Sunday, 19 February 2012

Hammer of the Gods - Highland Park Thor

Against the mountainous backdrop, behind the din of thunder and curtain of lightning, stands a figure. At first it is hard to discern whether it is man or beast, but a red beard grizzled with blood, and a stoic stature of a warrior mark this being human if in form only. The wind howls and the storm rages as this giant begins to swing a mighty warhammer about his ironclad head, laughing with a mania that strikes fear in even the most veteran of soldiers. He slowly advances, each footfall carefully planted, centre of gravity low. Then as the hammer reaches the apex of its whirl, it pauses in suspended animation as lightning forks around it, before it comes crashing towards you. Hammer-time. You have just met Thor.

Zeus, Poseidon, Jupiter, Mars, Anubis, Osiris are all deitic names that conjure up instant images of godly figures. The branding of these gods is so proficient that even after hundreds, if not thousands, of years after the demise of the societies that spawned them we all still know the myths that created them. For all of these gods and goddesses, none has such a violent and manic portrayal as the Viking god, Thor; the scourge of giants and mountains. This lusty berserker of a god with his faithful hammer, Mjolnir , is renowned in both myth and film as being something of a boozy mad man, the kind of guy who would bop a foe on the head before asking pertinent questions. Furthermore, his legend is so prevalent, that we even have a weekday named after him and now, a whisky...

What I like about Highland Park is that they are great at tying stories in with their whisky. The Earl Magnus series of the last few years was a romp through Orcadian history. The initial release was the Earl Magnus bottling that detailed the history of the Earl of the Orkney islands. Next came the Saint Magnus bottling that referenced Magnus' canonisation. Finally there was the Earl Haakon bottling (complete with black packaging) that told of Magnus' Viking cousin who murdered him for control of the Orkneys. All of this gives a whisky a bit more drama and character that I think makes drinking the damned stuff a lot more interesting. Highland Park's latest series is that of Valhalla. There will be four releases, each defined by a Viking god (I'm guessing Odin and Loki will turn up in the mix). I have to say, that expense aside, I am quite excited. The Thor bottle (blue, chipped-effect glass) is entombed in a wooden longship design case that lends a Nordic majesty to this rather fine dram. So let us raise our flagons of mead with a hearty roar and salute Thor - the god of war (Rhyme; thor-oughly intended).

Highland Park Thor
52.1% - 16 Years Old
Nose: Fruity red apples, orange, blackberry and a whiff of smoke. Then the is pepper and warm spice, notably nutmeg and cinnamon. With time green apple, fruit-loaf and orange zest become apparent.
Palate: Initially masses of smoke and pepper then red fruit and stewed citrus notes. With water the palate becomes sweeter particularly on the tip of the tongue. More smoke and brine arrives later with a sherbert quality to boot.
Finish: A beach bonfire, ashy, almost abrasive. Next there is boiled sweets and a bit more brine.
Overall: The Orcadian landscape in a glass. Thor has been well represented. For me the nose and palate were so different that it really intrigued me. Truly phenomenal stuff!

1 comment:

  1. It seems that distilleries like Highland Park are getting more and more creative with the background story to each new product launch. I find it a bit much even though I am a huge fan of this distillery.

    I think it would be quite refreshing for a distillery to simply launch a malt without trying to link it to some historical figure or incident. They could simply say we have a great master blender, great wood management plus a spirit to match and now want you, the public, to enjoy!