Two new whiskies from The Balvenie heading to South Africa

The Balvenie’s family of single malt Scotch whiskies is set to grow in South Africa with the arrival of The Balvenie DoubleWood, Aged 17 Years as well as The Balvenie Caribbean Cask, Aged 14 Years, both of which will be launching in South Africa from June 2014.

The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year Old

The Balvenie_Caribbean Cask_14yo_The Smoky DramThe Balvenie Caribbean Cask was created by The Balvenie Malt Master, David Stewart, who celebrated an incredible 50th anniversary at the distillery in 2012. This single malt has had a 14-year maturation period in traditional oak whisky casks, before being transferred to casks that previously held Caribbean rum to finish aging.

“This expression is a beautifully rounded whisky that combines traditional Balvenie vanilla notes with rich toffee, a hint of fruit and a warm, lingering finish. We are very excited for The Balvenie Caribbean Cask to be launching in South Africa for the very first time!” adds Marketing Manager Lauren Kuhlmey.

The Balvenie Caribbean Cask, Aged 14 Years, has an ABV of 43% and has an MRP of R799.


Tasting Notes

Nose: Rich, sweet and creamy toffee on the nose combines with fresh fruit notes
Taste: Rounded with vanilla and sweet oak notes, with a fruity character that develops with time
Finish: Soft and lingering

The Balvenie 17 Year Old DoubleWood

The Balvenie_DoubleWood_17yo_The Smoky DramThe DoubleWood 17 Year Old is an elder sibling to the DoubleWood 12 Year Old, The Balvenie’s most popular expression. This new aged version shares the same DNA and the honeyed, spicy characteristics as the 12 Year Old, but it is distinctly different, with deeper vanilla notes, hints of green apple, creamy toffee and a striking richness and complexity.

“The “cask finishing” technique is at the heart of The Balvenie DoubleWood – it sees the whisky matured first in American oak barrels, which impart soft sweet vanilla notes, before being transferred to European oak sherry casks. The second cask ageing adds a depth and fullness of flavour. We are very excited to be introducing the rich, spicy flavours of the 17 Year Old Doublewood to the South African consumers,” adds Marketing Manager Lauren Kuhlmey.

The Balvenie 17 Year Old DoubleWood, has an ABV of 43% and has an MRP of R1 399.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Elegant and complex with oak, vanilla, honeyed sweetness and a hint of green apple
Taste: Sweet with dried fruits, sherbet spice, toasted almonds and cinnamon, layered with a richness of creamy toffee notes and traces of oak and deep vanilla
Finish: Vanilla oak, honey and spicy sweetness

About The Balvenie

The Balvenie’s Malt Master David Stewart first showcased his double-cask maturation technique when he created The Balvenie Classic in the 1980s. This pioneering release is one of David’s greatest achievements and was one of the first examples of cask finishing in the Scotch single malt whisky industry. The success of The Balvenie Classic led to the release of The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old in 1993, a celebrated example of cask finishing, which is now at the heart of The Balvenie range.

The Balvenie is dedicated to the five rare crafts that are used to create The Balvenie’s distinctive taste. It is the only distillery that still grows its own barley, uses traditional floor maltings and keeps both coppersmiths and coopers on site – making The Balvenie the most handcrafted of malts. Having coopers on site at the distillery allows David Stewart to work closely with them to make new types of wood finishes.

The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky is produced by William Grant & Sons Ltd, an award-winning independent family-owned distiller founded by William Grant in 1886 and today run by his direct descendants.

News source: Press release from Butter Knife PR (


Bunnahabhain 18 YO

The name Bunnahabhain is Gaelic for ‘Mouth of the River’ and refers to the Margadale River. The location of the distillery was chosen mainly because it is easily accessible from the mainland by boat. Furthermore, Bunnahabhain is one of the gentler single malt Islay whiskies available and its taste varies greatly from other spirits to be found on the island of Islay by being notably a less-peated dram.

