Sherry cask

Review: Highland Park The Dark Single Malt Whisky

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The first of two themed special edition releases from Highland Park, The Dark is a 17-year-old single malt whisky that matured exclusively in European oak sherry-seasoned butts.  The 28,000 bottle release is bottled at a hearty 52.9% ABV and can be found for around $250.

The Dark takes inspiration from the winter solstice on Orkney.  Highland Park’s follow-up release, The Light, focuses on the contrasting spring season.  The jet black bespoke bottle is a departure from Highland Park’s recent bottle rebranding.  The tall bottle features an embossed dragon on the front and comes in a black oak box.  Highland Park’s Viking and Nordic heritage is certainly on display here.

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Highland Park is generally known for its use of American and European oak sherry casks.  Recent releases saw the distillery play with different casks for their maturation, including bourbon and port.  As I mentioned earlier, The Dark uses only European Sherry-seasoned oak casks, which deliver more spice notes compared to American sherry oak casks.

I recently hosted Highland Park Global Brand Ambassador Martin Markvardsen on my Youtube channel for a Highland Park whisky tasting, which included Magnus, Valkyrie, Full Volume, Highland Park 18-year-old, and The Dark.  It was interesting to compare and contrast The Dark and the 17-year-old Full Volume, which was matured exclusively in first fill ex-bourbon casks.  Both feature the same distillate and are the same age, leaving the cask types as the only variable (painting in broad strokes here).  Full Volume’s bourbon cask maturation really showcases those bourbon notes of vanilla and tropical fruit, where The Dark leans in the dried fruit and smoky direction.  You can see that video below:

I don’t generally mention color in my reviews unless the whisky is all natural and free of caramel coloring.  That’s the case with Highland Park.  They don’t add any coloring to their whiskies.  The Dark is a beautiful copper color.  Those sherry casks contribute that slight red tinge.  A slow swirl around reveals legs that stick around for days.

The nose is bold but rounded, with hints of fruit cake, spice, heather and an Oloroso sherry nuttiness.  A slight tinge of smoked oak sits in the background.  On the palate, honey and dried fruit kick things off.  Cinnamon and cardamon develop soon afterwards, followed by vanilla pod and cognac-soaked fruitcake.  That wonderful Orkney island heathery peat comes in on the back palate, along with charred old oak and  a touch of smoke.  The fruity and slightly smoky finish lasts for days.  Put the water away.  The Dark is best enjoyed neat.

Highland Park is one of my favorite distilleries.  I’ve found myself thoroughly enjoying every one of their releases.  Not one has disappointed me, and I obviously enjoy some Highland Park whiskies more than others.  This one sits near the top of that list, along with their 18-year-old, 25-year-old and Odin releases.  The Dark is a perfect winter whisky, nicely balancing those dark, heavy dried fruit notes with spice and smoke.  I can’t wait to compare this to the upcoming The Light bottling.  By the way, the finish is still around two hours after tasting.  Time for another glass… 9/10

highlandparkwhisky.com

Thanks to Highland Park for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Minor Case Rye Whiskey Review

New from Limestone Branch Distillery is Minor Case Rye, a sherry cask-finished straight rye whiskey.  Though this is the first rye whiskey release from the modern iteration of the distillery, rye isn’t new to distillery president and distiller Stephen Beam’s family.

“My grandfather, Minor Case Beam, made rye whiskey in his day, before prohibition, which was his specialty. This rye whiskey is inspired by him and a tribute to his distilling legacy,” said Beam.  

Readers of this blog know I’m not a fan of really young rye whiskies.  This 90 proof whiskey is two years old – young.  The fact that it is sourced whiskey is perfectly fine.  But what sets this apart is taking that young sourced whiskey and finishing it in sherry casks.  Needless to say I’m curious to try.

The nose is vibrant, spicy and fruity.  Hints of caramel, dried fruits, rye spice and herbs jump out of the glass.  Taste wise, we’re talking light brown sugar, dried fruits, rye spice and a touch of oak.  The sweet fruity notes from the sherry casks round out the sharp rye notes.  The finish is long with spiced caramel, nuts and mint.

I am pleasantly surprised.  Both the rye and sherry characteristics work really well with each other.  It’s not too sweet or too spicy.  Very nicely done!  Not that it affects the score, but what an absolutely beautiful bottle that features the original logo that Minor Case Beam used on his labels.  8/10

Thanks to Limestone Banch Distillery for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 Announced

 

Photo courtesy of Beam-Suntory.

