Highland Park Whisky
G is a man with a mission, which isn't to say that he's a latter-day Billy Graham. Mr. Tosh, a Scotsman with a nose for fine single malts, is the Global Brand Ambassador for Highland Park Whisky, which is produced by the northernmost whisky distillery in the world.
Wherever he travels in the 70 countries where Highland Park is sold, the 30-year-old Tosh brings the spirit of the Orkney Islands with him--or perhaps one should say "spirits," as in a selection of 12-, 18-, and 25-year-old whiskies whose character was formed by a land of "windswept moors, craggy outcrops, and ancient religious sites" where "wind, rain, lightening, freezing ice, crushing waves and hail provide the perfect setting for the home of one of the world’s best malt whiskies."
I crossed paths with Gerry Tosh in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he stopped over on his way to a publicity event in Alaska. Having passed up the chance to have Mr. Tosh visit my home office for a tasting by my desk (what would the neighbors have thought?), I was asked to sample a wee dram--or several--at a downtown restaurant. I accepted the invitation; until I could manage a visit to Orkney and the Highland Park distillery, it made sense to let the islands--or at least their spiritous essence--come to me.
Making the whiskies
When I arrived for lunch with Gerry Tosh and his PR representative, Amanda Hathaway of M. Booth & Associates, I found two bottles of Highland Park whisky next to my plate. For an instant I thought they might have been schwag, but not to worry: Mr. Tosh wasn't giving out so much as a swizzle stick, so my integrity as a fledgling liquor journalist wasn't compromised. Instead, I was treated to facts about Highland Park's single-malt whiskies:
Tasting the results
Having whetted his guests' appetites with talk of herbal smoke, honey flavors, and sherry sweetness, Gerry Tosh broke the seals on three bottles of whisky and passed them around the table for tasting. Here Mr. Tosh's off-the-cuff remarks and my own layman's comments:
Gerry Tosh: "A spirited 12-year-old, and a great 'session whisky.' I could drink it all day long."
My comment: A sweet and subtle whisky, and a good transition from blended to single-malt Scotch for anyone who's been put off by heavy, smoky Island whiskies.
Gerry Tosh: "A big step up in complexity from the 12-year-old. This is the bottle I'd keep in the back of the liquor cabinet to serve on special occasions."
My comment: This whisky has an even nicer flavor and a smoother texture than the 12-year-old, with less of an "alcohol vapor" sensation after swallowing. Gerry Tosh believes that 18-year-old whiskies represent the best all-around value for whisky aficionados, and Highland Park's 18-year-old is convincing proof.
Gerry Tosh: "This bottle is mine--it's the one I'd keep locked up."
My comment: There's less difference between the 25- and 18-year-olds than there is between the 18- and 12-year-olds, but this complex, subtle whisky is definitely special. It takes on an even more syrupy texture with a splash of water. (Gerry Tosh suggests adding water, which also helps to release flavor and aroma that might otherwise be masked by the alcohol in this high-proof Scotch.)
Highland Park also offers special bottlings from time to time. For example, at press time, there was a limited supply of Highland Park 1977 Vintage Reserve available at US $130 per bottle.
At another journalist's suggestion, Gerry Tosh ordered vanilla ice cream for dessert, and we all tried both the scoop-and-sip technique and the pour-the-Scotch-over-the-ice-cream approach. The jury's verdict: Highland Park and ice cream are a winning combination--and as a bonus, single-malt Scotch is lower in fat and calories than hot fudge.
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