Bunnahabhain_18_The Smoky DramWhisky: Bunnahabhain 18, 46.3 ABV (Cost around R940)

Region: Islay, Scotland

Style: Single Malt

Age: 18 Years

The Bunnahabhain Distillery was founded in 1881 near Port Askaig on Islay. The village of Bunnahabhain was also established in 1881 to house the distillery’s workers, and the distillery still employs the majority of the village’s workers. In 2010 Bunnahabhain increases the proof of their official bottlings from 40% or 43% to 46.3% ABV. And in 2013 Burn Stewart Distillers (the owners of the Bunnahabhain, Deanston and Tobermory distilleries) was sold by CL Financial to Distell from South Africa for £160 million.

The 18 year old is a comparatively recent release from Bunnahabhain and this single malt has been matured in an approximate mix of 40% ex-sherry and 60% ex-bourbon casks for 18 years. It was recently re-introduced as an un-chillfiltered spirit at a higher strength of 46.3% and the packaging has been slightly revised to complement the new expression. The label highlights the move to natural colour and un-chillfiltered.

Colour: Deep burnished gold with slow forming and many thick legs.

Nose: Caramelised nuts and toffee sweetness with some seaside saltiness. Also picking up notes of Christmas cake, sherried dried fruit and cinnamon. On the slight side of things there are hints of salty brininess, woodiness and malt cereal. And finally in the furthest reaches of the background a very gently smoke lingers.

Palate: Very smooth with a mellow spiciness bite. Attractive wood spice (tip of tongue burn), that seaside saltiness once again and malty. There is also fruit sweetness (pears) to it. Again some of that very gentle smoke hanging in the background. The palate completely coats one’s mouth.

Finish: Long with lingering sweet spiciness that ends in a salty, yet fruity, and dry finish. With the barest of gentle smoke at the end.

Overall: A very nicely balanced whisky with the lovely mixture between spice and fruit sweetness. The smoke is also there, but very faint and you have to go looking for it, to round it out.

Monkey Shoulder

Malt Master David Stewart decided one day to create the world’s first ‘triple’ malt, by combining single malts from three of Speyside’s distilleries – Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie. Also to note is that there is not a single drop of grain whisky in Monkey Shoulder.

Monkey Shoulder_NAS_The Smoky DramWhisky: Monkey Shoulder, 43% ABV (Cost around R360)

Region: Speyside, Scotland

Style: Blended Malt (aka Vatted Malt)

Age: NAS

The term ‘monkey shoulder’ is a reference to a condition that maltmen sometimes picked up while working long shifts, turning the barley by hand. It had a tendency to cause their arm to hang down a bit like a monkey’s, so they nicknamed it ‘monkey shoulder’. While the maltmen at Moneky Shoulder are among the few whom still turn the barley manually, working conditions have changed which means this injury has been consigned to the past.

For Money Shoulder the chosen malts are matured in first fill ex-bourbon casks. The three Speyside malts are then blended together in a small marrying tun for anything from three to six months. This is a 100% malt Scotch whisky, distilled, matured and bottled in Dufftown, Scotland.

Colour: Deep gold to burnished with some slow and thick legs.

Nose: Sweet with lots of vanilla, slight floral influences and oak wood notes. A smattering of winter spices (cloves and nutmeg) adds to the depth of the nose. Also get some slight Christmas cake, brandy tart and some fresh fragrant fruits (pears and peaches).

Palate: Smooth and creamy velvety mouth feel. Vanilla is more subdued on the palate with some fruit fudge and wood spice coming to the fore. The sweet winter spiciness (nutmeg and cinnamon) creates a spicy tingle on one’s whole tongue. Drinks very easily.

Finish: Remarkably smooth, medium in length and fairly lingering with a lovely warm and sweet heart.

Overall: An easy to drink dram that is not only very well made, with a gorgeous nose and great palate, it is also very well priced.

Nikka Gold & Gold

Nikka Gold & Gold, my second review of a Japanese whisky, was launched in 1968 and for quite some time it was one of the core whiskies of the Nikka blended range. These days though it is a little harder to find.

