Highland Park Valkyrie

One of the hardest things in life is knowing when to stop and walk away. History is littered with examples who have continued with the descent and vicious circle. Whether it's the pursuit of past glories or extracting every last drop of profit from a fading brand or star, we can see this in music and a conveyor belt of films and television shows.

Whisky sadly is falling into the same trap for the reasons above and generally laziness. Competition should spark innovation, instead we're left floundering with a status quo content to churn out an unimaginative series wrapped around marketing spin as its central premise. Whisky should be about the contents within the bottle. I was excited when Highland Park (or Edrington depending on your point of view), revealed a big announcement was imminent. Great I thought, finally that sherry bruiser that's been overdue or a back to basics approach. Nope, instead we have a new bottle design.

Remember the days when these things just appeared without fanfare? It's almost fake news with no real relevance to the whisky itself. Not that you'll likely see this opinion elsewhere, as we don't want to rock the long ship now do we? I almost feel soiled and contaminated for talking about a new bottle design that's now been embossed/engraved with some Norse bling. All I can think of in this space is whether the bottle will be easier to smash when you're at the recycling centre?

With Highland Park it’s all Norse and Edrington continue to pummel and pillage this landscape. If you've been to Orkney and visited the distillery and taken the opportunity to explore this remarkable community, as I have done. Then, you'll appreciate Orkney deserves better. You could jump back before the Vikings arrived, or more modern events and features. It’s a rich tapestry woven into the proud local population. Instead we have another Norse release. When I speak to fellow enthusiasts it’s clear they still have soft spot for Highland Park, which is of a consistent quality. What is more apparent is they’re tired of the Viking angle and things being pitched in a series to placate the investment and collector crowd. As far as I’m aware, Vikings didn’t even drink whisky during their original existence so the link its tepid, but makes for great marketing. The team even went so far as to find a designer who is also a bona fide 21-century Viking, truly abhorrent. I wonder what the team will ask for next? Give us a whisky that has the power of sweat from Odin’s balls? Eventually people, we will reach this point.

Amidst the news of a new bottle design, there was an actual point worthy of discussing and that’s the arrival of a new bottling in the form of the Highland Park Valkyrie. The 10, 12 and 18-year-old expressions will have their new lick of Viking etching (I’ve actually seen Viking graffiti in an old tomb) and a Viking-esque suffix. The 10 will be Viking Scars, the 12 Viking Honour and the 18 Viking Pride. Utterly pointless, but let’s get back to the Valkyrie. This is a No Age Statement release that is designed to up the ante of the smoky aspect of Highland Park through the use of the Orkney peat. Remember, the distillery still utilises floor malting to provide around a fifth of its annual needs. This is a great feature and maintains some tradition whilst delivering more flavour. Peat from different parts of Scotland offers variable characteristics and Highland Park’s is more heathery than say the earthiness of the Highlands or the coastal spray of Islay.

Bottled at 45.9% ABV, it’s the first of a trio of new bottlings dubbed Viking Legends. So you can expect in 2018 Valknut and Valhalla over the next two years; then hopefully this cash cow will be put out to pasture. Maybe the announcement of the Full Volume bottling (a synergy between whisky making and a sound engineer in music) marks a departure, although I’m having nightmares of elaborate Edrington packaging with the price tag to match. At least Valkyrie comes in at a reasonable £55, but as always it’s down to the contents.

Colour: a crisp artificial caramel (the packaging has plenty Viking nonsense but no details about the whisky).
Nose: there’s some butterscotch sweetness and plenty of caramel, with some green apples. There’s a peat essence throughout but it’s more floral than earthy. An abundance of vanilla, syrup and black pepper but sadly that’s your lot. Fingers crossed the addition of Scottish water opens up a Viking chest of goodies. A timid butter is the only aspect that dares step aboard, the apple is more amplified and a passing perfume note.    
Taste: dirty vanilla with a hint of peat that moves into the finish and then you’re left waiting for the atgeir to strike and take you somewhere else. Sadly, it doesn’t materialise. Returning to try and find some depth there’s pepper and a little honey with a hint of Chinese 5-spice. It’s a broken longship in need of a serious refit, or better still sinking beneath the waves. Let’s try Scottish water again. Oh, this is very fragile even with just a little water hinting at its youthful nature. I felt this didn't really deliver anything notable accept encourage the smoke to step forward.

Overall: I’m bitterly disappointed by this release, one that I hoped rekindled an interest in the official range. It’s the most disgusting example of marketing over content. Each side of the box offers reels of Viking baloney but next to no information about the whisky itself. The official tasting notes are an embarrassment and you’re better with the staple 12-year-old by a Viking mile. 

The whole experience is reminiscent of a Grouse blend, which means the Valkyrie is overpriced, very youthful and some ineffective casks. Ideally this would fit into the £20-£25 retail bracket as that’s what the experience warrants. Even then I’m still disheartened by the whisky as this isn’t worthy of being a Highland Park.

I’m sure you’ll find some positive reviews out there and that’s their prerogative and credibility, or lack of. This release is pitched at the collector/investor market and the whisky within is shambolic; all its missing is that industrial Grouse grain aftertaste. Hopefully this Viking age will draw to an end soon. My contender for the most disappointing whisky of 2017 so far; I'll step aside if the Valkyrie comes calling again.

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