January 16, 2017, Blue Monday. At least, if you believe the media the day should be depressing as hell. Well, not for us. After a morning of hard work, we were traveling to our capital city Amsterdam, with its sparkling lights of the recent festive season still in full effect, lighting up the atmosphere of the buzzing city. Making our way through the freezing winter elements to the Keizersgracht, where, at the end of the afternoon we would be welcomed by the lovely team of Typhoon hospitality and Highland Park ambassadors Bram Kaplan and Sietse Offringa at the OCCO bar and brasserie in the renowned Dylan hotel. A warm fire was blazing in the hearth, a cow’s horn filled with the Nomad – a cocktail designed around the Highland Park 10, joined by a refreshing lime-crab appetizer, prepared us for the tasting leading up to the Highland Park FIRE – the second limited release out of a series of only two whiskies, preceded by the previous Spring released Highland Park ICE.
Mingling with the small group of about 15 people mixed with magazine writers, influencers, shop owners and little old us, we all heartily toasted the horns with an Orcadian “Skål” before we were directed into the next room, where the table was neatly set for us. The diluted Highland Park new make spirit prepared our palates for what was coming and we found our mind’s eye(s) drifting back to our visit to the distillery in 2016, where we were guided around Highland Park’s very own Viking Martin Markvardsen. Most Orcadians are still more Viking than Scot in their veins, something we can find back in the presentations of the Highland Park expressions through the years. This specific pair started with the celebration of the Viking sagas emerging at the beginning of the age of Vikings.
The front of the bottles feature a Norse symbol representing the creation of the world, which they believed was protected by a serpent named Jormungandr, biting his own tail. The culmination of the Sagas is an apocalyptic battle between the Gods and the Giants. Surtr led the sons of Muspell across the bridge of Bifröst, burning everything in sight of Asgard, (realm of Gods; Thor, Loki, Freya and Odin) destroying the world of Ragnarök, heralded as ‘The doom of the Gods’. The world perished in a blazing and burnishing ball of flames and from the ashes, a new earth was recreated.
According to legend, the ice realm, Niflheim, is the home place of darkness, cold, ice and frost. The first Ice Giant, Ymir, was born at the beginning of time when the edge of the realm melted from the heat of the neighbouring fire realm, Muspelheim (also know as Muspell), and he is the first creature mentioned in Norse creation mythology. As Ymir slept, he gave birth to the Jotun family, a race of powerful Ice Giants standing at over 20 feet high and known as the Gods of Creation. When they shook, fought or sneezed, it caused earthquakes!
The myths behind FIRE tells the story of the realm of the Fire Giants and their epic battle against the Gods to rule the world. According to legend, Surtr was an evil Fire Giant who ruled the Fire Realm. He would sit at the edge of the Kingdom, defending the land holding a burning sword, which shone brighter and hotter than the sun. FIRE explores the destruction and rebirth of the world according to Norse mythology. The legend originates from the oldest written collection of Nordic poems, known as Poetic Edda.
Ah yes, Orkney and her rugged landscapes and Vikings… We could stay there forever (instead of the mere two nights we were there) but, it is time to stop the daydreaming of this Scottish Isle and its mythologies and get back to the tasting. The core of the Highland Park range, the 12, was paired with another treat from the Michelin Star awarded Vinkeles kitchens in the next room, who ambasador Bram had given complete carte blanche in making the best possible fit with the drinks, while Sietse diverted into the more technical details of the creation of whisky, from the noticeable differences in the heathery peat varieties of Orkney, the woody Black Isles and the medicinal varieties of Islay, to the importance of the interaction, extraction and addition the casks induce to the spirit. With that topic on point, it was time to meet FIRE.
Where ICE had matured for 17 years in mostly rebuilt first fill bourbon casks fitted with virgin American oak cask ends, resulting in sweet, fruity and fresh notes complimenting the traditional Highland Park notes, FIRE is something entirely different, with darker, rich dried fruit notes reminiscent of Christmas cake, mixed with that distinct heathery smoke note we know so well from Highland Park, perfect for the cold time of year. A Highland Park matured for 15 years in Port casks, some of which were newly built and seasoned with port for an (unmentioned) period of time, others which were used shortly for the finishing of another whisky for three to six months. Bottled at 45.2% and available at a recommended retail price of €230,- in the Netherlands. This expression was released mid November to the world and this January, 2.500 bottles of the globally released 28.000 found their way to the Dutch shops.
Soon we will have extensive tasting notes online on WhiskyWorship and LovingWhisky, but for now, you will have to make do with our guarantee that the liquid from the distinctive red bottle in the black, jigsawed Viking ship goes beautifully with (very pretty) chocolate. As a conclusion for this event we moved to the adjacent, dimly lit room, decorated with many fluffy sheepskins, woodcarvings and the smell of something amazing, bubbling on a hot plate in the back of the room. After the necessary “thank you for visiting”, we were served the lovely warm cocktail from the plate, which had been nicknamed “The Phoenix”, created around the Highland Park Dark Origins, while we chatted about our passions for a while with the people present, before going on our way back to the train station.
Thomas & Ansgar
Photos of this event can be found on our Facebook page.