A Youngen, But a Good’en: Highland Park 10

Music: Jethro Tull, “Locomotive Breath”

I’m so often loath to lend a liver to these releases; the younger, weaker, attempts to make one’s stock stretch amidst growing demand. I had always figured I’d patronize these bottlings when all that is good in the Scotch world had either run dry, or was so far out of my price range that I have no other reasonable choice. However, I had heard good things about the HP 10yo from fellow whisky lovers, and at $60, it seemed worth a try. Now, to be fair, the HP12 used to be $60. Sadly, it is now $70 (a price it reached within a year), and it seems that for HP, the prices are already starting to take off. In hopes of picking up a reliable “daily dram”, I decided to give the HP a go.

Nose: Wow. This is 40%? Really? Given the recent night with some high-end Chivas, the big boys should take notice. HP’s new stuff is big. Honey heather and sponge toffee (think Crunchie Bar) like crazy. American Oak on the forefront, fudge and salted caramels. Give it some time and you get oranges and green apples. Also a hint of smoked bacon with some corn syrup.

Palate: About as viscous as the HP12, but enough for a 40%-er at 10 years. Honey biscuits, sponge toffee. Sea salt. Peat smoke and tart green apples.

Finish: Medium finish, light smokiness, bready, sweet and a tad tart.

Grade: B

At the (North American) Highland Park Standard of 43%, this would probably kick. I hear the cask strength is amazing (the whisky live bottling was 59.3%). This is one of those guaranteed daily drams. Fits the profile and the pocketbook. Of course, I really love HP, and to boot, I love a good clean American Oak whisky. If I want my thick sherried whiskies and my dark peat monsters, I know where to look. A good clean American Oak whisky isn’t so easy to find in these parts, at these prices. In that role, the HP 10 will have a spot in my cabinet for a while…

“Old Charlie stole the handle, and the train it won’t stop going–no way to slow down.”


Ardbeg Ten

When I recently took a trip to Germany, I figured that it would be a terrible waste not too pick something up at the duty-free on the way home. Since Ardbeg in general is very expensive in Canada, I decided to journey into Ardbeg with my (roughly) 1L liquor import allowance. The Ardbeg Ten was really cheap at €46 for 1L compared to $100CAD for 75cl here. It was nice to have a whole litre to get to know this dram. Ardbeg is so different from Laphroaig that it seems a shame to force a head-to-head comparison. All in all, the Ardbeg Ten made me really love this distillery, and I thank the good folks at Glenmorangie for un-mothballing the old Ardbeg and getting her going again. The notes didn’t change much, with or without water, but a couple drops makes it more accessible.

Nose: Peat, smoke, peppery spices. Briny, salty, and a little bit of campfire. A sweetness I can’t pin-point.

Palate: Oily, Smoke, peat, with slighty sweet creamy vanilla, and peppery spices all over the palate.

Finish: Long, dense, sweet and smoky finish.

Grade: B+

A really complete peat & smoke dram. At a Laphroaig QC price, or even the Laphroaig 10 price, it’s a definite buy. Sadly, the Ardbeg Ten, in Ontario, is not enough for the price they’re charging now, when you can get great drams like the Laphroaig QC for $30 less.

Much of me wishes I hadn’t shared this one so freely so that I still had some left, but when you have a liter, it always seems like there is so much to share.

The Beginning, Part II – Laphroaig Quarter Cask

I solemnly promise that reviews on this blog won’t be consistently long-winded, but these first two reviews mark the two initial stages of my foray into Scotch whisky. While the McClelland was technically my first step into Scotch, the Laphroaig Quarter Cask was my first true Scotch experience. Incidentally, the QC is a stop in my journey that I keep returning to. It’s probably so rare that one of your earliest whiskies is one of your top 3, but Laphroaig managed to do that for me. It was with the QC that I first truly noticed a nose with true depth of character, and a palate that was rich and smooth, despite being 8% higher in ABV than the McClelland. Consequently, another pearl of wisdom I began to learn at this stage: low ABV doesn’t imply a smoother whisky, with less alcohol burn.

I first tried the Laphroaig QC in my third year of college, thanks to my whisky soulmate who swears by the QC. After a quick dram at his place one evening, I had to buy a bottle for myself. It has been in my cabinet ever since. Note: I’ll try not to be too gushing in my review of this whisky, but holds such a special place in my heart that I can’t help it sometimes.

Nose: Peat, iodine and smoky bacon, hints of vanilla. Anise, yes, but the thing that plants itself in my brain is dill pickles. Not just brine, but distinctly dill pickles.

Palate: What the nose promises, and more. It’s oily, and mouth-coating, but it isn’t as dense as, say, the Ardbeg Uigeadail. Smoky bacon, smooth earthy peat, anise, and that hint of dill pickles. The dill is more of a background here compared to the nose.

Finish: Warm, dry, smoke and peat, incredibly long. Sometimes I detect some oak in the finish.

Grade: A-

A great whisky that will always hold a special place in my heart. Sometimes I dream of what it would be like at cask-strength. I think it’d join it’s peaty NAS brother, the Ardbeg Uigeadail at an if it was. That’s about it, I think. That’s about all it would take.

Side note: I had a sliver of the QC while typing up this review, and just to show you how much this whisky changes the more you try it, I went back to the empty glass a few minutes ago and all I could smell was an old-fashioned, wood-burning stove. Very lapsang souchong. Pure brilliance.