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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

October 10, 2020





Angus's Corner
From our Scottish correspondent
and skilled taster Angus MacRaild in Edinburgh
A mini Orkney adventure
I wasn’t expecting to return to Orkney so soon after our recent extravaganza of official single casks, however it’s been a rather stressful couple of weeks and this bundle of old miniatures are eyeing me from the sample shelf. It’s not only Highland Park this time though, we’ll also have a Scapa as well and, to kick things off, this wee curiosity…


Pride of Orkney 12 yo (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, miniature, 1980s)

Pride of Orkney 12 yo (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, miniature, 1980s)
It just says ‘Highland Malt’ on the label. Could be either distillery on their own, or just as easily a vatting of both makes. Let’s see… Colour: deep gold. Nose: phew! Superbly rich, fat, oily, slightly grassy and with this rather greasy phenolic style. Camphor, marrow fat, mineral oils, soot and this slightly herbal waxiness. Totally charismatic and indeed very ‘Orcadian’ distillate. With water: drier, a little dustier with many pressed flowers, heather flowers, pollens and waxes. Superb! Mouth: brilliantly full of honeys, aged mead, wood resins, spices, natural tar, embrocations, minerals, olive oil, camphor and this pretty resinous, herbal, almost ‘sticky’ peat. Some shoe polish and caraway too. With water: more honeys but also more salty now too. Dried mint, camphor, pollens, tar, phenolics and herbal bitters. Finish: long, drying, tarry, menthol, coastal waxy. Comments: My guess is, rather obviously I suppose, Highland Park. Although, you can never be sure, I’ve also tried some rather hefty old 100 proof Scapas from G&M bottled during this era. What’s for sure is the quality of this humble wee mini is superb!
SGP: 563 - 92 points.



I’m not sure it makes much sense to go directly to Scapa now, but probably less sense to wait and do it at the end after another flurry of HPs. Anyway, it’s at a pretty rocket fuel strength so I’m sure everything will work out well enough in the end…



Scapa 1979/1989 (62.4%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, #17.3)

Scapa 1979/1989 (62.4%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, #17.3)
One of these early, high octane and probably extremely naked, distillate-forward SMWS bottlings that seem to increasingly represent a singular snapshot of whisky history. Which is, of course, extremely cool! Colour: white wine - distilled indeed! Nose: raw grass, lemon juice, chalk, cactus, mirabelle, crushed aspirin. Very pure and with an undeniable freshness, but also rather punch and austere. With water: still rather closed and tough, seeds, fabrics, linens, sun lotion, cooking oils - all very natural and pure but a bit tricky. Mouth: pretty hot and tough really. Although there are some nice notes of sunflower oil, fruit teas sweetened with honey and heather flowers. Perhaps a touch of miso as well. With water: much better with water, there’s a spiciness, a more pronounced honeyed quality, some salinity, mustard, putty, camphor and a nice seam of waxiness has been exposed. Finish: medium, slightly medical, chalky, lemony, honeyed - rather like a hot toddy really. Comments: It’s to be wondered how the early era members of the SMWS remained sober when confronted with such monolithic rocket fuel whiskies. Of course, the answer is that they didn’t. Anyway, I think you can dispense with everything else here and simply pour into a tumbler with a good slug of water and you’ll have a highly pleasurable, if humble, wee Scapa. Otherwise it’s a bit of a brute.
SGP: 472 - 84 points.



Highland Park NAS (70 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, mini, 1970s)

Highland Park NAS (70 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, mini, 1970s)
One of these beautiful old St Magnus labels that G&M issued under license for many years in the 1960s and 70s. Colour: chestnut / amber. Nose: a very unctuous and earthy old style of sherry. Full of rancio and dripping in old balsamic, natural tar, walnut wine and things like cured game meats and old Burgundian pinot noir. Quite beautiful. Mouth: perfectly earthy, rich, medicinal, tarry and full of stewed dark fruits, crystallised citrus peels, orange oils, herbal liqueurs and again more rancio. Also hessian, more game meats and this particularly herbal and heathery Orkney peat. Finish: not the longest but beautifully rich, meaty, darkly fruity and herbal. Comments: A beautiful old glory. Hard to believe this was only 40% and survived all these years with such poise and freshness in this tiny wee mini. A style very much of its time - sadly.
SGP: 663 - 92 points.



