Highland Park Earl Magnus
Some history from the packaging:
Earl Magnus Erlendsson was born in 1075 when the Orkney Islands belonged to Norway. His Viking ancestors were terrifying warriors whose code of heroism, hatred and honour through vengeance framed their brutal lives. Into this world came Magnus, a man unlike any other Orkney Earl, spreading Christianity.
The pease-loving Magnus was unlike his cousin Haakon who remained imbued with the fighting spirit. Haakon was envious and ambitious, striving for self-glory. Their history is a classic tale of the struggle of good versus evil; the treachery and tragedy of the life of Earl Magnus accounts for his prominence in northern literature.
Magnus reigned jointly with his cousin Haakon from 1108 until 1115 when their followers fell out. Peace was negotiated and the Earls agreed to meet bringing only two ships each. The treacherous Haakon arrived with eight ships and captured his saintly cousin. The Norwegian chieftains decided that one of the Earls must die. After the refusal of his standard-bearer to undertake the task, Haakon ordered his cook to kill Magnus which he did by striking him on the head with an axe.
The life of Magnus is celebrated in two Icelandic Sagas and in the Orkneyinga Saga; he was buried where he died and legend has it the rocky area around the site immediately became a green field.
The fame of Magnus, canonized only 20 years after his death, has been maintained by the stunning cathedral built by his nephew in Kirkwall; St Magnus Cathedral was referred to as ‘incontestably the most glorious monument of the Norwegian dominion to be found in Scotland’ by J. Moodie Heddle, Orkney and Shetland, 1920.
Work began in 1137 and continued over several hundred years. In 1917 a secret cavity was found in one of the columns; in it was a box containing ancient bones including an axe-wounded skull. The influence of Earl Magnus spread far and wide; the forename became popular in Orkney, notably in the case of Magnus Eunson, a man forever associated with the founding of Highland Park distillery in 1798.
A little late, but please forgive the long-winded nature of this review. There is simply too much to compress.
My opportunity (and I hope it wasn’t my only opportunity) to try this whisky came at the Highland Park tasting here in Calgary a few months back. J Wheelock, our Ambassador for Highland Park, was kind enough to share this bottle from his personal collection. I like to think I am a generous person, but I gotta be honest here. I am not certain I would share this with my friends, let alone a room full of strangers. Mind you…over a glass a whisky…we all become friends, I think. Thanks, J.
The bottle itself is a tribute to days of yore. It replicates the hand blown flawed vessels of the 1800s. It leans, it is bubbled and it is perfectly imperfect. The bottle comes packaged in a hinged wooden frame and sports a suitably archaic-looking label. Stunning visually.
At 52.6% abv this whisky is hefty, but surprisingly mellow. It seems to have a maturity well beyond its fifteen years. It definitely doesn’t feel like a 52.6%’er either. The alcohol bite you’d expect is tamed by the richness and subtle complexity of all its individual notes. Damn…what a balance!
On the nose it is rich in butter, caramel and toffee. Warm and smoky. The smoke comes more towards the back with a hint of peat fire. There is a bit of spice (something cinnamon-like…maybe nutmeg), fruit, nut and hay. There is also a captivating and subtle hint of sesame.
The Earl Magnus is gorgeously rich splashed across the palate. So much so that I was hesitant to swallow and let it go. Thick and oily, the finish will linger for quite some time.
Though the standard 15 year old is probably the weakest link in an otherwise formidable chain (and that is saying something, as the 15 is still amazing), I truly believe Highland Park can do no wrong. This is simply another example. A masterpiece.
With a huge sigh, I must add that this is limited to 5,976 bottles. If you didn’t get one right away…you probably won’t.
- Reviewed by: Curt
- Photo: Curt