Highland Park week didn’t get off to the best start. The first release of the Cask Strength was a pretty raw alcohol bomb that was rescued by water but still didn’t make it out of middling territory. Wednesday’s 17 yo from Duncan Taylor was quite a bit better. Will that trajectory continue with this cask from The Daily Dram which is two years older still? As with the Duncan Taylor label, this one doesn’t specify cask type but I am hoping it was a bourbon cask. The label also doesn’t name the distillery—though we all know these Secret Orkneys—and all the other indie “Orkney” variants—are Highland Park. This is a nudge-nudge, wink-wink deal, of course. While there isn’t a lot of it around, there is some indie Scapa out there: Gordon & Macphail (who else?) have released a number of them in their Connoisseur’s Choice series in the last few years. And so in theory a single malt whisky identified only as being from Orkney could be from Scapa. If so, it doubtless would benefit the bottler mightily price-wise from all of us assuming it was a Highland Park—just as those who bottle undisclosed Islays benefit from the speculation that those might be Lagavulins or Ardbegs. Anyway, let’s get to it.
Secret Orkney 19, 2000 (52.9%; The Daily Dram; from a bottle split)
Nose: Sweet notes of heather at first and a bit of citrus (orange); mild prickly peat and sea air behind. The citrus begins to move towards lemon on the second sniff. Some of the ash and the wet stones from the palate pop out after a while. With a few drops of water the lemon turns preserved (very reminiscent of some lighly-spiced home-style North Indian lemon pickles).
Palate: Comes in with more citrus and then a fair hit of pepper as I swallow. Ashy smoke as it heads to the finish. Very nice oily texture and a perfect drinking strength. The smoke pops out earlier with every sip and melds nicely with the lemon. Alright, let’s add a drop or three of water. Ah yes, nothing new but everything gets integrated even more tightly.
Finish: Long: The smoke expands, picking up a fair bit of char. Wet stones too and the lemon emerges again. Cracked pepper at the very end. As on the palate with water at first but then it turns quite salty at the end.
Comments: This is a lovely Highland Park of the austere school and just what I look for in bourbon cask Highland Park—well, at least I’m pretty sure this is from a bourbon cask. The only thing missing is a touch of pine. A nice way to end a week that began with a relatively ho-hum official bottling.
Rating: 88 points.