“Nine worlds I know, nine abodes of the glorious World Tree, intertwined with life below . . . .”
So begins the Prophecy of “Volva,” a seer who narrates the best known ancient saga from Iceland. Of the nine worlds, none captures one’s imagination quite as vividly as Niflheim, the mythical place that inspired the new Highland Park Ice Edition whisky.
The name literally means “Place of Fog.” It is described as a landscape of ice, wrapped in darkness, with a brooding life-force that seeks to consume the light and joy of brighter worlds.
As Highland Park’s booklet that accompanies the Ice Edition states, Jotuns, also known as Ice Giants, live in this dark land. Their superhuman powers were greatly feared among Norse peoples. Modern anthropologists have equated these giants with a race of beings known as “The Sasquatch.”
Such is the myth (or perhaps the reality) of hair-covered monsters rumored to magically come and go from our earthly world, preferring moonless nights to tread along the hinterlands of civilization. Tales from Alaska to Norway to Siberia describe how these hulking manlike beasts do indeed look like ice giants when their coats of hair are matted with ice and snow. My latest novel, Kultus, tells a mesmerizing tale about human contact with just such a creature.
Packaging & Appearance
The God, Loki, is also an Ice Giant in Scandinavian mythology. In my Portland home, I have made a shrine of sorts dedicated to the whisky from Highland Park that bears his name. No, I don’t worship Loki! But I love the timeless packaging of the whisky almost as much as I love the packaging of Ice Edition.
Both bottles come with an oak case bound by a magnet and a handsome brass hinge. The craftsmanship of this finished oak case is not to be underestimated, nor is the design of the blue bottle itself, which seems to be hewn from a block of ice, offering irregular angles and a thick base that extends upward along the sides of the bottle. Even the heavy oaken cork-stop bears a carved insignia of its namesake.
All of this packaging highlights the golden whisky inside to dramatic effect, particularly when lit from behind, producing a greenish hue as it shines through the icy blue bottle. It’s no secret that the offering will become a collector’s item bound to fetch higher and higher prices in auction. Plus, the fact that the whisky is seventeen years old can only enhance its commercial appeal.
The Spirited Element
Like the majority of Highland Park offerings, Ice Edition begins at forty-five parts per million of peat smoke. This is mixed with unpeated malt from Simpsons, a well-respected maltster at Berwick-Upon-Tweed, which is the northernmost town in England. After the mixing is done, presto!, Highland Park’s phenols go down to somewhere between twelve-to-fifteen PPM.
As for its aromatic peat, that comes from Hobbister Moor on the Island of Orkney. Peat from the high north of Scotland tends to burn light and hot. The resulting phenols age quite well in bourbon casks. When sampling whiskies from Highland Park, one notices they offer a delicate yet compelling smokiness that becomes nutty in the glass with a breath of fresh air.
Whisps of smoke anchor the basic composition of Ice Edition. A smoky phantom haunts the spirit as sweeter notes from the barley and the ex-bourbon casks emerge. Those enthusiasts who have been following Highland Park’s Valhalla Series might notice that Ice asserts some of the charming characteristics of Freya, yet adds an oceanic influence borne out by seventeen long years in those casks.
In comparing Highland Park Ice Edition to a few gods from the Valhalla Series, I noticed that this one is a little sharper than Odin, not as “jammy” or tropical as Loki, and not as perfumy as Freya. However, rather than detracting from the new offering, these differences can be seen as an asset. Personally, I appreciate the smoke-enhanced, medicinal aspects of this rather bold whisky.
Color: Antique gold shines like Aladdin’s lamp. In one’s glass, it becomes apparent to the practiced eye that the spirit is not chill filtered, nor does it contain artificial coloring.
Nose: Maritime influences co-mingle with nori, coconut, dry ashes, clove, papaya, cedar, a touch of mint, and floral notes of heather. Water tends to bring out more fruity notes while reducing the iodine and peat, making this whisky a bit more elegant and refined.
Palate: A wave of peat hits first, and then floral overtones, which yield to heather honey, baked lemon, more papaya (from the nose), and pie crust with a little burnt vanilla. As the spirit moves from mid-palate to the tip of the tongue, grassy overtones emerge, which are reminiscent of the late great indie Rosebanks. Water brings out a vanilla bean note, along with a bittersweet admixture of honey, pickled ginger, and clove.
Water makes a difference on the finish, as well. If enjoyed neat, the spirit delivers dark chocolate, eucalyptus, smoke, and espresso, and is medium in length. Very bracing, the death reminds me of the lingering presence of a menthol cigarette after it has been smoked. With water, oak influences diminish. One is left with a promise of licorice. Highland Park’s heather-honey signature note flirts with lemon zest, and traces of white pith.
Just as time played a significant role in the making of this seventeen year old single malt, so too is time of the essence in appreciating all that it has to offer. A good three months in an opened bottle seems advisable for the spirit to come into its own–that is, if aerating is not employed by pouring it to and fro gently in a glass pitcher at least once.
Seventeen years in ex-bourbon casks have definitely worked their magick upon the spirit: it leaves its mark as the first element in a new series of whiskies from Highland Park. After I had enjoyed a few drams, I found myself imagining an ice giant pausing to turn and regard me with an air of curiosity, before striding off into the gloaming.
I think the name Ice Edition is quite fitting. It seems to come from an interplay between sweet and bitter, not unlike the fire and ice of Norse legend, which gave birth to nine abodes of Yggdrasil, the glorious World Tree.
Creative metaphors in the official tasting notes reveal a dedication of purpose: “glacial” is worked into the description of color; “cool” and “frosty” chill the nose; “Ice Giants” dominate the palate; and “snowballs” are playfully thrown in the finish.
Yes, indeedy . . . this is the stuff of legend. . . . and I suspect rumors are true that the next limited offering from Highland Park will be Fire Edition. Dare I hazard a guess that it will have some casks even older than seventeen years? We can only hope. After all, if peppery heat is equated with a strong tannic influence, then why not? I’m sure plenty of fiery metaphors will find their way into that whisky’s official tasting notes. Flaming Surt: eat your heart out.
FINAL SCORE: 87/100
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Kirk discovered the brilliance of Scottish whisky in 1987 while vacationing in Edinburgh. Over the course of three and a half decades that followed, he's built upon a knowledge of distilleries and the industry, as well as world whisky. Kirk prides himself on speaking honestly while avoiding the usual flattery...