Highland Park NAS (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, mini, 1970s)

Highland Park NAS (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, mini, 1970s)
A full strength version in the same presentation from around the same era, probably early-mid 70s. Colour: gold. Nose: superbly pure and just brimming with heather, salted honeys and the most beautifully rich and fragrant peat smoke. All studded with wispy herbs, gentle phenolics, natural tar, embrocations and this impression of coastal sea air. Elegance, beauty and also power all in perfect balance. With water: putty, oils, mechanical rags, ointments, soot, tar, bandages and seawater. Pretty stunning! Mouth: massively dense, oily, tarry and medical. Rather emphatically peaty and peppery too. Very herbal, oily peat, lots of heather honey, black and white peppers, guaze, lanolin and camphor. With water: there’s a dustiness which may well be OBE, but the oiliness and textural weight are becoming quite breath-taking. Hugely fatty, tarry, peaty, phenolic, drying, herbal and vividly saline now. Finish: very long, warming, honeyed, peaty, oily and full of wee things like seaweed, heather ales and more of these glorious tarry notes. Comments: Unbelievable distillate with almost eternal staying power. There was a tiny bit of OBE about this one so we’ll dock it one or two points, but this in a full sized , well-travelled bottle would probably be knocking on the door of 95 points very easily. I can feel it warming my toes!
SPG: 565 - 92 points.



Highland Park NAS (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, mini, 1970s)

Highland Park NAS (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, mini, 1970s)
This is pretty much the same except for the fact it has a blue capsule rather than a gold one. Not sure what that means for the contents though… Colour: gold. Nose: gentler in style, more towards honeys, aged mead, gentler saline qualities and heather beers. The peat is much shier here. Instead it’s all on soft notes of mustard powder, herbal liqueurs, ointments and medical embrocations. Also this pretty superb waxiness. With water: out come heather flowers, gorse, dried mango and pumpkin seed oil. Rich, dense and still rather medical. Mouth: here the power comes through, big and emphatic tarry notes, greasy phenolics, heathery peat smoke and more these rather textbook herbal liqueur qualities. Also these lovely textural waxy aspects adding weight in the mouth. With water: pow! Flower honeys, herbal ointments, gauze, lemon infused olive oil, putty, natural tar, camphor, seawater. Majestic! Finish: superbly long, thready salinity, fatty waxes, tarry phenolics, olive oil, grass, chalky minerals and herbal cough medicines. Comments: The way Highland Park used to weave peat throughout its spirit in the most compelling, ethereal fashion was just utterly genius if you ask me. They should really try to do some batches in this style again.
SGP: 653 - 93 points.



Let’s go sideways in time but upwards in age…



Highland Park 8 yo (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, mini, 1970s)

Highland Park 8 yo (100 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, mini, 1970s)
So this one is the livery that seems to have taken over from the St Magnus label and was used by G&M in the early 1990s. However, this is one of those slimmer, taller old flat miniatures with a smaller gold capsule, which theoretically should pre-date the slightly bigger bottles, which the previous two came from. (Keep up!) So this could pre-date the previous two drams slightly, or not. Oh God! I’m becoming a person who ‘does miniatures’ aren’t I? Please send help! Colour: deep, orangey gold. Nose: utterly sublime! Take the most dense, syrupy, ancient yellow Chartreuse and add pure heather honey, natural tar extract, drops of seawater, a cluster of top quality black olives, some of the saltiest Dutch liquorice, wrap it all in hessian and dip it in molten wax and you might be approaching this gloriously powerful, rich, layered and profoundly beautiful nose. With water: wider, fatter, deeper and more sweetness in the form of coconut and heather honey then bandages and anyway, you get the picture… Mouth: anti-maltoporn brigade! Instantly! Seriously, just a collision of the most beautiful honeys, the most compelling and complex herbal peat smoke and things like bone marrow, roast vegetables roasted in honey, Moroccan spices, ancient Claquesin liqueur and many, many various ointments, teas and roots. Sublime! With water: perfection. Mentholated, tarry, briny, peaty, oily, iodine, camphor, waxes, herbs, putty, teas, dried exotic fruits. Finish: endless. Comments: I feel deeply embarrassed to write such a note about piffling little old miniature. Clearly I need help. Please send six pallets of Speyburn to: Angus MacRaild, Miniature Rehabilitation Clinic, Edinburgh… 
SGP: 665 - 94 points.