Nikka_Gold & Gold_The Smoky DramWhisky: Gold & Gold, 40% ABV (Cost around R500)

Region: Japan

Style: Blended Whisky

Age: NAS

Previously on The Smoky Dram’s Japanese whisky tasting adventure we mentioned the story of Masataka Taketsuru, father of Japanese whisky, and his journey to establish Nikka.

Masataka established Nikka because he was determined to introduce his fellow Japanese to the joys of authentic whisky. His vision of whisky was formed by his experience in Scotland, and he knew that the right environment was essential. In Yoichi, he saw numerous reminders of Scotland, and this convinced him that this should be the home of Japanese Whisky. The location was selected because of its clean air, just the right humidity for storage, and abundant underground water filtered through a layer of peat. Yoichi produces a rich, peaty and masculine malt.

The Miyagikyo Distillery is also in northern Japan, in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, northern Honshu. Travelling in the area one day, Masataka came upon this site completely enclosed by mountains and sandwiched between two rivers. He immediately knew that this was the perfect site for whisky distilling. Sendai’s fresh water, suitable humidity and crisp air produce soft and mild malt.

Colour: Bright amber to burnished with long and slow medium to thick legs.

Nose: Fairly dry and malty start before the emergence of the sweet flavours; toffee, vanilla and soft sweet spices (ginger). Towards the get some Christmas notes; warm spices, brandied dried fruit, brandy tart and some very light Christmas cake.

Palate: Smooth, round and warming, especially with some time, with a subtle hint of peat. Sweet spiciness (cinnamon and ginger) again, some pepper notes, maltiness and a wood spice warm tingle at back of one’s mouth. A pleasant enough palate.

Finish: Medium to long finish that is warm with sweet soft spiciness (pepper and ginger) and slightly drying.

Overall: While a good quality blend, where I enjoyed the subtle play between the malt, sweet and spicy flavours, there are other blends from Nikka that are more readily available that I enjoyed more and preferred.

Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select

Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (always 43.2%-45.2% ABV) is produced at the company’s distillery is in Woodford County, in central Kentucky. Distilling began in 1780 and the distillery building itself was erected in 1838, making it the oldest of the nine bourbon distilleries in current operation in Kentucky (as of 2010).

Woodford Reserve_Bourbon_The Smoky DramWhiskey: Woodford Reserve Distillers Select, 43.2% ABV (Cost around R400) 

Region: Kentucky, USA

Style: Bourbon

Age: NAS

One of the legislation points which specifies when a whiskey can be called a bourbon is that the mixture of grains used has to contain at least 51% corn (in most cases it is higher, 65 – 80%). The other portions of the grain mixture are rye and malted barley (usually around 10 – 15%). Each distillery has its own formula for this grain mixture, also known as the mashbill in the States.

The mashbill for Woodford Reserve features a high percentage of rye: 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malt.  Woodford Reserve is furthermore also unusual for being triple distilled and having the lowest proof upon entering the barrel, where it matures for at least six years. Each bottle is numbered with a batch number and bottle number.

Colour: Auburn to Tawny with medium to thick legs.

Nose: Upfront toffee cream, and vanilla sweetness. There are also some biscuit notes coming through. Sweet and soft ginger spiciness creeps across with some woodiness, chocolate and slight peppery smokiness along for the ride as well.

Palate: Complex and rich with oily and full mouth feel. Sweet (vanilla and syrup), nutty, cocoa and warm with soft winter spices (especially ginger). Some cereal and woodiness swirling around towards the end.

Finish: Medium to long sherry spicy finish which is damn nice with a sweetness on the back of it.

Overall: I love the thick viscosity on this bourbon, I think my exact thoughts when tasting this was “Bloody nice”. There is plenty of richness and character in this bourbon.

