Back in the dark old days of actually having physical copies of music (vinyl, tapes, CD’s and the like), a special edition that demanded attention would occasionally come along. Adam and Joe, back when they were on Channel 4, had a whole sketch on limited edition packaging for CD’s and the benefits and problems that were associated. Novelty packaging often meant instackability causing ugly shelves and difficulty in organising your music. More recently, I stupidly bought a limited edition copy of Transformers 2 (there are enough problems with that sentence that I never want to have to say it again), which came in a transforming Bumblebee sleeve. I thought it was unusual, quirky, interesting. Until I got it home and realised that I hated it. It never stood up on its own, it was both taller and wider than a standard disc case so wouldn’t fit in my shelves; eventually it irked me so much that I threw it out. Not all packaging is this bad but it can mar a good product.
Whisky packaging was a large part of my childhood – the rectangular tins of Glenlivet and Glenmorangie were storing my toys and pencils years before I would learn that what had been in the cases before I received them was infinitely more interesting. Still now, I am always pleased when a subtle tube, case or package comes with the whisky; it helps the presentation, it sells it beautifully, it looks great on my shelf. The Glenrothes corrugated cardboard packaging is a great example of this, the wooden box for the Glengoyne Port Finish or even just the minimalist Balvenie tubes. Then there are the more extreme packaging ideas – Johnnie Walker’s Diamond Jubilee, utilising the skills of seven Royal Warrant holders in the manufacturing of what can only be described as a piece of furniture with a bottle of whisky inside, or the Highland Park 50 Year Old packaging, the bottle and case designed and handmade by Maeve Gillie, International Jewellery Maker.
And here we have it: Highland Park appears to have won more awards over the years than can be easily counted: in 2011, it won 13 different medals, awards and accolades in major spirit competitions and doubtless many more in minor ones. They are certainly held in very high esteem by Ian Buxton in his book “101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die” and Jim Murray commends them thoroughly. Their packaging is often subtle but always effective and they have a clearly defined identity within their bottle shape. Their latest release is expected to be as good as all before it: Thor, part one of four in the Valhalla series.
Thor is packaged in a large display stand, fashioned after (presumably) the bulkhead of a viking longboat. It’s very impressive, it’s very large, and I wasn’t entirely sure how it would ever fit on my shelves. It also is not the most subtle or beautiful of cases, especially when compared to other presentations within the Highland Park range, but it is well made, and the magnetic fastening system is very reminiscent of the Sagaform accessories. The bottle, on the other hand, is stunning – a rougher cast of the standard bottle, full of imperfections and a green hue, very much an “ancient” bottle style. Until I got my hands on a bottle, I had thought I would just do without the stand. Since it’s been in the house though, I’ve become quite attached!
When it comes to the whisky, the important stuff within all the packaging, it is superb. Quite simply, it really is excellent. A syrupy, spiced, sweet, succulent smoky seduction of a sup. Perhaps it was because I was slightly under the weather when I first tasted it, but I felt imbued with the strength of Thor; there was a thickness to it, a velvety mouthfeel that was quite unlike anything else I’ve had.
Colour: Pale amber, erring on the yellow end of the scale.
Nose: Sun-drenched warm wood, leather, antiques shops (the nice ones, that you know will charge serious amounts, not the slightly scary ones that feel dead and smell funny…) orange, butterscotch, vanilla, a little very fresh smoke.
Body: Big wave of syrup hits immediately – amazing strength of body.
Palate: Intense pepper and spices, nutmeg, cinnamon, developing further golden syrup sweetness, blood oranges, tobacco, flavoured pipe smoke.
Finish: Long and lingering – syrupy sweetness intermingled with bonfire smoke, no sickly saccharine, vanilla notes and ginger.
The first blog I read on this talked about two types of whisky buyers – those who drink it, and those who display it. I think this will appeal to both. The case really is genuinely impressive, but the liquid inside is where the quality really lies!