Saturday, 21 December 2013

Highland Park Warrior Series

I must admit I was pretty excited to be invited to the Highland Park Warrior Series Tweet Tasting. Highland Park has been one of my favoured distilleries ever since buying a bottle of their 'bang for your buck' 12 Year Old. Check any list of top drams and you'll find the Highland Park 12 Year Old in there. The first ever Tweet Tasting I was fortunate be invited too was Highland Park too, where we sampled their core range including some of their older aged whiskies (you can read about that here)

The Warrior Series is a range of six single malt whiskies that showcase the very best of Highland Park. Offering a spectrum of flavours but grounded in Highland Park’s gently smoky but surprisingly sweet character. 

The Warrior Series is a range of six single malt whiskies all named after Norse Warriors from the Orkneyinga saga, an Icelandic saga and important source for understanding the history of Norse Earldom of Orkney, being one of the most famous and certainly the most specific to Orkney.

Compiled sometime between 1192 and 1206 by an unknown Icelandic scribe, or scribes, the Orkneyinga Saga presents an interpretation of the first conquest of Orkney by Norway and the subsequent history of the Earldom.

The Warrior Series are all exclusive to Travel Retail only so getting the opportunity to taste all of would have been pretty difficult with out this Tweet Tasting. The first three were released in the first quarter of 2013 so have been around for over six months now. The last three & most recent offerings in the ‘Warrior’ series use an increased quantity of European oak sherry seasoned casks. This allows Sigurd, Ragnvald & Thorfinn to deliver more complex, richer and sweeter flavours.

Hosted by Steve Rush via @TheWhiskyWire we were also be joined by Highland Park’s Global Brand Advocate, Daryl Haldane via @DarylHaldane who was on hand to answer our questions. All tweets collected under the #HPWarriorTT hashtag.

Whisky Discovery #618

Highland Park Warrior Series 'Svein' NAS (40% abv)
Orkney Single Malt Whisky
Circa €40.00 1 ltr Travel Retail Only
Whisky Review
The Legend: Svein was the ultimate Viking chieftain whose exploits lie at the heart of the Orkneyinga Saga and his appetite to adventure and merriment are legendary. (you can find out more here)

According to the Orkneyinga sagaIn winter Svein would spend at home on Gairsay, where he entertained some eighty men at his own expense. His drinking hall was so big, there was nothing in Orkney to compare with it. In the spring he had more than enough to occupy him, with a great deal of seed to sow which he saw to carefully himself. Then when that job was done, he would go off plundering in the Hebrides and in Ireland on what he called his 'spring-trip', then back home just after mid-summer, where he stayed till the cornfields had been reaped and the grain was safely in. After that he would go off raiding again, and never came back till the first month of winter was ended. This he used to call his 'autumn-trip'.

The Whisky: Produced using a high percentage of American oak but also European oak casks. 30% First fill American Sherry casks, 10% European oak first fill, the remainder, refill casks. A No Age Statement (NAS) whisky bottled at 40% abv

So What Did I Think?
This has a sweet, fruity and malty nose, with honey and fresh citrus fruits, a hint of pineapple, apple skin, and while apple skin notes come across as 'rosy' the malty notes are more 'green'. There's also the faintest hint of smoke behind the sweetness.

On the palate this has quite a sweet entry, barley sugar initially, warm peppery spice and a hint of smoke. Though sweet rich and smooth, not as complex as the nose was suggesting, though i liked the peaty finish  

So what did the others think?
@ansgarspeller: Fresh, sweet, bit pine, raisin, pineapple... nice nose on this one....
@galg: Nose - lovely sweetness with a bit of heather and bit of earthy notes too, a bit of smoke is detectable here too. but overall dominated by sweetness
@TheSmokyDram: Citrus chocolate, pineapple and slight winter spices. Very fresh and clean
@thomas_speller: Fresh fruit on the nose, with some citrus and a hint of smoke