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask Strength

My next review is from another region I have always wanted to try, Taiwan and their Kavalan Solist Sherry whisky. Solist Sherry means that this whisky was matured in one single Spanish oloroso sherry butt and in this instance it was cask number S06090404. It is bottled without any vatting, finish, chill filtration or reduction. Furthermore it is also bottled at cask strength.

Kavalan_Solist Sherry_Cask Strength_S060904046_The Smoky DramWhisky: Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask Strength (#S060904046), 58.6% ABV (Cost around R1500) 

Region: Taiwan

Style: Single Malt

Age: NAS

Kavalan, the earliest tribe that inhabited Yilan, represents sincerity, honesty, and the spirit of step-by-step cultivation. A tradition that the Kavalan distillery continues to this day. The founder of the Kavalan distillery spent years looking for the ideal water supply. He chose Yilan as the site for its abundant supply of cold, spring water flowing through the Snow Mountain. The process water is drawn from the springs in the Snow Mountain and Central Mountains imparting a smooth and creamy mouth feel to the whisky.

One of the big differences in the making of Kavalan whisky, compared to their Scottish counterparts, is the percentage of Angel’s share. Angel’s share is the quantity of alcohol lost to evaporation from the casks during maturation. The light sipping angels in Scotland average around 2% per year, whilst the heavy drinking angels of Taiwan enjoy around a 15% share per year. This allows for an extremely accelerated maturation process.  In other words, 3 years in these type of conditions is probably equal to 4 or 5 times that length of maturation in the more sedate Scottish regions (and other cooler whisky making regions as well). 

Colour: Stunning colour, a burnt umber to mahogany, with very thick, very slow long legs.

Nose: Marvellously complex and layered nose. Dark fruits, being led by black currants (fruit pastilles) and cherries. Brandied raisins and fruit mix, Christmas cake, date loaf and dried fruit coming through strongly as well. Also in the mix is caramel, marzipan, winter spices and a vanilla sweetness that has a nuttiness to it.

Palate: Seriously powerful with lovely depth and character. Mouth feel is rich, oily and full. Palate is warm and dry with winter spices (cinnamon, cloves and some ginger), marzipan, sweet (caramel), dried dark fruits (dates, sultanas) and some almond nuttiness thrown in. Spicy tingle on tip and sides of ones tongue. Black currant follows and towards the end some dark chocolate.

Finish: Long with sweet winter spices, dried fruit and quiet hotness at the end. Quite drying, very warm and spicy.

Overall: A cracker and beauty of a sherried dram that is powerful and rich with lovely complexity and personality. If you love sherried whiskies then this is one to try.

Amrut Single Malt Whisky

Next up is my first review of a whisky from a region I have always wanted to try, India and the Amrut Single Malt. This whisky has been matured in a mix of New American Oak and ex-bourbon barrels. It is bottled without chill-filtration and is naturally coloured.

Amrut_Indian_The Smoky DramWhisky: Amrut Single Malt Whisky, 46% ABV (Cost around R600) 

Region: India

Style: Single Malt

Age: NAS


According to Indian Mythology, when Gods and Rakshasas - the demons – churned the oceans using the mountain Meru as churner, a golden pot sprang out containing the Elixir of Life. That was called the “Amrut” The founders of the Amrut distillery aptly named it Amrut Distilleries.


The Amrut Single Malt Whisky is made from selected Indian barley grown at the feet of the Himalayas, nurtured by the waters flowing there and cultivated by old and traditional agricultural practices. It is carefully mashed and distilled in small batches to preserve the natural aroma. It is then matured in oak barrels in a unique tropical condition, at an altitude of 3,000 feet above sea level at Bangalore.

Colour: Rich deep gold with slow thick legs.

Nose: Has a lovely upfront burnt sweetness (honey), followed by a more toffee sweetness. It has a wonderful burnt, yet sweet, smokiness to it. Underpinning it all is a pleasing spice and grain notes.

Palate: Rich and mouth coating. Hot spiciness, especially on the tip of ones tongue, quickly followed by a burnt sugar sweetness. Palate also has a very nice balance between the sweet and spicy notes with some grain and wood as well to round it out nicely.

