Nippy Sweetie, which is also where I bought my sample.

Speaking of other Benromach's, aside from the other wine cask-finished bottling, they've released an interesting expression recently, although I don't believe it's made the trip to Australia just yet. They've released a 15yo version of their standard 10yo. Although it's bottled at the same 43% as it's younger sibling, it's also enjoyed the same ex-bourbon & ex-sherry first-fill cask maturation. That extra 5 years in oak may have diminished the smoke, though, and it was already quite subtle. Still, it's bound to be a good one. Let's hope it makes the trip over, so we can find out.


Sunday, 5 July 2015

Ben Nevis 21yo Whisky Review!

When I purchased this sample, which was some time ago, I was shocked & intrigued by the colour. But, knowing it was un-peated, and from a distillery I'd never heard of, I put it towards the back of the sample stockpile. But when the time came for tonight's review, I thought I'd go for something different, and this ruby-red malt jumped out at me.

After a little research, it's actually a port cask 'finish', but that finish was a little longer than the usual 6-12 months. This whisky was distilled back in 1990, and matured in refill sherry hogsheads for 13 years, then 'finished', for 8 years, in a ruby port cask. It was then bottled without chill filtration, at cask strength, which was 59.8%, a good showing for a 21 year old whisky.

But what about this distillery I had never heard of? Well, it turns out Ben Nevis distillery is among some of the oldest in Scotland, having been founded in 1825. Just ten years younger than Laphroaig and Ardbeg, then. The distillery is named after the highest mountain in the United Kingdom, in the Scottish Highlands, and is situated near the base of it's namesake, near the town of Fort William. A good chunk of the movie Braveheart was actually filmed nearby, and Fort William is steeped in real history, such as the Jacobite rebellion.

Interestingly, the distillery has been owned by Japanese company Nikka since 1989, and is the company's only distillery located outside of Japan. Most Ben Nevis whisky seems to go into blends, but not any high profile ones, as far as I can determine. There are a few single malts available though, a few independent bottlings, and a few single cask releases, which is what this 21yo is. Although they got 800+ bottles out of said cask, so I'm guessing it was a single port pipe. Anyway, on to the good stuff. Or, perhaps not...

Ben Nevis 21yo, single cask, Port finish. 59.8% cask strength, Fort William, Scotland.
Distilled in 1990, matured for 13 years in refill sherry hogsheads, 'finished' in ruby port casks for another 8 years. Non-chill filtered.

Colour: Dark red, pink tinges.

Nose: Sweet, rich fruit, a little spice. Red grapes, Ribena blackcurrant juice, but in the form of syrup or concentrate. 

Texture: Rich & syrupy.

Taste: Not nearly as sweet as the nose, quite musty, in fact. A little heat, some red grapes and pepper, dry wood, blackcurrants, but unsweetened this time, and a hint of bitter orange or marmalade. 

Finish: Medium length, some bitter wood and spice, tannins. Becoming quite bitter actually, like the residue in an empty glass of heavy red wine, and the morning after you drank too much of it. Or any of it, in my case...  

Score: 2 out of 5. 

Notes: The nose was nice, but the taste, and particularly the finish, were a real let-down. Certainly qualifies as something different, at least! Maybe the port pipe/cask has just dominated the spirit, and hasn't behaved very well, I don't know. But I'm not digging it. I would be digging it far less if I had bought a whole bottle, though. The magic of samples, saving the day once again. Love it.

This sample was in a sample pack I bought a while back, which contained samples of the top ten whiskies from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013. I wouldn't put this one anywhere near my top 50, but it actually placed third in the top ten, for some reason. Still, glad I tried it, it would be another distillery to tick off the list, if I was keeping a list. 

That said, one bottling is not enough to judge a distillery on, the distillery may still do great work. I'm yet to taste any of their other expressions, official or otherwise (independent).


Thursday, 2 July 2015

Highland Park Mega Tasting!

This must have been one of the most comprehensive tastings of Highland Park single malts, in Australia, in recent history! And I was lucky enough to attend. And I took some notes...