Now forwards in time but sideways in age (I know, aren’t miniatures fun!)



Highland Park 8 yo (57%, Gordon & MacPhail, mini, 1980s)

Highland Park 8 yo (57%, Gordon & MacPhail, mini, 1980s)
In theory this should bring us back down to earth gently… Colour: deep gold. Nose: leaner, straighter and a little sharper. More on lemon juice, seawater, coconut, putty and things like wet rocks, ink, beach pebbles and crushed seashells. Wonderfully briny, lemony and still with this persistent mix of natural tar and rather vibrant heathery notes. But wasn’t Michael Jackson already pointing out heather as an HP hallmark decades ago? With water: becomes terrifically savoury, umami and salty. Things like bacon fat, herbal mouthwash, camphor and some rather sharp and invigorating minerality. Mouth: much hotter, sharper and powerful than the others. Pure seawater, mercurochrome, metal polish, soot, lemon juice, brine, green olives and these wee mustardy notes. Fantastic but obviously a different animal from the others. The peat is sharper, leaner and more precise. With water: broader in texture and deeper in flavour. More emphatically medicinal, more of a turfy, herbal peat profile and superbly peppery, salty and waxy. Finish: once again superbly long, resinously peaty, waxy, herbal, riddled with expensive olive oil, natural tar, embrocations and camphor. Comments: Water definitely joined the dots between this one and the previous examples. Not quite in the same league but this is still bewilderingly brilliant whisky. If there’s an argument to be made for terroir in whisky then I would say Orkney in the 1960s and 70s was probably a useful place to begin.
SGP: 574 - 92 points.



A quick battle with a Dragon and we’re done.



Highland Park 1973 ‘The Dragon’ (58.9%, Robertson’s Of Kirkwall, sherry cask, circa 1990)

Highland Park 1973 ‘The Dragon’ (58.9%, Robertson’s Of Kirkwall, sherry cask, circa 1990)
There’s also versions at 56.6% and 56.4% (WF 94 and 91 respectively) never tried this one though. I’m also not really sure when these were bottled. Given they were semi-private bottlings done in cheap wine bottles I doubt the usual rules around 75cl to 70cl changeover apply here. Anyway, deep expectations… Colour: amber. Nose: extremely pure and fresh showing a rather lean and mineral sherry with plenty leather, wet leaves, smoked teas and chocolate. Olive oil, hessian, natural tar and shoe polish as well. Clean and beautifully precise. With water: bitter lemon, wintergreen, matcha and lots of dense sooty and heavy mineral qualities. Mouth: superb and huge arrival. Concentrated, syrupy and salty old school sherry. Lots of game meats, tar, herbal bitters, cough medicines, embrocations, leaf mulch and bitter cocoa. Some flint smoke and these wonderfully resinous flavours of precious hardwoods. Getting slightly jammy with red fruit preserves too. With water: now the peat comes through more clearly and with a very definite peppery edge. Black pepper, natural tar, ointments, vapour rubs, camphor, hessian and more smoked tea and dried herbs. Finish: long, tarry, deeply warming, peppery, lightly medical and with this lovely lingering gentle peatiness. Comments: Not sure there’s a dud amongst this whole series of Dragons if you ask me. Stunning old sherried Highland Park.
SGP: 563 - 92 points.



Good! I’m very happy with that wee session, sometimes nothing but truly excellent whiskies will do.



Virtual hugs to Mr Phil and to Mr KC.










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