Less than a week ago, I complained in my review of an ex-bourbon cask Highland Park bottled by A.D. Rattray that the distillery itself doesn’t see fit to give us ex-bourbon Highland Park, one of the true secret pleasures of the single malt whisky world. It was very soon pointed out to me by EricH in the comments that one of the distillery’s most recent releass, Full Volume, is in fact all ex-bourbon whisky. I had actually been aware of the existence of this whisky but, as I noted, its stupid name had led me to believe that it was one more in Highland Park’s unending series of NAS whiskies, and so I’d ignored it. Lo and behold, it turns out to not only have a vintage statement but an age statement as well. It’s a 17 yo put together this year from casks distilled in 1999. And it’s at a respectable 47.2% abv. Of course, it’s also clad in extremely ridiculous packaging (a black bottle, in a box that is meant to resemble a Marshall amp) but having complained incorrectly about the lack of an official ex-bourbon Highland Park, I felt it was only right that I should check out the one that had just been released. And my decision to do that was made easier by the discovery that it’s actually priced quite reasonably—as low as $89 in Minnesota. Not cheap in the abstract, but these days an official 17 yo at a strength above 43% for less than $120 seems like a steal.
Of course, this doesn’t improve the packaging and having complained about that aspect of contemporary Highland Park as well in my other Highland Park review last week, I feel it is incumbent on me to give you this packaging in all its ugly glory. For it is indeed ugly. The box may be got up to look like an amp but what it mostly looks like is cheap. It’s not, however, devoid of useful information—some of which also is a welcome advance on the current industry practice of obfuscation. You can see what I mean by the above via the slideshow below (perhaps my first slideshow contained within a whisky review) which contains my detailed analysis of the packaging. If you’re not interested (and who could blame you?), just scroll down for the review.
Highland Park “Full Volume” (47.2%; ex-bourbon cask whisky; from my own bottle)
Nose: Lemon, wet wool, coal smoke, mineral peat. The lemon expands with every sniff, and some sweetness builds beneath it. With more time some vanilla begins to emerge as well. The vanilla expands with water and it’s generally sweeter now (though there’s some pepper too).
Palate: Pretty much as promised by the nose but with more smoke and some white pepper. Nice mouthfeel—not oily but a nice texture for this profile; very good balance on the whole. More lemon as it goes and just a hint of the musky fruit promised on the box—let’s see if water brings more of it out. Nope, but it pushes back the smoke a bit and emphasizes the lemon. With more time there’s more tantalizing hints of the other fruit but it’s the vanilla that really expands.
Finish: Long. Smoke, pepper and then more of the lemon again. The final impression is of soot. As on the palate with water plus some tobacco at the very end.
Comments: I have to say that, despite all the nonsense, this is very good (and I preferred it neat). The promise of tropical fruit from the tasting notes on the box was not fully kept and nor did I get the “bass” notes of vanilla (I’m only complaining about the absence of one of these things). This is also smokier than the official notes prepared me for—though this pour was not quite as smoky as the very first from the freshly opened bottle. The only thing missing that often shows up in indie single casks is the pine/eucalyptus note—did they choose to bury that in the mix?
Anyway: this is very good and a good value these days for a 17 yo whisky (compare with the Balvenie Peat Week, which this is quite a bit better than). I can only hope that the age and vintage statements, the transparency about composition and the reasonable price are signs of a course correction in the industry. If so, I’ll forgive Highland Park much of their flim-flam.
Rating: 88 points.