The whisky line-up was just awesome. On offer were Highland Park 12yo, 15yo, 18yo, 21yo, Dark Origins, Leif Eriksson (travel retail exclusive), and an independent bottling, which was a surprise, but you'll have to wait for the details. No skipping!

Our host for the evening was the venerable Dan 'Whisky' Woolley, brand ambassador extraordinaire. Our setting was Brisbane's whisky Mecca, the mighty Cobbler. I hadn't visited this holy place in quite a while, for no reason in particular, and I missed it so badly it hurt! Martin & the boys haven't been resting on their laurels, either, with a new (seasonal) cocktail menu, and quite a few new whiskies to boot. I'll be back real soon, gentlemen. 

It was a packed house for this sold-out tasting too, with around 40 people coming out to taste some malts. The crowd was more of a mixed bag than the other tasting's I've attended, a good mix of seasoned whisky drinkers and amateurs, and even a couple of newbies. It's great to see the whisky fan base growing, and horizons being broadened, which is what it's all about!

Naturally you can't have seven whiskies without a little food (well,  of course you can, but it may not end well!), and Dan had arranged for something special on that front. Our personal chef for the evening was Matt from Jahh Tiger, which is Brisbane's only Jamaican bar, and a great one at that. He and Dan had designed food pairings to go with each whisky, and they all worked a treat. They were also small, light courses, which is great when there are seven of them! 
Highland Park distillery is located in Kirkwall , in the Orkney islands, North of the Scottish mainland. It's the Northern-most distillery in Scotland, but the island's population is mostly of Scandinavian descent, probably thanks to the island's proximity to Norway (see map), and the Viking's propensity for 'travelling'. In fact, Dan can trace his own family history back to Orkney, and had recently returned from a visit to the distillery, among many others. I'm still waiting for that job reference, Dan...

The distillery has five major points of difference, which they call 'keystones', involved in their whisky production. They use traditional floor malting to malt their barley by hand, they use local peat, only use ex-sherry casks (both American and European oak) for maturation, they mature their whisky on Orkney, and 'harmonise' (also known as marrying) their whisky after blending, for 6 months, prior to bottling. 

The peat on Orkney is composed mostly of heather, giving it a floral, sweet and delicate flavour markedly different from the peat of other regions. Maturing their whisky on Orkney is a key factor as well, with many distilleries now shipping their malt elsewhere to mature. Talisker, for example, ship quite a bit of their whisky to warehouses in mainland Scotland. Unfortunately, this means the influence of the natural salty air on the maturing malt is either reduced, or just isn't there. So that's a good move from HP. 

The American & European oak thing is interesting, and our 'guide' for the evening had arranged our whiskies to help us compare the differences, with each bottling using a different combination of the two. American oak casks are usually associated with maturing bourbon, but in Highland Park's case all their casks have held Oloroso sherry, despite it being a more expensive method than sourcing ex-bourbon casks from the US. 

So, onto the whisky! Rather than score each malt, I'm just going to pick a winner after reviewing them. Here are my tasting and pairing notes, in order of tasting on the night. Try not to be too jealous!

Highland Park 12yo, 40%. 
Pairing: Beautiful fresh seared scallop, with toasted coconut.
Nose: Gentle and inviting, honey, lightly spiced, slight smoky & floral peat.
Taste: Floral soft peat, pepper, gentle & delicate smoke, hint of dry sherry.
Finish: Quite short, mild spice, light sweetness, tiny hint of salt.
Notes: A good value beginners malt, well balanced. Chill filtration and low strength kills the mouth-feel though, unfortunately. 

Highland Park 15yo, 40%. First time tasting!
Pairing: Tuna sashimi. I'm not a big sashimi fan, but it worked with the dram.
Nose: Tropical fruit, hint of toasted oak and vanilla, light caramel sweetness.
Taste: Over-ripe pineapple, hint of spice, decent pinch of pepper. 
Finish: Short, slight heat, spice and sweetness.
Notes: Quite an uncommon malt in Australia. Easy to spot the American oak component in this one, compared to the 12. Mouth-feel & finish still a bit lacking.

