Wednesday 4 September 2019

Lunch with a Master Whisky Maker: Contrasting Highland Park's "Viking Legend" Trilogy

Hot on the heels of the Highland Park Valfather launch festivities, a small group of media were invited to lunch at Taipei's Hotel Proverbs (home to the excellent East End bar) the following day, to re-visit Valfather in a more intimate setting, hear more about the whisky from Master Whisky Maker Gordon Motion and Designer Jim Lyngvild, and compare and contrast the entire "Viking Legend" trilogy.

..that we could do so over a delicious 5 course lunch was the icing on the cake.

Following a private interview with Gordon and Jim, we took our seats and started proceedings, as we so often do at these lunches, with a 12yo Highland Park. A reliable, solid whisky which always makes for a nice "aperitif dram" at a lunch like this.

Gordon (who joined Edrington in 1998 and worked throughout the portfolio, covering The Macallan, The Famous Grouse and Glenturret before moving onto Highland Park) talked us through the evolution of the series, explaining the close collaboration between he and Jim that punctuated all three releases (summary: they worked together very closely - this wasn't just a marketing exercise), the approach to cask selection (Valfather for example had to be a "lighter, ethereal" whisky reminiscent of heaven) and then explained how Valfather was also the distillery's peatiest release to date. 

Whilst that might seem like a contradiction to some, Gordon explained the differences between Orkney peat (lighter, earthier, heather notes) as compared with Islay peat (smokier, medicinal, maritime notes) and why even though this is the "peatiest Highland Park" to date, it's not going to be akin to an Islay peatbomb.

Diving into lunch, we started with Lettuce salad with Ricotta cheese, Serrano and truffle dressing, followed by a starter of Foie Gras, Mushroom and Fennel, Duck Jus and Peanut Powder. This wasn't a pairing lunch per se, so there were no rules around the whiskies and we were free to explore the Viking Legend trilogy at our own pace.

It'd been a "long time between drinks" so to speak, given I'd first tasted Valkyrie in October 2017, and Valknut in December 2018, so it was great to have them all lined up side by side. I always like it when I revisit a dram a months or years later, and find similar notes as I did originally, and that was the case here, with the stronger sherry notes of the Valkyrie still shining through, the nuttiness of the Valknut again being evident, and each whisky becoming progressively smokier than the last.

Jim Lyngvild (the Danish designer responsible for the box and bottle designs for the Viking Legends trilogy) took the stage next, and gave us an appreciation of Orkney's Viking history (himself having literally descended from Orkney vikings, 36 generations earlier). Whilst Highland Park has at times been criticised for pushing the "Viking story" a little too heavily, and for sure there have been a lot of viking-related releases, Jim emphasised that it's at least a story that has history and meaning for Orkney, and is therefore real and true. It's certainly a lot more than we can say for some of the marketing-driven stories we read from time to time...

Mains were next - and how can you beat a great piece of steak (USDA Prime Grain-fed Top Cap), cooked to perfection with a solid dram? Whilst this wasn't a pairing lunch, for me this was a great match with Valkyrie, with the sherry notes mixing brilliantly with the rare meat.

A similarly good pairing was found in the final course - Flan, Dulce de Leche and Candied Peanut which I found went very well with the lighter Valfather and its notes of apple and toffee.

Dessert was actually served with a second dram too - a mystery Highland Park which we could tell had some age on it, but couldn't quite guess how old or which release it was. Turns out there's a good reason for that - it was a brand new, as-yet unreleased Highland Park 21yo, to be released in Asia shortly. Whilst we'll save the detailed notes for another post, it was a subtle and elegant HP, and well-deserving of a place in the core range.

With drams finished and farewells said, it was time to bring to a close an immensely enjoyable two days in Taipei. With the Viking Legends trilogy now officially completed, we look forward to what Highland Park has in store for us next.

Martin. attended as a guest of Edrington, who provided flights and accommodation in Taipei. As always, a big thanks must go to the Edrington HK team, along with the Taipei and Singapore teams for their hospitality throughout the trip. 

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