Highland Park 19, 1991 (Signatory)

On Wednesday I posted a review of a bourbon cask Highland Park bottled by A.D. Rattray and noted in passing that Highland Park used to be one of my favourite distilleries. I said I’d elaborate soon on why I’m more ambivalent about them now, and here I am, just two days later.

Well, it’s not for any earth-shatteringly surprising reason. Highland Park and I have both changed but they’ve changed more than I have: I’m losing hair but they’ve lost their minds. When I first started drinking single malt whisky, Highland Park put out a limited line of very good whisky at good prices in ugly bottles. In the last 15 years the bottles have got updated but in the process prices have gone up drastically (especially for their 18 yo). Their lineup has gotten more bloated than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and they increasingly seem to be designing/marketing their whisky with children in mind: an endless series of Viking-themed whiskies (too many to list), black bottles (ditto), boxes shaped like amplifiers (the new Full Volume), this abomination, the list goes on…I know we’re only supposed to care about the whisky in the bottle but it’s got to the point where it’s embarrassing to be seen buying a bottle of Highland Park. I mean, they make mid-late 2000s Bruichladdich’s output seem restrained and thoughtful. 

Anyway, this whisky was distilled and released before Highland Park went off the rails, though not bottled by them. This was part of Signatory’s Un-Chilfiltered collection. I acquired this sample quite some time ago in a swap with Michael K. (see his review), only to discover much later that I already owned a full bottle. With a view towards seeing if I should open that bottle soon, I decided to finally taste this sample.

Highland Park 19, 1991 (46%; Signatory UCF; sherry butt 15115 ; from a sample acquired in a swap)

Nose: Juicy citrus (oranges) and apricot with just the right amount of savoury gunpowder (the good kind), a bit of leather and expanding salt. On the second sniff there’s some earthy peat (not phenolic) and some mustard seed. I like this a lot! Stickier with time (marmalade, apricot jam, mango leather). Brighter and sharper with water and less earthy.

Palate: As promised by the nose but with extra fruit: the oranges and apricot are joined by dried figs and some plum sauce. The earthy, leathery thing is bigger too. The texture is a tiny bit thin. The fruit gets bigger with time: more apricot, dried orange peel, mango. On the palate, water makes it earthier than before and pulls out more dried fruit: apricot, mango leather.

Finish: Long. The earthy note is what lingers the longest, picking up some licks of smoke as it goes; the orange is here too (more like dried orange peel). Not much change here with water.

Comments: Oh, this is very nice, and how nice that I have a whole bottle left. More peat here than usually makes it out of sherried Highland Parks, especially official ones. A little more textural depth and this could have been headed into the 90s. This is not for the dedicated sulphur-phobe though.

Rating: 88 points.

Thanks to Michael K. for the sample!

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