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Loki, Highland Park's latest showing in its Valhalla collection, is a scamp. Named for the shape-shifting trickster of the Norse gods, this single malt lives up to its billing with an almost schizophrenic character that seems belying yet beguiling.
The second of four planned members of the Valhalla clan, the Loki is a 15-year-old single malt Scotch, fashioned by marrying traditional Sherry casks with casks that once held heavily peated whiskies. It follows Thor, a hammer of a dram released last year, and will be followed by Odin and Freya.
Highland Park's stated intention for the Valhalla series—building a malt around a personality—continues to will out with Loki. Never as straightforward as Thor, it shows its trickster self by changing profile at a moments notice, transforming from soft and nuanced to bold and attention grabbing.
The distillery is the farthest north of Scotch plants, located on the island of Orkney, where the climate is cold and the local peat particularly pungent. It also happens to be set in land that was once ruled by Norway, further evoking the Norse god theme.
If the taste doesn't convince you of that, the packaging should. Just as the Thor expression did, the Loki bottle comes in a wooden-frame vessel with serpent-like prows on either side in the motif of a Viking ship.
Global marketing manager Gerry Tosh says that the 16-year-old Thor release was "massively successful," having sold out throughout the world. We hope this one-while expensive-does so, too...so they'll keep trying.
(Cigar pairings on next page)
Loki (15 years old, 97.4 proof, or 48.7 percent alcohol by volume, $249 for a 750 ml bottle)
APPEARANCE: More here than meets the eye. The color straddles the line between light straw and honey. The legs are quick and chunky.
NOSE: Elegant-not heady-aromas. Starts out quite delicate and floral. Moves on to fruits, with orange and lemon, and then settles on more savory notes, bready with some ginger and hints of smoke. Still very understated.
PALATE: Then comes the change-as if someone dropped a ball of rich, hard candy on the tongue. Very fruity, but esoteric flavors-tangerine, mango, nectar, pears-rush to the fore. Then arrives a passing of honey before the spice entourage of licorice and ginger. That quickly transforms into something not quite peaty, but smoky and toasty.
FINISH: The finish is another hero. Going on and on and flashing between the spices and the nuanced fruit flavors. In one moment, you're convinced it's zesty. A while later, you'd swear it's made with sugar.
CIGAR PAIRING: Montecristo Epic Churchill (7 inches by 56 ring gauge, $15, 87 points, February 2013 Cigar Aficionado) A richly colored Churchill with an even burn and substantial draw. Though cedary and spicy, the smoke leaves an ashy aftertaste. However, in the presence of Loki, the ash vanishes or somehow turns to toast and honey. Sweetness awakens in the cigar. Then the whisky gets its own boost from the Montecristo, becoming heartier with graham cracker and nuts. Very productive pairing.
Camacho Corojo Maduro Churchill (7 inches by 48 ring gauge, $7, 87 points, June 2013 Cigar Aficionado) The wrapper of this large Churchill is covered in gnarly veins, though it draws well and burns evenly. This is a primarily woody cigar that becomes charry as it is smoked. Yet with Loki its chattier, more forthcoming, showing sweet fruits. The whisky becomes more smoky and toasty, while not peaty. A close second.