Finish: Long with a very nice sweet spiciness throughout. Touch of sweet coffee at the very end.

Overall: Inviting and pleasant nose that pulls you in with the palate giving one a balanced and tasty tasting experience. A very easy drinking whisky from an exotic, for me at least, location.

In memoriam, Charles Gordon

William Grant_The Smoky DramCharles Gordon, the man who gave the world Glenfiddich Scotch whisky, has been remembered at international memorial services in New York on February 18 and his hometown of Glasgow in Scotland on February 21.

Charles, who was Life President of William Grant & Sons, died in New York on December 21, 2013, aged 86, surrounded by his family after a short illness.

Along with his brother Sandy, Charles – or Charlie has he was affectionally known – turned a small, family run company into one of the world’s leading producers of Scotch whiskies including Glenfiddich and Grant’s.

A large personality to his family, friends and to all those that he met in the course of his life, Charles’ warmth and charm as well as his unique perceptiveness and long-term vision led William Grant & Sons to the international recognition it enjoys today. He was a key driving force in building the company into a strong independent family-owned company with a unique global reputation for excellence.

His son Glenn, the present Chairman of the company, paid this tribute to his father: “We are all very proud of my father’s achievements in his very full and energetic lifetime, and give thanks for the legacy that he has left us with. He touched the lives of many, many people and will be sorely missed by all. In our family and our business, which my father always intertwined, he very much believed in a spirit of partnership. In his memory, we will continue to build this spirit, and with it our independent family business, for future generations”.

Charles’ passion and innovative nature led him to launch Glenfiddich internationally which marked the beginning of the single malt category as we know it today, he pushed the global development of William Grant & Sons’ brands, whilst spearheading the acquisition of an American import house, the first of its kind in the industry, moving control of distribution and sale into company hands.

Stella David, Chief Executive of the company said: “On behalf of all of us at William Grant & Sons, we recognise the truly exceptional contribution Charles Gordon has made to our company. Indeed few people have made a greater contribution to the scotch whisky industry over such an extended period of time. The company is fully committed to continue to build on Charles’ remarkable legacy. We pass on our sympathies to the Grant Gordon family.”


William Grant and Sons_The Smoky Dram

William Grant & Sons is an independent family-owned distiller headquartered in the United Kingdom and founded by William Grant in 1887. Today, the global premium spirits company is run by the fifth generation of his family and distils some of the world’s leading brands of Scotch whisky, including the world’s most awarded single malt Glenfiddich, The Balvenie range of handcrafted single malts and the world’s third largest blended Scotch Grant’s.

News sources:


GlenDronach Platinum 16 YO

From the same owners of my previous review, BenRiach, my next review is of the GlenDronach Platinum 16 year old. The whisky selected for this special bottling, which is exclusively bottled for the South African market, has been matured for a minimum of 16 years in the finest Oloroso sherry casks.

GlenDronach_Platinum_16yo_The Smoky Dram

Whisky: GlenDronach Platinum 16 YO, 48% ABV (Cost around R950) 

Region: used to be classified as a Speyside (Jackson) but officially a Highlands (SWR 2009), Scotland [from WhiskyFun]

Style: Single Malt

Age: 16 Years

In 1826 James Allardice founded the distillery and produced his ‘Guid GlenDronach’ single malt. In 2004 three families, two being South African, purchased BenRiach. Then the same families (The BenRiach Distillery Company) bought the GlenDronach distillery in 2008. The GlenDronach Distillery has been creating richly sherried single malts for nearly 200 years.

As was the case in 1826, The GlenDronach Distillery patiently matures all its single malt whisky in superior quality sherry casks. Over the years of extended maturation, these carefully seasoned casks help create the unique richly sherried style that GlenDronach is famous for. So the whiskies have a deep amber to rich mahogany colour, while having the typical sherried styled characteristics; rich dried fruits, Christmas cake mix, stewed fruits and lovely warm spiciness.

