Distilled November 1995, bottled December 2013, from a refill hogshead.
Nose: Fruity, lemon, apple and peach, with an overlaying smokiness. With water the smoke is emphasised and the fresh fruit gives way to lemon and lemon peel.
Palate: Digestives with brown goat’s cheese. Smoke and dry oak. With water added I find dry honey, a bonfire-like smokiness and “Non-Stop” (a Norwegian sweet, similar to M&M’s, but with dark chocolate) on the finish.
Even though I signed off earlier than planned – to the extent of paying my own way back home to avoid the return trip – sailing with Celeste was a fantastic experience. If I could have had two or three nights’ sleep on Orkney I’d have been ready to sign back on, as it is I can’t really regret leaving when I did. (Even less when I found that they lost contact with the rudder at one point durring the passage back.) I’m afraid I tackle a sleep deficit rather badly, unfortunately combined with insomnia in not ideal conditions. It didn’t help that with one exception (and the three professionals, obviously) the whole “crew” was leaving in Kirkwall, their places to be taken by a new group of people. I’m something of an introvert, even if it’s not always obvious, and one new group of friends for life (it turns out you do actually end up feeling that way about people you’ve crossed the North Sea with) felt like more than enough to be getting on with. I did not feel up to getting to know a whole new group of (undoubtedly lovely) people and I was positively relishing hanging out in Aberdeen all on my own. And as it turns out I’m more of a daytrip sort of sailor, not really all that into crossing oceans. I seem to like reading about storms more than I like sailing through them. That said, I am not averse to joining another expedition in the future, given the chance, though I will come better prepared next time.
One of the things I’d have done differently with hindsight is that I would have insisted on flying in to Gothenburg on Sunday evening, so I could get a proper night’s sleep in a hotel and not start the trip with a sleep deficit due to the early flight from Trondheim.
I’d also pack wiser. We were told to bring “warm clothes to wear under the offshore gear”. You might think that grown men and women would be able to pack appropriately, but I wasn’t the only one who missed the mark due to misguided optimism (Warm clothes? It’s still summer!). I even managed to leave behind the woollen socks I meant to pack, and consequently my toes were freezing cold for most of the trip in uninsulated wellies. Amateurish of me, it has to be said. It didn’t help, incidentally, that the aforementioned offshore gear was not 100% waterproof.
If I’d been in charge, I’d have allowed for better margins in the schedule (or a more flexible return time) to ensure that all participants a little more time at Orkney. Yes, I do realise that this would have added to the expense, but even so. We were perhaps especially unlucky with the wind, the captain, Bengt, tells me that because of a constant westerly wind we sailed 200 nautical miles more than we would have if we could have aimed straight for the target – almost 50 % further than the ideal course.
Despite all that, it was an amazing experience. I’ll probably still be rambling on about it when I’m ninety and my children have moved me to a nursing home. And I took pictures galore. Here’s another gallery, feel free to ignore it:
[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”5″ gal_title=”The Dark Expedition”]
And now for some commercial content. No, I’m not going to promote Highland Park, I assume the readers of this blog have the wherewithall to make up their own mind about the whisky. No, I thought I’d mention a couple of things regarding the good ship Celeste (sorry, boat, she may be big, but ship she ain’t). She sails to Scotland regularly, and you can join her! This summer (2015) she will sail Shetland – Fair Isle – Orkney, a two week trip which is bound to offer both sailing, nature and pub experiences. Next year you can choose to cross the North Sea or just stick to the coastal sailing with rather a lot of whisky on the program if you join The Single Malt Race, as that is divided into several stretches and you can join for one or more as you wish. I may mention that I’m rather tempted by the latter trip myself.
I’m almost done, the next post will be a bog standard tasting note, I promise. But first:
I grabbed the chance while on Orkney to do a little shopping in the Highland Park distillery shop. They had these magnificent little funnels that are gold when you do a bit of sample pouring (we already had one that I bought at Glen Ord back in the day, but I stocked up now). They also had these nice little notebooks for tasting notes. I’m a sucker for stationary. And glassware, naturally. Three sets are up for grabs.
All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning is to comment on this entry. Extra points rewarded for liking drikkelig.no on Facebook and for sharing on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.
I draw on the 22nd of January (and will of course post worldwide).
Disclaimer, just to make it clear: The trip was arranged and paid for by Highland Park (Edrington Group), except the return trip from Kirkwall which I paid for myself as mentioned. Writing about the trip or the whisky was never given as a condition. The prizes in the giveaway I paid for myself.
Friday evening there was a celebratory dinner with all the expedition members, both those just arrived on Celeste and those taking her back the morning. I retired as early as possible and collapsed into bed. I awoke at some point in the middle of the night with no idea where I was. The bed was swaying, but I was obviously not still on the boat. I met Martin at breakfast next morning and he said he’d found himself clinging to the wall in order to get to the toilet during the night, not trusting the floor to stay still, so I wasn’t the only one having problems with sea legs syndrome.
