Rob Allanson gets an exclusive peek behind the scenes to see how you launch a mature whisky.
There are some occasions where being a journalist can be so frustrating. You have a story to tell but have been told it’s ‘off the record for now’, and this story is definitely one of those moments.However finally now the news has been released I can tell you the tale of how Highland Park launched its 40 Years Old.Wowing the tasters in the last edition of Whisky Magazine, this 40 Years Old scored 18.5 putting it in the top 10 highest scoring whiskies tasted by the magazine.There have been a lot of mature whiskies released on to the market recently, but it was the Edrington Group, owners of Highland Park, that opened its doors to Whisky Magazine to reveal the process of selection, design and eventual bottling.The range available from the Orkney distiller has only varied mildly during the past few years.It has rooted itself in tradition and consistency winning over an army of devotees with its warm sherry and honey tones balanced with a gentle whiff of smoke.Not bad when you consider up to 1997 only the 12 Years Old was available.As the word spread the distiller then introduced an 18 Years Old and a 25 Years Old.To appeal to fans of older whisky, and to showcase that fact that Highland Park matured well, a one off 1958 vintage was released to celebrate the distillery’s bicentennial year, as well as a 21 Years Old.In 2005 to complete the line up at that point the 30 Years Old was released, made using only refill hogsheads.The fact that the Orcadian distillery came slightly later to the single malt party than others, puts it in the position with a depth of older liquid which would be the envy of many other distillers who have been selling their aged liquid for many years.When the idea for the 40 Years Old was agreed, owners The Edrington group needed something special.Jason Craig, global controller of Highland Park says: “After the continuing success of our 25 and 30, there always was the intention (quality permitting) to release an older expression from Highland Park.“The liquid had to be worthy of the 40 Year Old age bracket, the competitive set at that age are truly great whiskies and Highland Park had to step up and fit in.“We have a brilliant whisky making team, they have worked on developing this liquid for the last three years. They keep their dark arts away from simple marketing people like me, I trust them implicitly with each of our expressions.” With the line drawn in the sand, whisky maker Max MacFarlane headed out to the warehouses to see what he could find that was appropriate.Fortunately he uncovered a parcel of 70 hogsheads from December 1967.He says: “This was a fantastic parcel and the whisky was so good it had matured perfectly.“I took some samples and vatted them up and the result was just what we were looking for. After this is was down to acheiving a constistency of colour and flavour.“As the stock is in such good shape, I have to say it was a pleasure creating the 40 Years Old. It is a responsibility I don’t take lightly.” The 40 Years Old has been largely matured in refill casks, that is to say casks that have previously been used to mature whisky.Every time a cask is used, its ability to impart an influence on the spirit is diminished. When laying down a whisky for extended maturation, such as this, it is important that the cask doesn’t dominate the spirit.With the whisky sorted, the next major decision was what to put the liquid into.Deciding on a bottle would seem relatively easy, but in reality many factors come into play – do you want it to fit into the current range? Do you do for glitzy and show off?Jason Craig picks up the story: “This was the hardest decision we had to make. To be glitzy, glamorous and flamboyant is not in keeping with the brand personality which is borne out of Orkney.“For Highland Park it is all about the whisky, the effort, the craftsmanship which goes into every drop of new make spirit and every sherry seasoned oak cask we use.“To make it all gold, overt and bling would have been so wrong and would have detracted from the whisky.“The bottle and pack, designed by Andy Bowman from Mountain Creative in Glasgow, is a simple development from our core bottle slightly embellished with our “H” created by Orcadian jewellers.“With all of our whisky we want people to consume the whisky and not put it on a pedestal and worship it.” Growing old gracefully seems to be part of the Orcadian way and this fine example of mature whisky is no exception. Just to remind you what our tasters thought about it we have decided to reprint their notes uncut.DAVE Nose:Mature.Light rancio touches.Highly exotic..This is all about suede and asexual sweaty muskiness.There’s smoke on the back and then a fudge/tablet likesweetness.Grows with water and keeps on giving for hours moving into perfumed smoke (moor burn) and light orris like rootiness.Hideously sexy Palate: Dry start,then becomes oily and tongue coating.The leather comes back alongside notes of bitter almond,raisin and dried peels.In time the smoke emerges and eventually takes the upper hand.Crisp then as it slides down the throat it starts sweetening once more.Finish: Endless.Comments: Astunningly great whisky.One of the finest I’ve had for a considerable time.Score: 9.5 MARTINE Nose: Rich,intense.Antique shop,old furniture.Adeep sweet wave of concentrated honey.Candied chestnut (marrons glacés).Lusciously complex.Opens on rich plum notes and toffee.A hint of moss and heather root.And a distant smoke echo.Palate: Sweet at first.A thick velvet texture.Sherry floods in like an unhurried tide.A spicy current teases the tongue.Finish:Everlasting,complex,sensuous.Comments:What a beauty ! Flavours beaming,oak at peace… When complexitymeets elegancy,whisky takes the high (land) road Score: 9
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