By Richard Thomas
Orkney-based distillery Highland Park rebranded their core range last year, and in doing so they fully embraced the Viking theme that had characterized their limited edition releases. Now everything is Norse at Highland Park, even if it doesn’t have a Norse name attached to it, because of the sexy bottling.
One item that does have a Norse name is Highland Park Valkyrie, which replaces Dark Origins and is the first in a Viking Legend series. Named for the warrior goddesses who rode with Odin, King of the Gods, and carried souls of deserving warriors to his hall of Valhalla, this whisky turns peaty where its predecessor was Sherried. Valkyrie is half fully peated malt whisky, whereas a quarter is more usual to Highland Park expressions. So, whereas Dark Origins was a very sherry, no age statement (NAS) whisky, this one should be a pretty smoky, NAS whisky.
This new whisky was aged in a mix of American oak Sherry casks, European oak Sherry casks and ex-bourbon barrels. It is bottled at 45.9% ABV, just a hair shy of the normal maximum one sees in Scotch whiskies of 46%.
It’s golden in the glass, and puts a viscous coat on that drops a handful of tiny, skinny and very slow-moving legs. The scent has a river of malty sweetness running through it, accented by citrus zest and dried apricot. The whisky also has a moderately spicy character to it, one of nutmeg and ginger, basically what pumpkin spice would be if one subtracted the cinnamon. Add to that a note of drying heather and you’ve got the nose.
What was noticeably absent there was smoke. I started on Valkyrie without knowing anything about the extra peaty whisky stock used to make it, and, after doing my notes, I checked out what others wrote on this and found other reviewers describing the smoke as coming on late. I then returned, took in another dram, and found my original conclusion unchanged: I didn’t detect any smoke at all. Whether that is because I wasn’t expecting it and conditioned for it or a matter of different strokes, different folks I can’t tell you.
Although not a smoky-smelling beast, that peat really comes on in the flavor. It’s all ashy cinders sharing center stage with the dried sherries fruits, with hints of vanilla and dry spices. The Sherry cask flavors and the peatiness are very well balanced, leaving easy room for everything, but the smoky aspect is a bit harsh. The finish is long, with a clingy, earthy, smoky and dryly spiced presence.
To sum this up, Valkyrie is as different to Dark Origins as night is to day, but it’s an able replacement all the same.
$60 in the US and £45 in the UK.