The Dark & The Light from Highland Park Distillery

Two of the most recent bottlings from Highland Park are 17YO expressions named “The Dark” and “ The Light”. 


These are truly fine craft and exist only in limited bottlings…only about 28,000.  Time after time, I just don’t know how they do it.  I think both the distillery and marketing teams are really feeling supercharged about what they are doing with Whisky in Orkney, and how the world is listening and responding.


I’m honored to have my wee bottlings here, and show them both in the glass. I’ll admit I judge all other whiskies of the world against the incredibly high bar Highland Park has set.  Each have the heather peat I expect from my family’s old stomping grounds.  Both are bottled at 52.9% ABV. After this, the differences start to kick in.  The Dark is a darker naturally colored whisky. It’s matured in 100% first fill seasoned Sherry casks. Highland Park does not artificially color their whisky like other top labels.  To me, this one is a bit spicy, but rich.  I get dried fruit, fruitcake….wonderful smoke.  Just wonderful rich flavor I expect in a truly rare bottling.  An easily addicting dram, and regrettably a fine bottle that would empty far too quickly at my house.


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For The Light, they use a different cask which is a 100% refill American Oak.  Apart from sweet and smoke on the nose, I get some spice along with another note I expect out of American Oak which is pineapple.  Being American Oak this is a so much lighter colored whisky.  This is a superb dram, folks.  Far above what I can afford in a bottle.  These whiskies are so fine, I can imagine how hard it must be for owners to decide whether to share such beauty and craft or keep it away for themselves.


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For me, I have the most fun sharing my Highland Park whiskies with others.  I like observing others as the nose and taste.  I like seeing the look in their eyes.  I also like to point out keeping the empty glass handy to come back nose a while after the glass is empty.  That look of reflection we all get at the fine aromas lingering in the glass…..



Highland Park at Full Volume!

My dad and his brother are both guitar players.  So am I.  It runs in the family.

While my first taste of whisky as a lad was with my grandfather and his moonshine, I do remember the occasions of my uncle coming to visit and he and my dad enjoying a dram.  My being a 9 year old kid helped etch the taste of their whisky into permanent memory.


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When I saw Highland Park making their “Full Volume” whisky with the unmistakable “Fender” styled logo, I knew this was something that would go over well with my palate.  The three of us play Fenders using their amplifiers.  Fender tube amps smell like no other.  Now, I’m normally a European Sherry oak cask kinda guy, but this is a fine dram.  It pours a light straw color, and has the nosing you would expect form Highland Park.  Heather peat, and the American Bourbon oak cask comes through here. It has a nice finish, and the sweet smoky smell in your empty glass begs your next dram.

Now if I can just get my dad and uncle to take up piobareachd with me….  Alas…

Until then we can all find comfort in Full Volume.  Are you ready to rock?

Skål to Wolfburn Distillery!

While looking through some photos shared on our Clan Sinclair page recently, there was a photo from an inn that had a bottle of Wolfburn whisky.  The bottle read “Wolfburn Distillery, Thurso, Caithness, Scotland”.  Could there really be another “family” whisky I’ve never heard about? 


Being in the U.S., it’s understandable that we don’t have access to every bottle produced in Scotland.  Not even close. I never imagined I could find a bottle all the way here in Texas. To my surprise, I started finding bottles around, and asked my friend Stuart who was raised in Thurso if he’d heard of the distillery.  He hadn’t.  And for fairly good reason.


Wolfburn Distillery was originally in Thurso, and was the Northern-most distillery on the Scottish Mainland in 1821.  They were only in successful business for a few decades.  Afterward the distillery was closed and fell into ruin.  In 2013 they lit the fires again under the direction of Mr. Shane Fraser.  Today you’ll find his signature on each bottle.

Like a number of guys who like great whisky, and cling to the idea of only concerning themselves with age statements, I found myself intrigued by the idea that a 3 YO dram could garner so much notice.  “Could this stuff really be this good?”.  Yep.  Wow.  I stand corrected.

There’s plenty of science already posted on liquid volume versus surface area in cask aging towards maturity so I’ll leave those to you to find.

What Wolfburn offers in each bottle is a real taste of Scotland without modern artifice.  You’ll find no caramel coloring and none of their three bottlings I have seen offered here are chill filtered.  That means none of the goodness is stripped away in processing before bottling.

Under a nicely done thick wooden cap and cork, you’ll find a real taste of the north.  My bottle of Morven, which is lightly peated, pours a very pale straw color.  With a turn of the glass, legs hang long then fat tears slide down the glass.  Upon nosing, I get sweet smoke.  Pardon my making comparison, but not the kind of medicinal smoke you get from, say….Laphroaig (which I cannae drink).  This smoke is a bit unique.  To me it’s a combination of what I like in an Islay whisky like Lagavulin, or the Highland/ Islands whisky from Highland Park, just not near as intense.

Wolfburn's smoke is its own.

I’d wager Morven area peat is more akin to Orkney peat having more Heather flowers in it.  The smoke is so nice…..  After the smoke, you’ll get sweeter honey and vanilla notes plus oakiness from the casks.

Very smooth on the tongue!  Dried fruits, malty, smoky, a tad bit sweet but with a dry finish.  The dry finish is interesting to me too… it begs the next sip.  The smoke lasts.  So nice.

I’ll admit a guilty pleasure with whisky.  I’m fond of not rinsing glasses immediately after finishing.  I like to go back 30 minutes or so later to nose the glass again, enjoying and sharing what aromas are left with the angels.


One look at both of my parents family trees and you’ll see 99% of every Highland and Scottish clan and family represented there, and there are plenty of distilleries left on old clan lands.  I'm really chuffed this one has reopened!  Hopefully the angels are sharing their bit with my ancestors long since past.  Do yourself a favor and buy a bottle to share with your friends.  You’ll be as addicted to the next sip as I am.