@TheWhiskyWire: An easing but giving nose of fruity freshness with cheeky honey smoked undertones.
@whiskywardrobe: Smooth and oily. With the same floral aroma but with pepper, vanilla and apples this time.  I like.
@LRWhisky: Palate is creamy with a subtle smokiness, honeyed, with a tiny tang of pepper. Its pleasant.
@steveprentice: Palate: Instant sweet hit of smooth barley and vanilla sugars with slight spices kicking in after a moment along with a slight smokiness. Oak hinting strongly right in the background, enough to peak your interest. Fairly light mouth feel, summery and easy going.
@abbeywhisky: Palate: Again really smooth, beautiful peat notes.. Easy drinker this

Whisky Discovery #619

Highland Park Warrior Series 'Einar' NAS (40% abv)
Orkney Single Malt Whisky
Circa €53.00 1 ltr Travel Retail Only
Whisky Review
The Legend: Einar was the joint Earl of Orkney from 1014.  A hard and successful Viking, often venturing on many long voyages, he was relentless in his rule and clearly identifiable by his mighty axe.

Known as Einar Wry-Mouth, he was the son of Earl Sigurd. Einar was overbearing and was not a well-liked man. As a result, his time in control was short. In 1020, Thorkel Amundason – Thorfinn’s foster-father, killed him in Deerness. (you can find out more here)

The Whisky: Produced using both American & European oak casks, but moving up in European oak, although still American oak taking the lions share of the make-up. A No Age Statement (NAS) whisky bottled at 40% abv 

So What Did I Think?
On the nose this comes across as a slightly richer and more rounded version of Svein, less sweet and more spicy. The Fruit notes more sherry like; raisins and over-ripe Victoria Plums. There's a touch of charcoal too as well as spices with cloves and hints of liquorice. Dark chocolate notes drift through fragrant Café Crème cigar smoke.

This tastes softer than I was expecting, again sweet, slight 'mustiness' to the sweetness. Coming across as leathery, and now on the nose  too. There's a plum like fruit note, and another gentle peppery spice to it. Again, not overly complex, a short finish with a charcoal taste rather than peat  and quite drying.

So what did the others think?
@galg: Much more citrus here and more smoke. pickled lemons, getting also some deeper sherry goodness
@idle_bull: Much deeper nose. Raisins, dark wood, tar/tarmac?
@TonyWTC: Nose: Slight herbal notes. Fresh, light, expansive expansive sea feel. Powdery and floral. Fruity, Ripe apples.
@LRWhisky: Nose is syrupy and smoky with lemons, pineapple and woody cloves
@TheWhiskyWire: Café crème cigar smoke becoming ever more prominent the longer its left in the glass but not overpowering.
@thomas_speller: Palate - prunes, citrus, apricots - all fresh.
@kizzsmyth: Palate - sweet apples & apricots...
@TheSmokyDram: Palate Upfront smoke, but the sweet and hot spiciness follows it very quickly
@WindsorBeerFest: Palate: Getting toffee apple, very smooth but very short finish, surprised.
@kristianehenney: Earthy yet fresh at first - burst of apple I think - then more peat to the earthiness with dark fruit and pepper

Whisky Discovery #620

Highland Park Warrior Series 'Harald' NAS (40% abv)
Orkney Single Malt Whisky
Circa €75.00 1 ltr Travel Retail Only
Whisky Review
The Legend: The Orkneyinga saga documents that Norway's first noteworthy dealings with Orkney involved the Norwegian King Harald Hárfagri (Fairhair), who set out to deal with renegade Vikings using the islands as a base for summer raids on Norway.

Heading 'west over sea', Harald's voyage of conquest saw him subduing Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides, before sailing as far south as the Isle of Man. Harald only became King of a united Norway after the naval battle of Hafrsfjord. This battle took place around 892AD - 100 years after the earliest Viking raids on Britain. (you can find out more here)

The Whisky: Produced using both American & European oak casks. 50-50 first fill and refill almost 50-50 European and American oak sherry casks. A No Age Statement (NAS) whisky bottled at 40% abv

So What Did I Think?
This didn't come across to be as sweet as the first two, in fact it's quite sharp initially, sherbet like with a rich sour note. (just poured no air) With a little air softer toffee notes develop, less smoky/charcoal than previous two. Initially I thought there wasn't much going on with this one, but returning to it on a later occasion and giving it time to develop, tropical dried fruits and rich honey notes are teased out.

