Highland Park is one of my very favourite distilleries. Their signature blend of sherry, citrus, honey and non-phenolic smoke is rather unique and it is a profile, I think, that appeals to beginners as much as to very seasoned drinkers. Certainly, the Highland Park 12 was one of my gateway malts (and the 18 was my gateway to more expensive malts) and unlike many of the malts I started out with it is one that I have stuck with over the years. For this reason the 25 yo was always the bottle I wanted to have on my shelf then–it seemed like something I would have to work my way up to. Of course, by the time I began to have the confidence (and willingness) to purchase older, significantly more expensive whiskies the 25 yo had become far more expensive in the US, pushing $300 in most markets. And by then I had gone the geek route of prizing independent single casks over vatted official releases, not least because they’re cheaper. An so it no longer held that place in my mind (this 30 yo from Scott’s Selection, for example, which I picked up in the UK for just over $100, made wanting to own the OB 25 for far more than twice the price seem more than a little quixotic).
However, I recently came across two different releases of the Highland Park 25 at significantly discounted prices, one of which went down to mid-late 2000s levels, and this re-ignited my old desire. So I decided to splurge and make these the celebration bottles for a recent promotion at work. And as that promotion was announced last December (though it did not go into effect till this Fall) I decided to bookend my reviews for this December with these two Highland Park 25s.
First up, this one at 48.1%–I couldn’t locate a bottling code on the bottle but given the flat bottle shape which only started showing up in the US in 2007 or so, I’d suspect this is either the 2007 or 2008 release. This will be followed at the end of the month by the 2012 release at 45.7%.
The notes that follow were taken on two separate occasions. The first set are of the very first pour from the bottle. The second set were taken of the second pour, a week later. My plan is to record notes of this bottle at different stages in its life. I expect that it will take me 1-2 years to finish this bottle and hopefully it will be interesting to more people than just me to see how/if it changes over time and with greater exposure to air in the bottle.
Highland Park 25 (48.1%; from my own bottle)
First Pour from the Bottle (Nov 16, 2013):
Nose: Rich sherry. Caramel, leather armchair, bittersweet chocolate, fudge and sweet pipe tobacco. A touch of gunpowder. More smoke after a few minutes and also dried tangerine peel and apricot jam. With time the oloroso influence is clear; rich nutty, raisiny notes develop but with the leathery bite ever lingering. Okay, let’s see what water does. With water the leathery, tannic notes recede, the caramel turns to toffee and the smoke is both a little more floral and a little earthier.
Palate: Very close to the nose, but there’s more gunpowder here and the smoke is drier and there’s some tannic wood. All of this is in addition to the caramel and tangerine peel and apricot from the nose and there’s also some cinnamon here; after another sip there’s some clover honey too. A very nice balance between the richer notes and the drier/spicier notes. And while it’s not rough it’s not particularly laid back even at 48.1%: it’s got a nice bite to it. With time it gets a little earthier and more tannic: there’s mushroom liquor now and more salt too (soy sauce). Water brings the citrus and apricot out even more along with more honey.
Finish: Long. The leather from the nose returns and the smoke is more apparent now too. But the lasting impression is of the honeyed citrus. No new development with water but the finish gets much longer.
A Week Later (Nov 22, 2013):
Nose: Rich sherry, but now the sweeter notes–caramel, raisins–are much more pronounced from the get-go and there’s a greater nuttiness as well. No gunpowder now but also less chocolate and tobacco. The leatheriness is still there but it’s now bordering inkiness. With more time the barest hint of gunpowder wafts up and there’s some dry, leafy smoke too; and here’s the tangerine peel and apricot as well. With a lot more time there’s some toffee and cocoa powder on the nose.
Palate: As on the first pour, there’s definitely more gunpowder here still but now it’s drowned out immediately by the citrus which gets richer and muskier and turns into a mix of apricot leather and plum syrup. A nice woody bite develops as I swallow and there’s some cinnamon and cloves now (quite bourbonny in some ways). Palpably smoky, but not phenolic in the slightest, almost leathery, if that makes sense.
Finish: Long. Very citrussy (oranges) with a nice peppery, woody bite and a touch of honey.
After the first tasting: This is no refined elder statesman. In fact, blind I would probably have picked it as being in the high teens without water–it almost seems like a cask strength version of the older 18 yo in some ways. I do not mean this as a criticism. With time and water the richer notes harmonize wonderfully with the fruit and honey and it’s in this that the longer maturation reveals itself. Quite lovely, but the extreme sulphur-phobe should beware: there are definitely notes of gunpowder here on both the nose and palate, though they subside with water.
After the second tasting: It’s very much the same whisky, obviously, but it feels like it’s settled down nicely with a bit of air. The sulphur (which was very far from overwhelming to begin with, I hasten to add) is all but gone. It hasn’t turned into a refined elder statesman but it wears its age more openly on its sleeve now. And I do like the greater fruitiness on the palate and finish. With water it was all but identical to the first pour and so I didn’t bother jotting down notes.
Rating: 89 points at the first outing; 91 on the second. So let’s average it at 90 points. I’ll try to report back regularly at different stages of the life of this bottle.