Photo courtesy of Beam-Suntory.

Jim Murray’s 2014 World Whisky of the Year was The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013.  Sadly, that expression was not released in the United States, and lots of Yamazaki fans were left empty handed.   Chin up, folks.  The 2016 edition of the Yamazaki Sherry Cask comes to the U.S. market, among others.  Only about 5,000 bottles are being released worldwide.  I’m not being told how many of those bottles are making it here, but I can bet it won’t be a lot.  Read on for the full press release.

Deerfield, IL (January 12, 2016) – It may have come as a surprise that Suntory Whisky Yamazaki® Sherry Cask 2013 was named “World Whisky of the Year” in Jim Murray’s 2015 Whisky Bible. However, sherry cask whisky has been a constant staple of the Suntory Whisky portfolio since 1924, a year after the distillery began construction. Shinjiro Torii, the founding father of Japanese whisky first started making his whiskies by leveraging sherry casks imported from the wine of southern Spain needed to blend his famous Akadama Sweet Wine. Hence the sherry cask was the first cask used by Suntory Whisky and plays an important role in the origin of Japanese whisky.

The House of Suntory Whisky is proud to introduce Yamazaki® Sherry Cask 2016 (48% ABV), available as of February 1, 2016. 

The Sherry Cask – A Meticulous Selection

Over its 92-year history, Suntory Whisky has managed numerous sherry casks and sherry malts. Suntory’s Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo makes a point of visiting the Northern region of Spain himself. He does this to ensure that his selection of Spanish oak be sent to the “bodegas” (sherry wineries) to be made into the sherry casks used to store their Oloroso Sherry. Fukuyo carefully oversees this entire process, from the selection of the casks, to the charring and the aging of the sherry. After three years of aging, the sherry casks are sent back to Suntory’s Yamazaki distillery, ready to receive what becomes the distinguished Yamazaki Sherry Cask Whisky.

The Sherry Cask – The Challenge

Sherry casks are both revered and feared for their strong character, as they can easily overpower a whisky’s flavor. The Yamazaki malts can also be affected by this sherry/Spanish oak cask flavor. However, in the case of the Yamazaki Sherry Cask, Suntory’s Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo selects only those casks in which the delicate balance of chemistry between the Yamazaki malt and sherry cask can be achieved, thereby enhancing Yamazaki’s characteristically rich and multifaceted flavor. The meticulous selection process of the Spanish oak, the management of the sherry casks, and the overall aging process ensure the final award winning quality of this liquid.

The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016:

A Fine Blend of Maturity and Delicateness

Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo is often compared to an artist. His blends are deliberate designs meticulously chosen from more than 100 malt whiskies. Each taste is a color and aroma, specifically curated for the occasion. Fukuyo is clear that he did not blend the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 for the novice. The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 is created for the “Suntory Whisky Lover”—a lover of complex, refined and subtle tastes. Like the rest of the Yamazaki Cask Collection (Mizunara, Bourbon Barrel, and Puncheon), the sherry cask is a critical component that differentiates and characterizes the award winning Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky.

The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 – The Journey

Fukuyo has designed a journey in this whisky. The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 is undeniably where Spain meets Japan in the form of a whisky. To fully enjoy this journey, Fukuyo recommends the whisky first be served neat to showcase its nose. On its own, there is a clear and fresh top note. A raisin-like, deep sweetness that is both elegant and rich. You immediately taste the complexity of this liquid and the fine balance of maturity and delicateness. Served on the rocks, the flavor opens as you begin to taste the Delaware grape-like sweetness and its slightly bitter acidity. When cut with water, there is a soft sweetness that blossoms like the first apples of the harvest.

Tasting Notes

The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 leverages the same lot of whiskies as was used for the Yamazaki Sherry cask 2013 for its base. These whiskies have matured for two more years. To this blend, Fukuoy adds various rare sherry cask single malt whiskies, some of which are more than 25 years old, creating a whisky that has a deep richness, mellowness and complexity of flavors.

Color:   Dark brown, a rich and decadent natural “Sherry” color

Nose:    Raisin, sun-dried tomato, clove, cocoa

Taste:    Deep, rich, sweet and sour, chocolate with hazelnuts

Finish:  Long, bittersweet, sour

 Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016, a single malt whisky, is presented at 48% alcohol by volume (96 proof) and will be available in market as of February 1, 2016. The suggested retail price is $300.00. Five thousand bottles of Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 have been produced globally.