Archive for February 10th, 2010


A pour of HP 'Earl magnus'

Cool people might drink whisky, but drinking whisky does not make you cool. If you want to see what the cool kids think of HP Earl Magnus, check out WhiskyFun.com or WHISKYhost.com and get their take on this new special release from Highland Park. In this blog post, I will share my initial impressions of this 15 year, 52.6% special release, then I’m going to hit you with more pictures and packaging details than most self-respecting whisky drinkers would care to see. Basically, it’s a post for [geeks] whisky fanatics like me. This isn’t a full “review”, as I like to spend several tasting sessions establishing my thoughts on profile, and evaluating overall satisfaction level. For more background on the Earl Magnus release, check out this previous blog post.

Opening the bottle in true geek fashion

Having decided to go ahead and open my bottle of Magnus alone, rather than wait for a get-together with fellow whisky drinkers, I still wanted to spice up the experience. I mean come on, the packaging for this thing is SO Glen Wonka, it almost makes you feel guilty to be a drinker rather than a collector.

Ever since I saw the beautiful box that Earl Magnus is packaged in (pictures below), I had visions of the monolith and accompanying music at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey [I know, the Glenmorangie Signet box is the one that actually looks like a monolith]. So it seemed appropriate to play Also sprach Zarathustra (Richard Strauss) in the background while I unlatched the box, took out the bottle, removed the wax seal and popped the cork. Here, try it for yourself and see what you think:

Tasting Notes

Highland Park Earl Magnus Edition One;  15 Years; 52.6%

This expression is matured primarily in American Oak sherry casks, with a few Spanish sherry casks thrown in to create the right amount of sweetness (from HP via Twitter).

Nose: Take the honey from the standard 12 year and dial it up. Now take the 15 year profile and dial the citrus way down. Add a very rich, creme brule vanilla and a sprinkle of cinnamon and you have the HP Earl Magnus nose. Contrary to Gerry Tosh’s comments in this video, I don’t find that the high alcohol volume ratcheted up the smoke. There’s a soft peat smoke, but it isn’t nearly as smoky as the high proof older expressions (21, 25 and 30 year).
Palate: Ahh…there’s the citrus from the standard 15 year. A very juicy palate, but where is all of that alcohol? It doesn’t burn the tongue at all.
Finish: Pow! Here’s the big pay-off for Earl Magnus. Right as you swallow, your whole tongue starts drying, and it’s enhanced by a wonderful peppery spice. Citrus and smoke fumes fill the mouth cavity and loft up into the nostrils. It lasts for a pretty long time. I think the alcohol volume is just right. It’s a party in the mouth, but stops short of burning.

Comments: Well, I suppose I DID build it up a bit much, what with taking a ton of pictures and opening the bottle to music. However, it came pretty close to living up to such over-hype. I’m very satisfied with this whisky so far, and the combined taste and presentation make the $120 (shipped) I paid seem very reasonable. It fits very nicely between the standard 18 and 21 year bottlings in value. I look forward to spending more time with this bottle, but right now, I’d say it’s right on the B+/A- border in my scoring system (see the side bar).


I did do some brief comparisons with the standard 12, 15, 18, and 21 year, as well as a Scott’s Selection 25 year. It was interesting how, when nosed side-by-side, all of the other expressions seemed slightly farmy relative to the Magnus. It was in these comparisons that the honey and vanilla became even richer (reminiscent of The Balvenie Madeira Cask), and the sprinkle of cinnamon came through in the Earl Magnus. The Smoke on the 21 year and Scott’s 25 year was much more obvious, both on the nose and the finish.

Having worked my way through most of my standard HP 15 year 43% bottle, and doing this comparison, I’ve come to the inclusion that my original rating of 88 for the standard bottling was a point too high. There’s definitely a bit more separation between that one and the 18 and older expressions, as well as this Magnus special edition.

Pictures and Packaging Details (with info about the this release)

Click on any of the pictures to see them full sized.

  • The old-fashioned bottle making process results in an imperfect stance.

Leaning tower of Magnus

  • Left side of the box, with brass hinges and info about the bottling:

Magnus Box Left

The Highland Park archive is home to many venerable bottles; one in particular, dating from around 1870, fits perfectly as an inspiration for celebrating the life of Earl Magnus. We worked with Stolzle Flaconnage, Highland Park’s specialist glassware supplier, to ignore 150 years of technological advances in order to create a bottle complete with flaws and defects consistent with those of the original.

In 1870 the bottle would have been hand-gathered, mouth-blown into a wooden mould and kept wet to prevent combustion. The raw materials would have been sand and limestone along with naturally occurring sodium sulphate. Contaminants broadly determined the colour of the glass and a little effort would have been made to control capacity or functionality so long as it did not break.

This modern bottle matches the original in almost all regards other than that it is made in a factory, doesn’t leak, and conforms to all applicable legislation. The modern moulds echo the flaws in the hand-made one from two centuries ago; advanced techniques were used to generate bubbles and colour consistency in the glass. The artisans of 1870 would be most impressed with our efforts made in search of imperfection.

The image of Earl Magnus on the original label of the 1870 archive bottle was inspired by an ancient stained glass window. The impact of the label is shown to maximum effect by the development of this simple, open fronted and etched wooden box.

Highland Park Earl Magnus Edition One is a perfectly-balanced natural strength bottling of hand-selected casks containing Scotch Whisky distilled at Highland Park Distillery in 1994 and earlier years. To appreciate it fully, take your time and add a little fresh still water – a couple of drops at a time. This will release the subtle aromas and reveal the complexity of a single malt that has been made within a mile of St. Magnus Cathedral since 1798.

Whisky has been made in the traditional manner at Highland Park for more than 210 years. Released in 2009 this bottling is a tribute to the skilled and dedicated craftsmen who built the St. Magnus Cathedral.

For more information visit http://www.highlandpark.co.uk

  • Right side of box, with brass latch and information about Earl Magnus:

Magnus Box Right

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.

  • Back of bottle, with raised logo and wording:

Magnus bottle (back)

  • Highland Park logo on bottle:

Magnus bottle HP logo

  • Bottle top with wax seal. The ribbon hanging out cuts easily through the wax. Nothing like trying to open one of those freaking Aberlour A’bunadh bottles. 🙂

Magnus bottle top

  • An imperfect bottle surface and concave bottom, mimicking the style created in 1870:

Magnus bottle surface texture

  • Air bubbles in the bottle (upper middle):

Magnus bottle air bubbles

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