The palate was nicer than the nose was initially suggesting, I wasn't able to pick much up on the nose initially, but found more after letting it breathe) Although very gentle and sweet, it is quite creamy initially with some spicy ginger following, Fox's Ginger Cream biscuits I scribbled at the time. The finish was quite short again with more ginger and charcoal smoke.

So what did the others think?
@kristianehenney: Nose; chocolate mousse, burnt fudge, walnut, butterscotch, smells 'thicker' somehow
@WindsorBeerFest: Nose: Warming spice, ginger nuts (biscuit) and Madagascan vanilla, old spice (aftershave)
@whiskyrepublic: Nose: We're clearly moving up a gear here. A much richer, intense nose. Hints of ginger wrapped around vanilla
@scotslarder: Nose; ginger, peat, oak, on the nose with honey and vanilla
@thomas_speller: On the nose there is that smoke again, with sweet red berries. And mussels.
@ansgarspeller: Palate on this one... Vanilla, caramel, malty, warm, sweet, oak, nutmeg
@abbeywhisky: Christmas spices, raisin & sultanas.
@TheSmokyDram: Palate; Soft initially with warming and sweet spices. Much gentler than expected from the nose
@kizzsmyth: Dare I say this is a little bland? I'm not getting much from it... not at much as the nose suggested it would give

@steveprentice: Finish: Slightly tingly on the way down & warming on the chest, nice and interesting finish here of a reasonable length.

Whisky Discovery #621

Highland Park Warrior Series 'Sigurd' NAS (43% abv)
Orkney Single Malt Whisky
Circa €150.00 1 ltr Travel Retail Only
Whisky Review
The Legend: Earl Sigurd Hlodvirsson is one of the best-known characters in the Orkneyinga SagaAlso known as Sigurd the Stout, he was a powerful man, defending his territories in Caithness against the Scots and renowned for his summertime expeditions plundering the Hebrides, western Scotland and Ireland. (you can find out more here)

The Whisky: Again a high percentage of first fill sherries, and a higher proportion of European Oak to American Oak. Although older stock is used in this expression it has been released as a No Age Statement (NAS) whisky bottled at 43% abv

So What Did I Think?
Definitely more sherry influence immediately noticeable in the nose,starting with a dry nuttiness; Amontillado sherry, pine needles which soften quickly, sweet soft toffee and honey notes spices developing with a soft clove and a subdued cinnamon and then without warning a flash of parma violets.  After a quick taste chocolate cake notes also appeared on the nose

Lovely long legs on this after a quick sip. The palate lives up to the interesting nose, very enjoyable. This comes across as sweet and creamy, and there is a definite smoked cheese type flavour to this one, finishing with a ginger spice tang.

So what did the others think?
@whiskywardrobe: Nose has vanilla, tobacco and hints of chocolate. Maybe the best so far
@kizzsmyth: RIch nose on this one, getting brandy, orange zest and a bit of brine
@ansgarspeller: This nose makes me think of a warm desert buffet with creme brûlée and fresh fruits and some dense fruitcake
@kristianehenney: Ohmygoodness this smells like my favourite so far. Apple and strawberry laces at first, then big fat dense toffee
@TheWhiskyWire: A deconstructed Black Forest gateau of a nose.
@TheSmokyDram: Palate; Syrupy and sweet feel in the mouth with very warming spiciness that tingles ones tongue
@scotslarder: Palate cloves, brown sugar, black cherries, creamy dark chocolate and a developing peat smoke
@whiskyrepublic: Palate: In line with other drams this evening, there is a delayed, more subtle reaction on the palate.

@steveprentice: Palate: A fuller more oily mouth feel greets you introducing smooth and creamy fruits as if they’ve been stewed and covered in vanilla custard, with nutmeg over the top to spice it up a touch. Inviting with a hint of smoke and a sort of just-blown-out candle quality.

