We caught Thor: Ragnarok very recently. For all the doom and gloom in the title, the movie was almost ironically lighthearted. Which only goes to show that not all Norse-themed movies need be apocalyptic.
That thought seems poignant when we reflect on the other Scandinavian-themed experience we had recently: the new Highland Park Valkyrie.
The Viking Malt
Highland Park is quite decidedly not in the highlands of Scotland, despite what its name might seem to suggest. Situated on the Northern British archipelago of Orkney, Highland Park is not even on the Scottish mainland. It is, in fact, the most northerly of all Scottish distilleries.
One in three of Orkney’s denizens are of Scandinavian descent. Hardly surprising, for Orkney was once part of Denmark and Norway.
It is therefore no coincidence that Highland Park has earned the moniker “The Viking Malt”. Its founder, Magnus Eunson, was a direct descendant of the vikings, which only goes to show that appreciation of good whisky is universal. Eunson, by the way, was something of a rogue,and the man who eventually arrested him, John Robertson, took over the distillery in due course. Somehow, this makes us like Eunson even more.
The distillery has been chugging on officially since 1798, though the yarn is often spun that it started distilling (illicitly, of course, given the conditions of the time) earlier than that. Whatever the truth is, Highland Park is a stalwart of the whisky market today.
Highland Park is noted for its balance and range of flavours. It has salt, honey, spice, citrus, chocolate, wood, smoke and even green herbal notes in its stable.
Going into the malt is water from Cattie Maggie’s spring nearby, and the peat is in fact, partially from Orkney itself. The Orkney peat lacks the medicinal,woody character of the Islay variety, and is lighter and more floral. This in turn translates into Highland Park having a peated character quite unlike that of its Islay brethren.
The various expressions emphasise these components to varying degrees, but the malts do not tend to extremes.
The 12 year old is admittedly not a favourite of ours; it has a sweet heather honey flavour backed up with a light dose of peat, but we prefer a bit more power in our whisky. The 18 is, however, a classic in our view. There is heather honey. There are rich, round, dried fruit flavours, and all of it has backbone of light, floral pest. Refined, yet rich and sensual.
The distillery has also produced a range of special releases named after figures from Viking mythology. The well-rated Thor, Loki and Odin releases stand out for their depth and complexity, while staying true to the distillery style.
Most recently, in yet another nod to its heritage, Highland Park remodelled its signature (but admittedly plain) elliptical bottles to a more elaborate embossed bottle design. The bottles are Viking themed of course; a lion fighting serpents in a traditional Norse art style.
And there is, of course, the new Viking Legend series.
The Ride of the Valkyrie
Valkyrie, the first in the series, was made in collaboration with Danish designer Jim Lynvgild. An expert in Norse mythology, Lynvgild designed the lovely packaging for Valkyrie and the upcoming Valknut and Valhalla.
The valkyries were beautiful mythological warrior women who selected the worthy slain, valknut. The dead were brought to Valhalla, an enormous heavenly mead hall ruled over by the god Odin. A nice progression, we think, though we’d prefer to go directly to Valhalla.
Viking or not, romantic story or nay, we judge the whisky by its quality. As we always do, we put the new release through its paces.
Nose: Nutmegs, a touch of cinnamon and a light clove scent. Powdered groundnuts, cream, oranges and some very ripe apricot. The floral, soft peat is there, of course, along with a tiny bit of brine.
Palate: A blast of spices greats us on first sip- the heat of nutmeg and ginger give us a warm welcome. As we get to the midnotes, the sweetness of caramel, honey and marmalade appear, while wood and nut flavours lurks in the background. The trademark peat appears towards the end, but it is subtle rather than powerful. The whisky is thick and viscous, with a satisfying mouthfeel.
Finish: Medium-long. The bitter orange flavours and ginger carry through, but are joined by a surprising green melon rind flavour. We finally ascend to the heavens with the dry bitterness of wood, spice and smoke.
Overall, the Valkyrie is very recognisable as a Highland Park- even with the heavy emphasis on spice. It is well balanced and sits square in the middle of any flavour chart you’d care to name. Though we like a bit more punch in our whiskies, we’d be happy to drink more of this new malt.
Summing it all Up
Well, we like the Valkyrie. It might not be the most distinctive whisky that we’ve ever had, but it is superbly balanced and will be quite unlikely to offend- and the price will not raise any hackles, either.
So, if you prefer strong flavours, this Valkyrie won’t take you directly to Valhalla, you definitely don’t have to go down fighting first. If you like something a little less on the nose, then you are in luck. Worth a try, for sure.