Highland Park, as I have noted on many occasions, is one of my very favourite distilleries. And as I have doubtless also noted on many occasions, bourbon cask Highland Parks—which are rarely available from the distillery—always catch my eye. They’re obviously very different from the distillery’s usual fare: as Highland Park matures its spirit predominantly in sherry casks, bourbon casks are rare from even the independents. Unsurprisingly, they’re also quite different from the standard profile. While I don’t myself believe that it it’s in bourbon cask matured malt that a distillery’s true profile/character is revealed (this is because I don’t believe in “distillery character” as something separate from maturation*), it is true that it is from bourbon casks that you can most clearly get a sense of the nature of Highland Park’s peat, in particular. And the continuities between bourbon cask Highland Park and malt from distilleries like Clynelish and Springbank that I also like very much indeed are interesting as well.
As for the Single Malt Whisky Society of America, I remain as ambivalent about them as ever. Every few years I consider joining but the high cost of membership plus the fact that their prices seem to begin north of $100 regardless of age always dissuades me. Let’s see what sort of an argument this recent bottling makes.
Highland Park 22, 1991 (54.2%; SMWSA 4.191, “A Romp in the Heather”; refill bourbon hogshead; from a bottle split with a number of whisky geeks)
Nose: A faint minerally, peaty prickliness to start that expands and picks up quite a bit of lemon peel as it goes. Some eucalyptus oil and quite a bit of salt after that. With time the lemon turns to lime peel and lemongrass and the prickly peat is more peppery as well. A lot more fruit with water (peach, melon).
Palate: More peat on the palate but it’s the lemon that’s ascendant here too. Again, there’s nothing phenolic about the peat (more like hot tarmac). On the second sip there’s more pepper and a faint bitterness that provides a nice counterpoint to the citrus. With time the peat and fruit expand further: in addition to the lemon there’s sweeter notes too now. Water brings out more fruit still (as on the nose).
Finish: Long. Prickly, peppery, minerally. As on the palate with and without water.
Comments: That stuff on the nose is everything I like about Highland Park from bourbon casks. Somehow austere (in the narrow band) and rich (in the intensity) at the same time; not quite as voluptuous as the usual sherried output from the distillery and not as in your face as more phenolic and peaty malts, but very nice indeed. And some nice fruity development with water too. Certainly a good advertisement for the SMWS, even if it’s not a barn burner.
Rating: 87 points.
Thanks to Andrew for putting this together.
*I am happy to go on at tedious length about this if anyone would like me to.