Whisky Discovery #622

Highland Park Warrior Series 'Ragnvald' NAS (44.6% abv)
Orkney Single Malt Whisky
Circa €400.00 1 ltr Travel Retail Only
Whisky Review
The Legend: Ragnvald (also Rognvald) - arguably the most famous and pioneering of all Vikings to enter unchartered waters. Nephew of Earl Magnus, Ragnvald was most at home aboard his longship undertaking his many great expeditions throughout the Middle East and even Asia. 

Earl Rognvald was the founder of St Magnus Cathedral and the story of the founding of St Magnus Cathedral is well documented within the pages of the Orkneyinga saga. (you can find out more here)

The Whisky: An increasing percentage of first fill sherries, and a much higher proportion of European Oak (almost 75%) to American Oak. Although older stock is used in this expression (and clearly evident in tasting) it has been released as a No Age Statement (NAS) whisky bottled at 44.6% abv

So What Did I Think?
A shade darker than Sigurd and on first pour it was immediately apparent that some older malts have been used in this expression. Although having an 'old malt' feel to it, it's also quite fruity, dried fruits with a hint of smoke, smoked dried fruits perhaps? This nose is complex and very satisfying.

This tastes rich and spicy. After an initial sweet entry a slightly bitter note touches for a short while, grapefruit pith like. This is malty, woody but floral elements appear too; parma violets and linseed appear on the swallow, finishing with hot chili, old leather and polished wood, drying and then right at the very end leaving you with dark chocolate, just superb!

So what did the others think?
@WindsorBeerFest: Nose: Sloe gin, candied peel and pear drops- yum! A hint of star anise too
@scotslarder: Nose; herbs, sloes, violets, heather like a walk through forest and glen
@TonyWTC: Nose: Rich, deep wood. Bloody lovely
@galg: Now this is an awesome nose my friends, it damn is. old wood, varnish, parma ham. You can even smell the wood varnish on the long boat Ragnvald sailed. sweat, smoked meat, metal, blood, this is brutal!
@whiskyrepublic: Whoah there big fella! Someones keelhauled my nose on a longboat covered in fruit, cinnamon & ginger barnacles!
@timstasting: Nose: berries, tobacco smoke, some old red port
@FrazerJ: Nose; spicy and candied fruits, really giver.. awesome nose
@ansgarspeller: Nose of this one sweet, vanilla, red apple, creamy, raisin, stone fruits, plums, lemon zest, orange, chocolate, oak, parma ham
@LaCaveDeCobalt: Nose is simply : WOW ! Sherry influenced with tiny Parmesan like smell & this delicate wax I'm totally in love.
@whiskywardrobe: Palate is even better! Lovely nutty, woody, oloroso heaven made at Highland Park It's hard to get anything better.
@FrazerJ: Smokey start, giving way to nutmeg and vanilla undertones strong coca base
@kizzsmyth: Very warming and Christmassy taste. Gently spiced, rich fruits all wrapped up with a slight smokiness delicious

Whisky Discovery #623

Highland Park Warrior Series 'Thorfinn' NAS (45.1% abv)

Orkney Single Malt Whisky

Circa €1,000.00 1 ltr Travel Retail Only

Whisky Review
The Legend: Thorfinn was a man of much power and influence, who at one stage controlled the whole of the Orkney Islands. From The Orkneyinga Saga: “Earl Thorfinn made himself a great chief; he was the tallest and strongest of men, ugly, black-haired, sharp-featured, and big-nosed, and with somewhat scowling brows. He was a mighty man of strife, and greedy both of money and honour; he was lucky in battle, and skillful in war, and good in onslaught;” (you can find out more here)

The Whisky: An increasing percentage of first fill sherries, and a much higher proportion of European Oak (almost 75%) to American Oak. Although older stock is used in this expression (and clearly evident in tasting) it has been released as a No Age Statement (NAS) whisky bottled at 45.1% abv

So What Did I Think?
This is the darkest coloured of the six Warriors. Each one has been a shade darker since starting with Svein indicating more European Oak Sherry cask and more first-fill casks being used.

