In April 2019, Highland Park have created a new special release single malt whisky in collaboration with Danish tattoo artist Colin Dale, which has been unleashed into the world as the 16yo Twisted Tattoo. The story behind the whisky again looks to the Orcadians’ Viking heritage alongside our current trends to brand ourselves as both individuals and part of our respective “tribe”. There’s a nice little write up about the Skin & bone tattooist and the whisky available here. For the first time in its history, HP have looked to use whisky matured within Spanish Rioja casks and have married this with whisky matured in (contrary to their sherry-led norm) bourbon casks to create this 16 year old expression. In fact, an exact combination of 153 Rioja matured whisky casks has been blended with 70 bourbon matured HP whisky casks to create this whisky designed to “get under your skin”. The 16yo has been married and bottled at 46.7% ABV and can be found for ca. £80 per 70cl bottle (in the UK) whilst you can get it.
The first thing to hit you here is a nice, drying smell of oak. Despite the lack of sherry influence, the Rioja casks seem to be delivering a similar job: delivering a whole raft of oaky and red fruity flavours, but with more of a thinner, dry wine sensation (which makes sense). There’s some soft vanilla sweetness behind it too. In fact, with time, that vanilla develops into a real icing sugar sweetness. There are little elements of apple and green grapes to it too.
A very soft, oily texture from the off. The fruity flavours start to come out, with soft strawberry notes at first and then some sweet peach and nectarine flavours popping out too. The vanilla and oak are certainly played down on the palette but not forgotten about. It might be an odd tasting note, and bear with me here, but all of these little flavours combined remind me of a summery yoghurt and fruit corner taste.
The oak influence takes hold here again, with the seasoned oak flavour itself dominating and now introducing a delicious touch of spice as the liquid coats the throat. Just as the flavours from the palette all seem to tail off it leaves only a tiny little flurry of that signature HP heathery peat smoke.
You’ve got to give credit to HP for trying to challenge the norm, though I do worry that the sheer number of new expressions recently could easily prevent you from being able to buy each of them – this new release comes out within the same month as two new limited releases in collaboration with David Coulthard – the Saltire Editions 1 & 2 – for example. This makes us especially appreciative to the good folk at HP for the opportunity to taste this particular expression. On the face of it, what we have here is a light and bright dram, both in terms of colour and power. Seemingly, as a follow up to the 2017 High Volume special release (see our notes here), it does bring a very similar selling point to the table as the High Volume did, in that it shows a different, bourbon-led side to HP, whose tradition lies with solid sherry cask influence. This time its 16 years old though, rather than 18 years old, and has the Rioja cask influence as the “twist” to its name. Being a light(er) whisky, it doesn’t really challenge the palette with fierce intensity nor does it scream flavours that its Scandinavian and distinctly heavy-metal-looking influences denote. In fact, it is one of the lightest HPs that I’ve ever had. Overall, it seems very similar to the High Volume (which I tried side-by-side with the Twisted Tattoo and is 100% bourbon led and delivers a distinctly more vanilla and peated fervour) – or even the recent HP 10 year old. Given the proportions of the Rioja matured casks to bourbon casks, I was expecting more of a red fruity smack to the chops, but the bourbon influence seems to dominate the flavours overall with the Rioja adding its own flourishes to the experience, rather than the other way around. I am not coming into this blind though, as I do love the Full Volume as a distinctly different HP, and as a token of my visit to the distillery. If you do try this whisky blind though, and forget the HP traditions, this is a ground-breaker for HP with the Rioja influence and it is something different again from HP. Putting the preconceptions aside, this whisky does make for an enjoyable, and more summery dram, courtesy of those softer, sweeter fruity flavours and it does feel like an appropriate tipple for these progressively longer nights as we look forward to another set of summer days. The final whisper of heathery peat smoke is a gentle reminder that this is a Highland Park whisky after all, and pays a little bit of fan service to an otherwise enjoyable, non-traditional offering.
NB: As a side note, I would love to try the Rioja-matured HP on its own. I bet that delivers up more of an intensity that HP is traditionally known for, and would make for a great comparator against their tradition sherry cask matured whiskies.
Sample disclosure: This sample was received directly from Highland Park as part of a promotion of the new Twisted Tattoo release. All comments in this post are drafted as honest, fair and independent of the new whisky.