Situated between the more famous 12 and 18 year olds in Highland Park’s core range, the 15 year old tends to get lost in the shuffle. I know a lot of people who’ve had a lot of Highland Park but have not tried it. It may be, I suppose, that it’s not as widely available as its siblings or that it falls into an awkward price category, being neither entry-level not qualifying as a “special” purchase. As it happens it is different from the 12 yo and the 18 yo in production terms as well: as Gerry Tosh is quoted as saying on this blog’s review from 2010, whereas the 12 yo and the 18 yo are aged primarily in sherry casks made of European oak, the 15 yo is aged predominantly in sherry casks made of American oak.
I’m not really sure, by the way, what the status of this expression is. I’d heard rumours a couple of years ago that it was being discontinued, but it’s still listed on the distillery’s website and is still widely available in Minnesota.
Highland Park 15 (43%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Mild notes of honey with a touch of marmalade and apricot; quite a bit of malt too and a faint hint of gunpowder and smoke (not phenolic at all). With more time there’s some light caramel and some brown butter. The fruit gets richer with time. A few drops of water bring out the wood and some sweaty notes, and then after a bit there’s a touch of camphor.
Palate: Hits with the savoury gunpowder mixed in with the citrus—orange peel, lemon—and apricot and just a lick of smoke. More oak on the palate. The mouthfeel is a bit thin. On the second and third sips the fruit is more acidic and the wood turns a bit dusty. The smoke expands a bit with time. Water doesn’t do anything good for it (the wood expands and the balance is lost).
Finish: Medium-long. The fruit hangs around but it’s the oak (toasted) that’s strongest here—not tannic or offensive in any way. Some bitter notes emerge on subsequent sips turning metallic at the very end. Spicier with water.
Comments: This is quite drinkable, but I’ve liked it much more in the past. As to whether my palate has changed or the whisky has, I don’t know. (This bottle, in case you’re wondering, has been open less than a month—I opened it for our local group’s September tasting.) Right now I’d say I find it to be a very pleasant everyday drinker, but I’m not sure I’m in a hurry to replace the bottle (which is almost empty). At a slightly higher strength this would probably be much more intense (and yes, I know that in the US we already get it at a higher abv than most other places).
Rating: 84 points.