The nose on this is absolutely divine, that 'old malt whisky' note evident from the start, and does indeed feel older than the predecessor in this vertical tasting, this reminding me of The Highland Park 30. It's fragrant, but delicate floral notes giving lilacs and parma violets, crisp new cartridge paper, new leather and there are dried tropical fruit notes with coconut and lychee. A very complex nose.

Taste wise my initial impressions noted was 'Leather and spice'. Older 'armchair' leather now as opposed to the new 'bookmark' leather found on the nose. There's a gentle sweetness at first with some fragrant pipe smoke followed by a surprisingly fierce spicy hit before settling back down leaving a fresh gingery tang along with some parma violets and linseed in the finish. This is really delicious whisky.

So what did the others think?
@WindsorBeerFest: Nose: Knife draw, MOTH BALLS!, tropical sickly sweet fruit (jack fruit), spice (coriander) and a breathe of smoke
@TheSmokyDram: Nose; Herbal, fruity and an interesting mix of chocolate and syrup. Also a sweet and floral spiciness to it
@kizzsmyth: Wonderful nose, thick vanilla creaminess with marzipan undertones. This smells well aged and mature
@ifotou: Nose Orange peel really comes in strongly here with light watery fruits (honeydew melon and kiwi) morello cherry also
@LaCaveDeCobalt: Nose : Punchier than Ragnvald, but same profile. maybe less wax on this one. Very nice though.
@TheWhiskyWire: Notes coming through from a room filled with the aroma of a pine Christmas tree.
@TonyWTC: Amazingly subtle and deep. This is one of the best whiskies I've ever tasted. Mind you, I've not had that many at £1k
@whiskyrepublic: I've shoved my head into a lightly smoked oak beehive where smug bees have been feeding on nicotiana nectar & Christmas!
@thomas_speller: On the palate I am getting lots of different citrus flavours, heather-honey and rosewater. lovely.

And finally....
I really love the marketing for this range, the Orkney history bringing the Warrior names and the graphic 'pie charts' for the series showing the bottle on the cross section of the tree trunk. I've always loved the shape of the Highland Park bottles and the three new additions to the range look even better than the standard bottles. However I was disappointed that all six of the range are all 'no aged statement' whiskies, no indication of the ages used to create these expressions and the affordable range (within my budget) are all just 40% abv. 

Whilst I know that NAS whiskies can be just as good, or better than aged whiskies (and I have both on my shelf) I do like to sit and contemplate life with an age statement whisky, they bring back important memories for me which a NAS whisky cannot.

Don't get me wrong, these are great tasting whiskies and the high end expressions are really amazing, but completely over priced in my opinion. I've tasted some lovely aged Highland Park whiskies at a fraction of the price being asked here and that's where my money will go. My favourite distillery releases remain the 12 Year Old and 18 Year Old, both affordable and value for money for me. Unfortunately I do not feel I was getting value for money with The Warrior series.

However, all said, this was another great experience and a highlight of our whisky journey adding six new discoveries for us, Tweet Tastings really are a great way to taste whisky. 

A massive THANK YOU to Steve Rush at @TheWhiskyWire Highland Park’s Global Brand Advocate, Daryl Haldane via @DarylHaldane and to all the team at @HighlandPark and of course the tweet tasters who were:

@TheWhiskyWire @WhiskyDiscovery @scotslarder @WhiskyRepublic @WindsorBeerFest @LRWhisky @kristianehenney @TheWhiskyKiwi @abbeywhisky @TonyWTC @idle_bull @FrazerJ @kizzsmyth @steveprentice @galg @TheSmokyDram @caskfinishcom @whiskywardrobe @timstasting @LaCaveDeCobalt @ansgarspeller

I'd also like to thank Sigurd Towrie and his Orkneyjar - The Heritage of Orkney for educating me about The Orkneyinga Saga and helping me to identify the names of the warriors Highland Park have used for this series.

For more information see: and and for more information on the heritage of Orkney take a look at the Orkneyjar website

Slàinte! Dave

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