Colour: Tawny to mahogany with many thick legs.

Nose: Soft, spicy and rich with lovely spicy stewed fruits and cinnamoned apples. With time in the glass one gets sweetness as well as dates (date loaf bread), prunes, sultanas and dark chocolate. Soft coffee notes in background together with some citrus zest.

Palate: Smooth and spicy (tip and side of tongue) while also being dry and astringent, but not overly so. Divine dark coffee chocolate on edge of palate with a lovely ginger and cinnamon (fire ball sweets) bite combined with some coffee and smoke. More of the expected rich stewed and dried fruits with that lovely sweetness towards the end.

Finish: Very rich and drying finish, combined with the ‘warm heart’, makes it long and satisfying.

Overall: A beauty of a sherried whisky that could be enjoyed at any time, however it seems to be perfectly made for enjoyment around a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night while one contemplates all of life’s little mysteries.

Highland Park Warrior Series – Twitter Tasting (#HPWarriorTT)

I took part in my first ever tweet tasting on 11th November 2013 with a tasting of the entire Warrior Series from Highland Park. So you may be asking, “So what exactly is a tweet tasting”? Simply put, a tweet tasting is where a selected number of tasters (with twitter accounts naturally) are sent sample portions of whisky. They are then tasted together online via twitter on a pre-determined date and time, with the participants tweeting their thoughts and comments, together with a hashtag (in this case #HPWarriorTT) to make the following of the tasting easier.

Highland Park_ Warrior TTThis twitter tasting was put together and hosted by Steve Rush from The Whisky Wire (@TheWhiskyWire and their main tweet tasting account @TweetTastings). We were also joined by Daryl Haldane (@DarylHaldane) Highland Park’s Global Brand Advocate.

The Warrior Series

The Warrior Series is a range of six single malts whiskies showcasing the very best of Highland Park. Offering a spectrum of flavours but grounded in Highland Park’s gently smoky but surprisingly sweet character. Highland Park has strong Viking roots and this is celebrated throughout the collection.

Highland Park_Warriors

The Warrior Series is exclusively produced for the Travel Retail market, also known as duty-free to some. As you move up the series there is an increase in the quantity of European oak sherry seasoned casks used. Throughout the tasting Daryl sent out images to make it easier to see the percentage of European oak sherry versus American casks used to mature each expression. Below is the summary graphic showing these various levels on wood used.

Highland Park_Warrior Wood Percentage

And now onto my thoughts and notes from the tweet tasting.

Highland Park Warrior Series – ‘Svein’, NAS with 40% ABV and cost €40.00 (R600)

Highland Park_Svein_The Smoky DramSvein has been created to mirror the hospitable and generous nature of many of the Viking leaders, including its namesake. Svein can best be described as the ultimate Viking chieftain and his spirit lives on through this release. Possessing a steely and ruthless determination alongside a fiery temper, Svein’s exploits lie at the very heart of the Orkneyinga Saga, his appetite for adventure and merriment are legendary. As well as being a hardened, battle-scarred warrior, Svein’s reputation for hospitality showed no bounds.

Svein was produced using a high percentage of American oak but also European oak casks. 30% was first fill American Sherry casks and 10% European oak first fill. The remainder was refill casks.

Colour: Yellow gold with thick legs.

Nose: Very fresh, clean and crisp (refreshing). Citrus fruits, chocolate, pineapple and slight winter spices is what I picked up at first. With some time I also got raisin, slight red fruit, honey and slight herbal. Lovely gentle yet peaty smoke. Has a woodiness, almost green character, about it.

Palate: Smoky, but a sweet and spicy smokiness, followed by sawdust floor and a honey sweetness. There is also some intense zesty orange infused very dark chocolate on the palate. Smoky but with a spicy kick (especially on the tip of ones tongue) with an intriguing mix of pepper and sweet spiciness. Has a sweet, rich and smooth mouth feel.