Now, what with all this talk of no sleep and longing for a stationary bed, you might think I’d have a leisurable morning? Bah. There was a whole island to discover (and anyway, with 8 hours of sleep I felt much, much better). The day before I’d asked Martin how far it was to Scapa, whether one could walk there? “No, it’s too far” was the answer. But we’d seen Scapa Bay from the Highland Park rooftops, so I didn’t trust that answer, and Google was on my side, so after a hearty breakfast I set out.
The weather was perfect for a ramble, and there was plenty to see along the way. It was also quite pleasurable to be able to really step out after spending the week on a boat that, no matter how big, didn’t really allow for walking much. It took me a little under an hour to reach Scapa Bay.
The easiest viewpoint from which to see Scapa, and take pictures, is from the bay, or even the water (though I had no boat, so I couldn’t verify that). Once there I obviously had to walk around to see what it looked like from the entrance side, but that had little to offer (as expected). I seem to have heard a rumour that there are plans afoot for a visitor centre at Scapa, so perhaps I will have more luck when I next make it to Orkney. (I can’t remember WHERE I heard the rumour, so don’t jump for joy just yet.)
Well, I had a plane to catch anyway, so I headed back to Kirkwall, choosing a different route, packed my bag and joined a couple of the others in a taxi to the airport.
In Aberdeen I found that there was a Kaffe Fasset exhibition on at the art museum, much joy. I stopped by Casc Bar and Brewdog (I will write specifically about them later), and on Sunday I flew back home. Thursday, almost a week after landfall at Kirkwall, I finally felt the fog of sleep deficiency lift. I think perhaps I should rethink this idea of becoming a sailor.
Some more pictures from my trek over to Scapa Bay:
[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”4″ gal_title=”Kirkwall til Scapa Bay og tilbake igjen”]
After our visit to Highland Park we were loaded on to a coach and transported to Yesnaby, which is on the west coast of Orkney Mainland, south of Skara Brae. The area is first and foremost known for its spectacular cliffs in old red sandstone, and this was what we had come to see. Even with the short time available the organisers obviously wanted us to get a taste of what Orkney has to offer, and other than the whisky, nature is Orkney’s main tourist attraction. I guess you could consider the PR successful, since several of us came to the conclusion that we’d need to come back to Orkney and do a bit of hiking, for example along the Yesnaby Coastal Path. Well, see for yourselves:
We were shuttled to the distillery by the Highland Park minibus. Once there we were first treated to a short film showcasing the history of the distillery (I hazard a guess that this is part of the standard tour as well). We were then split into two groups, Martin showing one around, Patricia the other.
The tour started in the maltings, naturally. 15000 tonnes of barley are malted at the distillery each year, which is around 20% of the barley they use overall. The barley variety is Concerto, and it is all “imported”, that is from mainland Scotland, which adds to the expenses, obviously.
When the malt is carried from the malt floor to the kiln it has around 40% water content. It is then dried with peat for 22 hours, and then hot air until done. While the malt has 35-50 ppm after kilning, there is only about 2 ppm in the newmake.
Highland Park have 12 washbacks, some Oregon Pine, some Douglas Fir and some Siberian Larch. The wash is left to ferment for a minimum of 56 hours, and the resulting alchohol strength is 7-8% ABV. The wash is fruity, sweet, nutty and smokey.
2 wash stills produce a low wine of 25% ABV, 60% of the volume is lost in the process. “Smells like mushroom soup in the stillhouse”, according to Patricia. We had to take her words for it, because we were not allowed into the stillhouse (they were working in there, you know), we had to content ourselves with standing at the door looking in.
Ah, well. They cut from head to heart at 75% and again at 63%, which gives around 4500 liters of newmake from 30,000 liters of wash.
To make up for not getting into the stillhouse, we got to climb onto the roof and admire the view.
We also got to see the inside of the kiln, the floor where the malt is dried. And we got a peek into the kiln they had lit for our benefit (so we could see the fire and practice adding peat). It was empty, but the smell was rather lovely.
Then it was time to climb back down to the ground to enter the hallowed halls of the warehouses.
The tour was naturally concluded with a tasting, led by Martin. He had selected two Viking-related bottlings; Leif Eriksson and Drakkar, followed by Dark Origins, the raison d’etre for the trip, and then we were treated to Highland Park 21 years old. Follow the links for tasting notes for the others, I’ve published notes for Dark Origins before, but on this occasion I noted sherry, burnt rubber, singed popcorn and orange peel on the nose, singed casks, dried fruits and vanilla on the palate. And I still like it.
Contented (and exhausted, we had only arrived the same morning after all) we ended our tour with a visit to the distillery shop.