Riddle me this: I have a Viking soul and Victorian history. I am old, new and 12 years old all at once. What am I?
You could forgive Highland Park for resting on its laurels. They are one of the most successful whisky brands around–their bottles have always stood out on bar and store shelves alike. With a long history dating to 1798 (the Victorian history) and tapping into the heritage of Orkney Island (the Viking soul) has been the equivalent of marketing gold. Who doesn’t like a Celtic swirl, a nod to the Vikings? The distillery’s stylised “h” is iconic. Not to mention their whiskies are pretty good, especially the 12 year old, which combines fine flavours with a wee peaty punch, all at a very decent price.
But if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards–isn’t that what they say? Highland Park must be listening because they have undergone a bit of a transformation of late. It started with a new Travel Retail Exclusive range, of which you can see our thoughts on here.
The distillery’s widely successful 12 year old has not escaped a reboot. From box to bottle it is reborn. Gone is the curved, flask shape packaging, along with matching bottle shape. A more traditional, squared box replaces it. But the real change is in the styling. Where there was empty black space, the box is adorned with a raised silver Celtic design–a deer amidst all the swirls and knots you could ever want. Like a “magic eye” picture, look long enough and the famous “h” appears. Splashed all over is text pertaining to “viking honour” and “reflections of ancestors”. The usual distillery marketing blurb on the back is accompanied by more design and the now ubiquitous social media icons.
The bottle itself is now tapered, with a wider bottom than top. If Celtic imagery is your thing, then this bottle is a sensual awakening: raised on its front is more knots and the famous ‘h’ once again. Very pleasing to the touch.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for a bit of “Viking soul” (who isn’t?). However, we have clearly ventured into some kind of Game-of-Thrones-meets-Viking-marketing-whisky mash-up. This rebranding is meant to grab your attention and pick it up, especially for the gift buyer. Well, it got my attention. Not so much for the Viking font and squiggles but because I had to know: is it the same on the inside? Let’s find out:
The nose is candied fruit and vanilla pods. A hint of peat is discernible of things to come…
Fruit cake bounces on the tongue with all its marzipan and raisins, wrapped up in honey. So far so good…
And then there it is, the Highland Park 12 coup de grâce: a deep (for a 12 year old) and smoky finish, with embers rising to keep you warm any day of the year.
Highland Park 12 was one of the whiskies that hooked me into this world. It’s accessible, with simple, discernible flavours that belie a deeper finish. It’s in my pantheon of whisky; one of my desert island drams. I love it for its versatility, its adaptability to any whisky drinking session. Who knows, maybe deep down I’m a sucker for Viking soul.
So, I’m happy to report that Highland Park 12, with its Viking soul, Victorian history and updated marketing may be new on the outside, but it’s business as usual on the inside.