Finish: The finish is a spicy affair with white pepper and it then lingers with that gentle smoke. Spicy and warm, lingering, white pepper upfront but it is the sweet/spicy, yet gentle smoke that lingers most.

Highland Park Warrior Series – ‘Einar’, NAS with 40% ABV and cost €53 (R790)

Highland Park_Einar_The Smoky DramEinar has been crafted as a tribute to one of the most feared and ruthless Vikings of his time. Einar was a hard and successful Viking, often venturing on treacherous long voyages. Relentless and strong, Einar was easily identified by his axe, which was sharp and brutal, reflecting his fierce character, an example of which can be seen on the packaging of this expression.

This bottling exudes many of Einar’s character traits: unrelenting in its flavour it delivers a surprisingly direct smokiness which is coupled with a darker inner layer of spice, driven by a proportion of whisky matured in European oak casks. It is produced using both American and European oak casks, increasing the percentage of European oak used, with the largest percentage still being American oak.

Colour: Yellow to old gold with very thick legs 

Nose: Dried fruits drenched in sweet golden syrup. Warmer spices, again with upfront citrus fruits and woodiness and that gentle peat smoke drifting across in the background. Caramel fudge, darker autumn fruits, slight liquorice and dark chocolate notes. Gets sweeter with time.

Palate: Upfront smoke but the sweet and hot spiciness follows it very quickly. Citrus notes with warm spices and dark chocolate again. Chocolate coated raisins, white pepper, cigar smoke, ‘hot’ spice on while tongue, leather, apricots, nutmeg and hints of vanilla.

Finish: Sweet apricot on finish, but it is the smokiness that lingers the longest with some sweet spiciness at the very end. Some dry woodiness in there as well.

Highland Park Warrior Series – ‘Harald’, NAS with 40% ABV and cost €75 (R1100)

Highland Park_Harald_The Smoky DramCelebrated through this release, King Harald was famed for his army, which was revered across the world at that time. The most feared of his troops were known as ‘berserkers’. Described as intrepid heroes, they carried bloody shields used for hacking through their enemies. Such was the importance of the shield in growing King Harald’s global influence that it adorns the packaging.

Considered, intelligent and undoubtedly regal, this whisky shows not only an inner balance but also an assertive oaky side, combining a generous proportion of both American and highly prized European oak casks. The oak usage here is close to a 50-50 split of not only first fill and refill casks, but also almost a 50-50 split between European and American oak.

Colour: Old gold with very thick legs. 

Nose: Get the sweetness before the smoke, with the sweetness being a ginger toffee sweet. Vanilla, warm spices (ginger), sweet dried fruit with peat smoke in the background. Ginger biscuits dipped in syrup, dark Toblerone chocolate, burnt fudge, wood, and spiced apple/berry tart with a faint herbal/green character. A richer and more intense nose that takes some time to develop.

Palate: Soft initially with warming and sweet spices. It is much gentler than expected from the nose.  Nuts, nougat sweetness and a backbone of gentle smoke throughout the palate. Nutmeg, oak, winter spices, savoury nuttiness, ginger citrus, dark chocolate, creamy, cinnamon and some lovely pepper notes round out the palate.

Finish: Medium in length with citrus spiciness and some dark chocolate nuances. Has a lovely ginger snap at the very end.

Highland Park Warrior Series – ‘Sigurd’, NAS with 43% ABV and cost €150 (R2200)

Highland Park_Sigurd_The Smoky Dram

Sigurd is considered amongst the strongest and most courageous warriors, and ultimately one of the most feared Viking earls featured in the Orkneyinga Saga.


As we are moving up the expression there is a higher percentage of European oak in relation to American oak. Also there is a high percentage of first fill sherry casks used.


Colour: Old to deep gold with thick legs. 

Nose:  Xmas cake fruit mix soaked in some brandy. Mixed fruit chocolate bar, dark chocolate, winter spices, cherries and some zesty pine notes. Also warm desserts, raisins, vanilla, dark fruits, nutmeg and heather smoke. Has a rich thickness and creaminess to it.

