Whiskey of the Week is a new review series on Spy. Each week, we’ll review a different bottle, from newly released small-batch bourbons to our favorite cheap well whiskies.
The Spirit: Highland Park Single Cask Series Scotch in the City Edition
The Distillery: Highland Park
Style: Single malt scotch
Proof: 130.8 proof / 65.4% ABV
Availability: Extremely limited
Highland Park is literally an outlier in the Scotch whisky industry. It’s located on the edge of the town of Kirkwall in the far-flung and wind-swept Orkney Islands, which are just north of mainland Scotland. This happens to make it the northernmost Scottish whisky distillery (it beats the nearby and lesser-known Scapa by less than a mile). The distillery, with a history that dates back over two centuries, has a distinctly Viking identity, as do many of the inhabitants of the islands, who trace their heritage back to Nordic roots. The distillery’s bottles bear names like Viking Scars, Viking Honor and Viking Pride, with special releases that include Valknut, Valkyrie and Valfather. But it’s not just about branding — the whisky happens to be really, really good, with a focus on sherry cask maturation (although not exclusively) and a healthy but not overpowering dose of smoke from the use of peated malt in most expressions.
This new release from Highland Park is a one-off. And while the price is high and the availability is on the limited side, you can feel good about contributing to a good cause when you buy a bottle. Highland Park will donate $15,000 from the sales of this whisky to the First Responders Children’s Foundation COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, which provides aid for the kids of first responders. The guys behind the podcast Scotch in the City selected this barrel along with Highland Park master whisky maker Gordon Motion, with just 594 bottles of this single-cask single malt made available. For those who are unfamiliar, “single barrel” means the whisky literally comes from one single barrel instead of the usual blend that comprises the liquid in most bottles. The whisky is 11 years old and was matured in cask #150, a first-fill American oak sherry puncheon (similar to a sherry butt, but a bit shorter and stockier in size). It’s non-chill filtered and bottled at a cask strength of 65.4% ABV.
The nose of this dram is enticing, with raisin, fig and a bit of menthol leading the way. Despite the high proof, you aren’t assaulted with a huge blast of alcohol as you sniff. The alcohol does become more present on the palate, but an intricate melange of flavors guides you through, with notes of candied cherry, blood orange and vanilla pudding. A few drops of water, which lowers the proof and opens up the flavors a bit, changes things up. The nose expands to include cedar and oak aromas along with a bit of peat, and the palate softens with toffee, caramel, and more traditional sherry cask spice flavors. Also, the smoke from the peat really begins to come through here, still soft but much more present.
Overall, this is really a lovely single malt scotch and an excellent single barrel pick. This is definitely a whisky meant for sipping instead of using to make cocktails, but of course whisky is meant to be enjoyed however you like, so do as you please. Most importantly, this bottle is a great example of the kind of whisky produced at Highland Park, and a bit of altruism at a time when it’s certainly needed.