I've been musing a bit on beautiful liquor bottles lately, but nothing I've seen stacks up to the dramatic presentation of Highland Park's new cask-strength single malt whisky, which arrives in a miniature Viking ship. (The packaging is inspired by the Nordic heritage of the Orkney Islands, where the Highland Park distillery is located.)
This limited edition Valhalla Collection bottling is not your typical smooth and mellow Highland Park: it's fiery stuff at 52.1% ABV. Part of what I love about Highland Park's whiskies is their delicate smoke, their subtle and soft flavors, but Thor is bold and forceful (you might want to add a few drops of water to get it to your desired proof. Alcohol can carry flavor, but it also numbs the tongue.) Some folks love the flavor high-proof spirits lend to cocktails, but careful recipe-adjusting is required.
I'm not totally sold on cask-strength spirits: I suppose the flexibility of "dilute to your own strength" is nice, but the special bottling mostly seems like a chance for an over-the-top price. (There are only 1,500 of this stuff in the States, and it sells for around $200 a bottle, while you can get the lovely Highland Park 18 for about half that.) When I asked bartender friend Michael Neff about the barrel-strength trend, he said that drinking these seriously strong spirits undiluted is "like holding your hand over a candle flame, showing all your friends how much pain you can take."
Maybe I'm not man enough to show off what strong booze I can drink, but I'd get a kick out of displaying this Viking-strength bottle on my liquor shelf, ship and all.