Highland Park Dark Origins, NAS, 46.8%. Double the amount of first-fill casks compared to the 12yo bottling.
Pairing: Apple-wood smoked duck breast. Absolutely mind-blowing!
Nose: Love it. So much richer and more concentrated than the other expressions. Thick sweetness, rich stone fruit and raisin / sultana, light salt.
Taste: Best mouth-feel so far, thanks to being non-chill filtered! No heat at all, rich fruit and floral peat, nice dry sherry and dark toffee sweetness.
Finish: Medium-length, a little spice, hint of smoke, becoming sweeter. 
Notes: The favourite so far, both for myself, and most of the group. Previously reviewed here. Hard to get in Australia, for the moment.

Highland Park Leif Eriksson, NAS, 40%. 100% American oak casks, travel (duty-free) exclusive.
Pairing: Caramelised pork belly with lightly spiced caramel sauce, which was stunning! Tied with the duck for the food win.
Nose: Buttered pineapple, white pepper, vanilla and honey, very sweet.
Taste: Quite sweet again, pineapple & milk chocolate, nutty, hint of buttery oak.
Finish: A little short, clean & fresh. More vanilla and oak, fading sweetness.
Notes: Named after the first European (a viking) to travel to the Americas, hence the American oak. 

Highland Park 18yo, 43%. More European oak casks here (55%).
Pairing: Rare beef fillet.
Nose: Fruity and soft, loads of baking spices e.g. cinnamon, nutmeg.
Taste: Rich fruit and spice, sherry, caramel sweetness, quite complex.
Finish: Short-medium, ranging from spicy to honey sweet. Hint of sweet and floral peat at the end.
Notes: I can see why it's so popular, it's very easy drinking, but I'd like to see it bottled at higher strength, personally.

Gordon & MacPhail Highland Park, 15yo, 53.9%. Dram Full Exclusive single cask. Non-chill filtered, natural colour, cask strength, ex-bourbon cask. Tasted with water.
Pairing: Spiced poached pear with creme anglaise.
Nose: Sweet caramel, green apple, vanilla, quite spicy.
Taste: loads of spice and black pepper, gentle smoke, a little chocolate.
Finish: Medium-long, tropical fruit, subtle spice.
Notes: I've had a sample of this bottling before without water, and I enjoyed it more that way. I didn't review it then, as I didn't expect to ever see a bottle again! Still good with water. Interesting to taste a bourbon-matured HP after the sherry-matured OB's as well.

Highland Park 21yo, 47.5%. 80% American Oak. Won best single malt at the WWA in '09.
Pairing: Single origin chocolate truffle with fresh raspberry. Melt-in-your-mouth yummy-ness!
Nose: Rich dark toffee, dates, choc honeycomb, light sherry, toasted spiced nuts. Light sea breeze.
Taste: Rich and intense. Loads of spice and sherry, some oak, rich vanilla, dried fruit.
Finish: A little heat, a little meaty, spiced chocolate.
Notes: More complexity, mouth-feel and richer flavours than the 18yo, and quite a reasonable price here for a 21yo malt at a decent strength. Good stuff.
My MVP of the evening is... Dark Origins! It's still my pick of the Highland Park range. Loving the non-chill filtration, first-fill casks and decent strength, regardless of the NAS thing. There is apparently a small amount of stock of the Dark Origins coming into Australia soon, and I may have to grab a bottle, if I get the chance. The food winner for me had to have been the smoked duck breast, that was just awesome, although all of the pairings were very well done. These guys know what they're doing!

Overall this was a fantastic tasting, and a great exploration of Highland Park. There wasn't an unsatisfied person in sight. Dan handled the situation with aplomb, as usual, keeping the audience engaged, interested and involved. He can carve another notch into his bedpost for this one. Likewise the gents at Cobbler, who were still open for regular trade during all this, by the way! They're hosting a different tasting every month at the moment, and they're well worth venturing out for, even on a school night. See you there...

A big thanks to Dan Woolley, Cobbler, Matt and crew from Jahh Tiger, and Highland Park distillery for putting the tasting together.