This Highland Park bottled by Scott’s Selection was Jim Murray’s pick for best something or the other a year or two ago. Luckily, I had bought the bottle before his “awards” were announced and it was very, very reasonably priced. Jim Murray doesn’t bother me quite as much as he does a lot of other whisky geeks, but I don’t generally put a lot of stock by his awards. This is partly because to sell his Whisky Bible each year he can’t keep giving awards to the same whiskies (just as the James Beard restaurant awards in the US seem to rotate through the cast of likely chefs/restaurants in any major city) and thus there needs to be some degree of novelty/surprise/shock in his awards/scores to keep them fresh. That said, while I have no way of knowing if this Highland Park was indeed the best whatever he said it was, it is really very good.
Highland Park 1981-2011 (48.5%, Scott’s Selection; from my own bottle)
Nose: Honey, citrus, and a lot of tropical fruit. Rather intoxicating. With time, notes of pine and eucalyptus. With more time, something vaguely creamy. Water makes the cream expand a bit but hides the fruit a little.
Palate: Sweet polished wood at first but then an explosion of fruit: ripe papaya, mangoes, citrus peel. The wood hangs around below the fruit, accentuating it nicely. Very elegant. The slightest hint of smoke too–but I may be imagining it. Water really amplifies the fruit and makes it brighter: more citrus and pineapple now.
Finish: Not very long, not very fruity: the chief impression is of mild wood spice. Water extends the finish a bit and keeps the fruit going a little longer.
Comments: As with all Scott’s Selection bottles, the label does not specify the cask type. I suspect it is refill sherry, but the pine/eucalyptus notes I got on the nose I’ve generally found to be more pronounced in ex-bourbon Highland Parks. So, I’m not too sure. Then again maybe that note is an american oak note, and not a sherry/bourbon note. The fruitiness was a very pleasant surprise: it’s not what I associate with Highland Park. Indeed, blind I would have probably guessed this to be an older Longmorn or Tomatin. I guess a bottle like this exemplifies both why many distilleries are hostile to independents and why independents are crucial for whisky geeks. Still, while the nose and palate are very good, they are not complex enough to compensate for the finish which tonight pulls it down below 90 points. I’m ambivalent about water: it’s good for the finish and causes interesting development on the palate but blunts the nose a little.
Rating: 89 points (but could be 90 tomorrow).
I bought a bottle too before the Murray hype machine kicked in. HP is one of my top five favorite distilleries and I look forward to cracking the seal on this one. Maybe next birthday.
Please report back when you do. I think this is a 89-91 point malt for me, depending on the night. Tonight I went conservative.
And yeah, it’s crazy how reasonably this was priced at first. I almost passed on it for that reason: a 30 yo Highland Park for just over $100, it seemed like there had to be a catch. Luckily, no.
By the way, Highland Park is in my top five too. Currently, that would look like this: Laphroaig, Bowmore, Highland Park, Talisker, Springbank.
Interesting…no Speysider. Excellent top five nonetheless. Mine currently looks like this in no particular order of rank: HP, Clynelish, Ardbeg, Balvenie, Springbank
Almost two years after this review, and almost three and a half years after opening the bottle I am down to my penultimate pour. This bottle has lost some oomph in the last few months—the tropical fruit aren’t really in evidence on the nose, and only barely on the palate, and the mouthfeel is of a whisky well below 48.5%. It’s still very good though: all about honeyed malt and a little toasted wood.