Gleðilegt nýtt ár og mjöður

My mead game is getting a little stronger year after year thanks to Griffin Meadery.  I just put on my new year‘s batch this past Sunday.  Mr. Bruce Leslie, head meadmaker at Griffin, said my organic blueberry mead I made with him last spring was outstanding.  I was honored to have the compliment!


What is mead you may ask?  From the interwebs:


“Mead represents the fastest growing segment of the alcohol industry, according to Michael Fairbrother, president of the American Mead Makers Association and owner of Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry, N.H.Jul 1, 2016” 


I won’t go into how mead is the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man, and the drink of royals, warriors, poets, lovers and whole pantheons of pagan gods since anyone can find that info pretty easily.  Mr Fairbrother isn’t the only one saying it.  The whole alcohol industry is saying it.  One thing I am most hopeful for is that mead “brewing” helps bring back stronger bee colonies.  Private bee keeping is one of my next ventures….I’m just not there yet.



My current batch is my second in the hopped mead series, and uses Bramling Cross hops and juniper berries.  I’m using American “clover” and Texas honeys in this batch along with some super raw with propolis. My last hopped mead was very nice and was drunk fairly quickly, so I wanted to tweak it a bit and give it another go.


Initial gravity on this batch was 1.10 (3.2lbs honey/ gal. water; Lalvin 71-B yeast) with a sweet mead target of 1.002 SG (terminal 13% ABV). If everything goes well I might have a nice session mead at 12% in 5 weeks.  Wednesday night I’ll add just a touch of yeast nutrient, then rack a few times to keep the ambrosia off the lees.  Pics and vid below are yeast pitching cycle and the airlock popping after about 24 hours.


Where most of the meads I have made have needed to age out over 9 months or so to mature, these hopped styles have been really vibrant at 5+ weeks….. so my experimentation continues.  Patience is an ever important virtue.


Mine wanes on mead.



Griffin Meadery April 2017

You’re never too old to learn. Learning anything of real value, rather, is a good hobby to have.  Mead is a funny thing.  Like any real art, it takes a lifetime to master.  It’s never a quick thing to make and you have a to wait a while to get your own results.  By “while” I mean months or even over a year on a single batch/bottling.


Even when pleased, any good craftsman knows full well there’s room for improvement and learning.


I just started this journey in craft a little over 2 years ago.  Counting this weekend, I’m up to batch #10 having made this one to the right in an official professional mead class. My third batch of about 6 gallons is ready to bottle now, and the blueberry orange blossom honey mead I made this weekend will be ready in around 5 months.  Looking forward to tasting of course, but it’s the process and education I am getting in between that is the real reward.


Should you have the time, a visit to Griffin Meadery in Willis just north of Conroe Texas is worth your time.  I was able to meet the family and staff before class this weekend for a mead making 101 class.  Nine batches in and I really found so much to learn.  Mr. Bruce Leslie, the owner mead maker, has probably forgotten more about mead making and home brewing than I will likely ever learn or put to use.


Whatever level you’re at, this man’s class is worth your time.  And when you have that time, please reward yourself with a class and a mead tasting.  It’ll open your mind.






Mr. Bruce Leslie, me, and Mr. Jeff Hamby

Mr. Bruce Leslie, me, and Mr. Jeff Hamby

Gleðilegt nýtt ár!

Happy new year, y'allir.....!

.....As Texas Icelanders say.  Looking forward to a new year, very thankful here, and hoping yours is off to a good start.  Plenty of cooking projects coming this year.  The Icelandic month of Þorri (Thorri) is on right now, so I am trying to plan for a Þorrablot dinner this month or next.

I currently have a couple of batches of mead/ mjöður on right now.  One is a Texas wildflower and the other is an organic berry.  Both sweet, and are coming along nicely.  The Texas wildflower is a really nice darker color and goes great with meals, cheese plate, or alone.

I should have pics of a glass soon when I bottle.

Until then, my family and I are looking forward in the new year.  More to come...

Our family whisky

When I was 18, I was stationed at Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado for training.  If you were under age and wanted to consume alcohol at the time, you’d better find someone’s apartment off base and you’d better make sure you were sober before you came back on.  Growing up in Germany with my parents afforded me the ability to have beer and wine in a totally legal fashion…well under 21.  As a result I’m still puzzled by the American temperance movement.


When I did go off base, I wanted to experience single malt Scottish Whisky.  On an airman’s salary you took what you could get, and it wasn’t until I went back to Germany at 19 on assignment that I was able to both find and afford a quality dram.  I’ve been back in The States primarily for 20 years now, and since then I’ve been able to taste many labels of whiskies.  And Scotches.  Obviously there is a difference.


Research has finally led me to a place I have longed to go. Orkney.


Highland Park whiskies have smoke like no other peat, and sweet like no other sweet.  I know distillers are all passionate about their product, and have clever things to say about why they do what they do for their expressions.  Perhaps I am swayed by my paternal and maternal forefathers all being Vikings on Orkney in centuries past, but damned if Highland Park doesn’t make the finest whisky.

Scarth, Skarð, Skarðaborg, Scharbor, Skerrabra, Skara Brae…my dad's family was on Orkney for a long time a very long time ago.  Mom’s was for certain from another family. That said, I have declared Highland Park as our family’s official whisky.  Bold of me, don't you think?

Someday I’ll go there and thank the distillers myself. Perhaps even sit at my grandfather Thorfinn Skullsplitter’s (Hausakljúfr) grave and share one with him.

Until then, please pick up a bottle for yourself.  There are plenty of fine reviews out there to read on one to your liking.

Find one and let me know what you think.