As I settle into my sixth week of house arrest I’m wary that my circadian rhythms are completely shot. My whisky writing time has always been first thing of a morning – and for the past month I’ve been waking up feeling sluggish. Humans have not evolved to cope well with sustained periods of isolation – remoteness and the fatigue that results from it is a real thing – and likely why my Dramble posts might have felt even more rambling than usual. Nevertheless whisky people are an inventive and adaptable bunch and over the course of the last month their ingenuity has resulted in a raft of improvised online happenings.
There’s an ingrained and eternal desire to share a dram with friends – and despite feeling like I’ve been super-glued to my computer for much of this year already – I’m grateful for the resourcefulness of the community. It provides a suitable restorative to both the monotony and the fatigue.
What started a month ago as a hodgepodge of distilleries and brands turning on their webcams for impromptu chats has evolved into a drum-beat of daily digital dramming.
Whisky clubs still keeping to their pre-existing schedules – but in a digital format. Master Distillers and Blenders, rarely let out into the wild, jumping online to entertain and engage (and likely relive some of their own boredom too). And festivals – highlights of the whisky calendar for both brands and enthusiasts – all at first cancelled wholesale – now, steadily coming back to life. The sleeper will awaken.
The Summerton Virtual Whisky Festival on the 30th May– which for transparency, I’ll highlight I’m involved with – is looking to take the online tasting session model which has become a mainstay of evening dramming entertainment for many - and amplify it into a whole day of sharing and exploring expressions and experiences. With a supporting physical festival kit packed full of drams and snacks, and a selection of interesting speakers (nudge nudge, wink wink) it promises to take an already successful digital mould and build on it to take it to the next level.
The just announced Our Whisky Virtual Whisky Festival which is running from the 30th April to the 21st May and is led by Becky Paskin is going the other route – and presenting an ongoing series of virtual tastings and masterclasses with the blenders, distillers and drams being kept a mystery until the tastings themselves. An intriguing model which encourages exploration without preconceptions – and is donating its proceeds to The Drinks Trust, which supports industrial professionals affected by COVID-19. Nice.
Then there’s Feis – who’s cancellation this year is likely one of the hardest knocks to take for those who had purchased tickets. But whilst we’ll have to wait until 2021 for the next physical festival – there are still things happening. And I’m most certainly keeping my eye on what Bunnahabhain have got planned.
These are but three upcoming events for us all to look forward to – there’s a host of others – from brand-led virtual tastings through to fireside chats with industry stalwarts. You won’t have to look far to find a digital event which will help you keep in touch with the whisky community and lift you out of your current sense of fatigue. I looking forward to seeing some of you there.
Today’s review results from two altogether different forms of fatigue – the dreariness and monotonousness of near weekly releases that are impossible to keep up with (or to maintain interest in) and a marketing team who must surely by now be in Valhalla themselves.
As a younger lad Highland Park was something of a talisman whisky for me. An early foray outside of the mainstay (and still very solid for the price) 12 year old onto the 18 year old – which at the time felt like some form of mystical realm in terms of the quality jump – firmly established the brand and its style of liquid as one of my go-to’s. But despite this significant formative experience, in all honestly I’ve found the last half decade of Highland Park fairly heavy going.
An over-abundance of bottlings – particularly from the cash cow that is producing a single cask release for every village whisky shop and provincial aerodrome going has tested the patience of even the most ardent of HP fans. I nabbed a few of these – and found them tasty, if rather expensive. Others tried to Pokemon them. But quickly discovered that collecting them all was a near impossible (and frankly thankless) task – a shy under 70 were released in 2018 alone. There is such a thing as too much whisky. And fatigue can certainly result from overabundance.
Coupling Edrington’s realisation that opening and bottling a cask was a license to print money - there’s the Viking thing. Already written about on this website and many others at great length. But suffice to say – I, like many others, am indeed fatigued by this also.
I picked up Highland Park Full Volume when it was released at the tail end of 2017. It comes adorned with distillation and bottling dates – a notable and welcome deviation away from the warriors, gods and spirit animals of late. The composition is entirely ex-bourbon – laid down in 1999 and bottled during 2017 – making for a 17 year old release. If memory serves correctly, the release was somewhat delayed from the summer due to an IP dispute over the speaker stack iconography that is presented on the cardboard box. It’s described as a limited edition (ack - more fatigue) – but is still available directly from Highland Park for £80 (and indeed as low as 70 Euros if you shop around). So, yeah, *that* limited. It is yet another bottle that I’ve stashed away – until recently when the monotony of house arrest was also, like Full Volume dialled up to 11.
But I’m pleased to report that I'm glad I’ve rescued this from its dust-gathering isolation:
Nose: Bright, crisp and unmistakably ex-bourbon. Candied lemon and orange peels (always enjoyed a St Clements) are joined by barley water, split vanilla pods and griddled waffles, whilst dried tropical fruits (dehydrated pineapple) sit with cut flowers and hessian sacking. Smoke is very minimal – a background aside of moist soil and mineral dust. The addition of water brings the peat forward – floral, heathery (but still dainty) and sitting with lemon drizzled crepes.
Taste: Sweet, fresh and bit more ‘showy’ now. Tartness from lemon peels and grapefruit juice is lifted by sweetness from melon, kiwi and under ripe tropical fruits. Barley water again drives the experience – now alongside dusty pepperiness and a more pronounced, earthy, mineralitic smoke. Hay and spring flowers add a fresh floralness, whilst pleasantly drying oak provides a welcome backbone. Reduction brings the wood forward – not unpleasant, but rather reformed and in an entirely different shape to the original ABV. Without the stronger tartness and sharpness to cut through this feels less focussed.
Finish: Medium with lemon curd, pepperiness and persisting saltiness.
Whilst the marketing is baffling, and the name just feels completely wrong (“Highland Park – Appropriate Volume” was never going to fly) the liquid offering of Highland Park Full Volume is solid stuff. A well-judged and well-integrated selection of ex-bourbon casks results in something of a stripped back, naked HP that establishes that the distillery was still producing first-rate spirit back in 1999. Gordon Motion and the team have selected the perfect ABV for this composition – as such, I did not find dilution all that beneficial – particularly on the palate where it resulted in a loss of shape and poise. I’ve scored as such. But at its original 47.2% - you could easily add another two points onto my tally. An anathema to my HP fatigue.