If you are a fan of Scotch whisky at all then it wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by you that Highland Park have quite an affinity with their Viking heritage. And it’s effective. You can’t deny that it certainly makes their whiskies stand out from the crowd. Horned helmets on the bottle? That’s a Highland Park. Shields and long boats on the box? That’s a Highland Park. Nordic names on scotch whiskies? That’s a Highland Park. In 2013, the distillery launched a series of 6 travel retails exclusives, which continued this motif: the Warrior series. All 6 whiskies were named after Viking warriors, with each release exploring cask influence and increasing in price and (hopefully) quality.
The Warrior series consists of:
Here we look at the third of the series, Harald. According to their history, Harald Fairhair is reportedly the Norseman who founded the Orkney earldom, therefore rooting the Orcadian-Viking legacy. This whisky was matured in Sherry seasoned American oak and European oak casks, and has been bottled at 40% ABV.
There’s an instant swirl of caramel in the vapours followed by gentle wood smoke, orange peel, cut apples, malt and oak spice – all in that order. After a little time it develops quite a briny smell to it.
The smell and taste of oranges really kick this flavour profile off, with a very smooth and syrupy texture coating the mouth. That syrup has lots of sweet flavours to it too: think butterscotch, strawberries, vanilla, caramel (again), malt and then the oak really sets in towards the end, whilst the smoke seems to have taken a place on the back burner.
Most of the sweet flavours fade away fairly quickly here but there’s a surprise return rasp of the heathery peat smoke and a double dose of gingery and peppery oak spice.
If you had put this whisky in front of me whilst I was blindfolded I would have said that it was a Highland Park. Well, I hope I would have. It’s got all the hallmarks of their flagship 12yo albeit the smoke and spice elements seem to be more amplified than your usual HP. For me, that ticks a lot of boxes. One of the WU guys had previously picked up the Svein expression – the opener to the Warrior series – whilst in an airport and I remember that we described it as “Highland Park Lite”. Being totally honest, he was somewhat disappointed with it for the money spent. Going to the third in the series here though, there’s a lot more to offer. If I was looking for a negative, (and I mean, really looking for it) I would say that the Harald maybe suffers a little for sticking to the minimum 40% ABV content. Having recently experienced it in their newer releases, that extra 3-6% ABV can turn a good whisky into a great whisky and really make those tasting notes sing. Much like Harald Fairhair, the whisky’s influences seem to be establishing the foundations of something great, and you assume that his elder (and significantly pricier) Viking brethren continue to develop on those roots, whilst here they simply meld into a very easygoing sipper.