All posts by The Scoutmaster

Highland Park Freya

highland-park_freya_2

A 15 year Highland single malt, this is the latest addition to the Highland Park Valhalla Series. It shares the unique, viking-inspired wooden display that Thor and Loki enjoy.

It comes in at 102.4 proof, but doesn’t have as much burn a younger dram at this level would. Smokier than her Asgardian brothers, Freya is not content to just follow in her family’s footsteps. She may be a lady, but she’s still a goddess with an attitude.

The first impression as she fills the glass is she’s a little paler than you’d expect from a 15. The aroma rising up hints at her peaty nature without overpowering her balancing orange and floral scents.

The peat makes itself known on first taste, but gracefully allows oak and pear to assert themselves. Don’t be lulled by her grace, she will bite if you don’t show her proper respect.

A creeping burn follows her out, leaving a malted oak reminder of your time with her.

Johnny’s Saloon

Huntington Beach, California

Alternately called a biker bar or a punk-rock bar, both terms fall flat in truly describing this place, although “dive” might be a good start. The decor is dark, and seems to borrow heavily from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, complete with things that rise up and down on motors from the ceiling. This “theme” (if it can be called that) follows you into the restroom, which is quite dark and receives a different audio feed than the bar proper. Serenading you will either be the Star Wars theme or “It’s a Small World.” Pirates of the Caribbean, the ride not the movie, has also been heard. (I think even the A-Team theme made an appearance, but I can’t verify that.)

Johnny's
In Memory

The only real theme going on here is Johnny’s support of veterans. “It’s Veteran’s Day 365” they proclaim. On display at the bar are the drinks commemorating the fallen. People come and buy a drink in memory of a friend or family member and leave a note identifying those not to be forgotten. It’s an ironically sobering testament. The line of bottles has grown significantly since this photo was taken,

After 8pm, the bar turns decidedly darker lighting-wise. They even cover the TV’s with a darkening gel to go along with the almost-out dimming setting. No food despite rumors of pretzels, but feel free to bring in your own from one of the nearby take-outs.

Nimah, Intern bartender and resident nerd
Nimah (pronounced Neve), intern bartender

But of course, this is all about the whiskey, and Johnny’s offers up a surprisingly large and varied selection. If you like, you can even buy a bottle from them and have them hold it for you as your personal stash.

They stock a good selection of whiskeys from the usual whiskey places, and even an Amrut from India. They carry well over one hundred options for you to try. Mostly their whiskeys sit in the $7-$15 range, but they do have a smattering of mid-level whiskey ($20 range) such as Auchentoshan 18yr and Glen Garioch. There’s not much above that (they do have Balvenie 21yr at $30). This is a great place to grab a drink in a more interesting environment than your average whiskey bar. The have enough selection to keep things interesting

And yes, the whiskey bottles are held up by statues of naked women on their hands and knees. I welcome suggestions on how to accurately describe this place!

Yelp*

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Highland Park Thor

Thor

My first foray into the Highland Park Valhalla Series, Thor is perhaps the best well-known of the Asgardians thanks in no small part to his Hollywood agent.

A reddish copper dram, this 16 year clocks in at 104.2 proof. The god of lightning makes his presence felt with a healthy, but not overwhelming, burn. He’s just letting you know he could fry you if he wanted but has chosen to be merciful to us earthly mortals.

While I’m not convinced Thor spent too much time wandering the Scottish highlands, there’s just enough peat  on the nose to suggest he vacationed there on occasion. Orange and maple scents weave in and out of the peat to keep the nose from being one-dimensional.

On the palate Thor is complex and interesting, making good on the orange and maple notes threatened on first smell. The burn lingers as peat, oak, and floral notes round out the experience that hangs for a few moments before flying off to work on his sequels.

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Dillon Whiskey Bar (Iceland)

Reykjavik, Iceland

The best whiskey bar in the world.

Is that too strong? I don’t think so. To be a whiskey bar, you of course need a lot of whiskeys, and Dillon delivers. They may not offer up the selection that a premiere bar in a traditional cosmopolitan city (Los Angeles, etc) might, but they have a respectable selection of whiskeys from around the world. There is so much more to Dillon, however.

Dead Man's Party
Sara and Katla dressing up for work.

First off, it is located in downtown Reykjavik, Iceland. There isn’t a more awesome spot on the globe (IMHO). They don’t call it “Niceland” without reason. I have never felt so welcome in any bar (even the one down the street from where I’ve lived for over a decade) than I did strolling into the sole “whiskey bar” on the snowy landmass known as Iceland. Contrary to the popular belief that Iceland and Greenland have ironic names, Iceland is indeed home to much ice. They lay claim the largest glacier in Europe. But this isn’t a review of Iceland, though you should go. Now.

Katla holding down the bar.

This place is the closest I have ever been to the mythical “Cheers,” but with an international twist. English is the adopted national second language, and it is spoken well, so you will have no problems getting around or making your wants known. This little island attracts the most varied assortment of individuals. Just sitting at the bar I met people from all over the world. It was an unforgettable experience.

The bar is located on the second floor of what was once a three-story house. The first floor is a burger joint (more on that later) and the upper attic becomes a concert venue on the weekends. A very cozy, intimate venue indeed. The bar itself is welcoming with warm woods and scattered seating. The framing of the original structure still exists, so there are a couple “rooms” of seating, albeit without walls. The bar dominates the space without being imposing.

Ardberg
Henný offering a suggestion.

But of course, this is all about whiskey, and Dillon has that in spades (wink, wink, take a look at their sign again). Coupled with awesome bartenders, otherworldly scenery, and international clientele,  this place is a destination all in its own.

Sara poses with the mini-cask of Flokí.
Sara poses with the mini-cask of Flokí.

They had whiskey from all the usual places, a California whiskey I’d never heard of, Swedish, Japanese, as well as the lone domestic, Flokí. You can read more about that in my Whiskey Advocate magazine article.

My friend and fellow writer Laurie from Texas summed it up best: “This is amazing. I’m drinking Japanese whisky in an Icelandic bar listening to Johnny Cash while talking to a Canadian.”

And if you do go, don’t forget to check out the Chuck Norris Grill downstairs. Their Roundkick (No, not Roundhouse. Just go with it.) burger is not to be missed. If you ask the bartender nicely, they might even deliver, as the two are under the same ownership.

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