THE memory of your first good malt is a eureka moment; a shock to the system, followed by a warm glow before excitement sets in. You’ve found your drink.
Plunging full force into the icy Norwegian sea on a winter night is not the most conventional way to prepare for a whisky tasting but it set me up nicely for trying a special malt.
After dropping into the freezing black sea, survival instinct took over and my body shot like a torpedo back to the boat before scuttling across the deck and into a steaming hot tub on board the Vulkana - a former whaling vessel converted into a luxury boat.
Settling into the warmth it brought back memories of what it was like to be excited by whisky. No other spirit can take you on a taste journey like our national spirit.
Close your eyes when enjoying a good malt and you can be transported anywhere
My first great malt was enjoyed in warm surroundings, on a leather sofa with a fire blazing. My second awakening came against a backdrop of icy blasts on top of a mountain overlooking the Norwegian city of Tromso.
I had become a bit bored by whisky in recent years and, to be honest, it had all become a bit of the same.
Orkney distillery Highland Park, with its strong links to Norway, had flown me and a band of journalists from various corners of the globe for the launch of their new Valhalla release Freya.
This special little bottling with its powerful zesty flavours served as a reminder that there are still a lot of magical whiskies out there still to be discovered.
Tromso has the appearance of being created by a mythical god that has pushed together mountainous snow-capped peaks to engulf it.
Highland Park’s Freya and Tromso are well-matched.
There are four releases in the Valhalla collection with Freya the third following Loki and Thor. All have been moulded in the character of gods or goddesses.
In Norse legend, Freya is the god of beauty and the power of nature. She is also, according to fable, responsible for the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, with it once being believed that their illumination was sparked by sunlight being reflected from her feather cloak.
Highland Park have done their best to replicate the mystical qualities of Freya in a glass and with only 19,000 being produced it is sure to be on the wanted list of many a collector.
Its secret weapons is the fresh citrus blast delivered when you put your nose the glass.
The icy winds on top of the Tromso mountain chosen for the sampling conspired to add to this freshness as wafts of tropical fruit came spiralling out with notes pineapple and mangoes.
On taste it is a rainbow of flavours that move across the mouth just like the Northern Lights gravitating across the night’s sky.
There’s burnt sugar, lime and lemon and a backbone of mellowed peat. It’s a punchy little dram thanks to its 51.2% abv.
The reassuringly richness of Highland Park, its trademark, is still there.
Freya signs off with a lingering sweet smoky finish before vanishing until you pour yourself another.
Tromso is also best places in the world to see the Northern Lights however the closest we got to it was the screensaver of the karaoke television on the bus hired to go on a hunt of these mysterious light forms.
I did, however, catch a glimpse of them of a winter’s evening when walking through Stockbridge late last year on my return to Edinburgh.
I left Tromso with a reinvigorated hunger to rediscover whisky again and a renewed appreciation of the craft that goes into its production
From the malting of barley on the distillery floor, to the intricacies of the distillation process and the selection of a cask for bottling - a monumental effort goes into making a special bottling.
OFFICIAL TASTING NOTES
Highland Park Freya – 15 years old – 51.2% abv
Colour: The Fair One, golden
Aroma: Almond and Madagascan vanilla shimmer in the distance like the Aurora Borealis. White chocolate followed by candied cherries makes way for a vibrant wave of mango and melon, riding upon a cloud of cream soda.
Taste: The heart of this whisky shines like a jewel, surrounded by fragrant peat. Orange peel, butterscotch and rose petals provide the sweetness along with orange blossom and ginger. Lively popping candy, lemongrass and tropical fruits are lightly shrouded in peat smoke.
Finish: Complex and beautiful, yet balanced and considered like Freya herself, the finish gives lingering spice and soft peat smoke intertwined with soft orchard fruits, toasted coconut and a light char, providing a rounded depth and allowing this whisky to soar.