Palate: Syrupy and sweet feel in the mouth with a very warming spiciness that tingles ones tongue. Also get a lovely full creaminess that covers your tongue. Still has that lovely gentle, subtle smoke in the background. Vanilla, dark chocolate, grain with hint of citrus (lemon), oily, brown sugar and dark chocolate with cherry filling. Balanced and well-rounded.

Finish: Smoky maple syrup finish with sweet and tingling spices (cinnamon).

Highland Park Warrior Series – ‘Ragnvald’, NAS with 44.6% ABV and cost €400 (R5900)

Highland Park_Ragnvald_The Smoky DramRagnvald, arguably the most famous and pioneering of all Vikings to enter unchartered waters, 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.

From the earlier graphic we can deduce that there is around 75% European oak used in this expression, with American oak carrying the remainder.


Colour: Deep gold to burnished with thick slow legs. 

Nose: Sweet with subtle ginger and cinnamon spices. Has a herbaceousness about it. Sweet baked desserts (like brandy pudding). Pear drops with some Christmas cake and brandy tart. Just opened cigar box. Dark chocolate, deep wood, dark berries and smoke. Rich and lovely.

Palate: Complex. Warm spices (ginger and nutmeg) together with very dark chocolate and dried fruits. Quite drying with thick syrup mouth feel that coats ones mouth. A very intense palate – spicy on the tip and sides of ones tongue. Smoky, dark fruits, smooth, maple syrup, Christmas like and cooking brown sugar round out the palate.

Finish: Lovely sweet and spicy smokiness that just goes on and on and on.

Highland Park Warrior Series – ‘Thorfinn’, NAS with 45.1% ABV and cost €1000 (R14800)

Highland Park_Thorfinn_The Smoky DramThorfinn was a man of much power and influence, who at one stage controlled the whole of the Orkney Islands. The Orkneyinga Saga described him as a great chief, the tallest and strongest of men whose remains are buried in St Magnus Cathedral on Orkney.


Once again there is an increasing percentage of first fill sherry casks (around 60%) and an even higher proportion of European oak to American oak.

Colour: Burnished gold to russetmuscat with lovely thick and slow legs. 

Nose: Herbal, fruity and an interesting mix of chocolate and syrup. Also has a sweet and floral spiciness to it.  More herbal/green upfront while being clean and fresh. Crème brûlée, slight citrus fruits with that gentle smoke as always in the background. Thick vanilla creaminess, marzipan, wood (cedar and eucalyptus) and pineapple. The  nose develops over time and is ever-changing. It is intense, complex and interesting.

Palate: Intense and beautiful, while being very complex and well-balanced. Herbal with an almost mint like freshness. “Old” character with winter styled spices and citrus notes. Spicy, eucalyptus, honey sweet, raisins, autumn fruits, Christmas spices (cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger), dark cherries, dried fruits and chocolate. Very smooth and drinks easily, yet has  wonderful depth to it.

Finish: Very, very long and spicy (sweet and warm) with some dryness and that lovely gentle fragrant smoke.


Final words

A really cracking range from Highland Park in my opinion. I enjoyed seeing how the various percentages of wood types used created such different (yet with some similar characteristics) expressions. I felt that it would allow one to find one of the warrior’s that you really enjoyed. For me my favourite from the series was Einar. It was closely followed by Thorfinn.

I really also enjoyed the marketing of the Warrior series, delving into the Viking history and using famous warriors from the Orkneyinga Saga not only for the naming of the various expressions, but also to that which was strongly associated with the whiskies’ namesake beings used to adorn the packaging.

It was a great first tweet tasting experience. A very big thank you to Steve Rush from The Whisky Wire for hosting us, Daryl Haldane Highland Park’s Global Brand Advocate for being patient enough to answer all of our questions and to Highland park for the wonderful warrior whiskies. A final note of thanks also to my fellow Tweet Tasters for making it an informative and entertaining tasting:

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