Way back in 2010, when the whisky world was a less complicated place, Highland Park released three vintage bottles to duty-free. There was a 1990, a 1994, and this 1998. All were bottled at 40%—which is the kind of thing we grumbled about then, not knowing that a day would come when Highland Park would replace ages and vintages on their bottles with names of Vikings. I purchased my bottle of the 1998 from World of Whiskies in Heathrow in 2010. It cost $55, which I guess was pretty steep even then for an 11 yo at 40%, considering the regular 12 yo was then available for $32 in the Twin Cities and the 15 yo for a bit less than $55. I cannot remember how much the 1990 and 1994 cost. I finished my bottle a long time ago but saved a large reference sample. I then forgot all about it, and only found it while rummaging around for a Highland Park sample that I might review to mark my visit to the distillery today. I also found a sample of the 1994 that I’d received in a swap a long time ago, but, alas, that sample seemed to have deteriorated a bit in the bottle (perhaps because of the low strength). I’ve consigned the remains of that sample to one of my home vattings and have instead a review of the 1998, which has held up fine.
Highland Park 1994 (40%; bottled in 2010 for duty-free; from a sample saved from my own bottle)
Nose: Honey, wood smoke and some earthy peat (not phenolic). With time there’s some cream, some apricot and some brine. Gets softer with time, picking up some vanilla to go with the cream. With a drop of water there’s more cream and more apricot.
Palate: Oakier here and there’s more citrus. The smoke from the nose carries through as well. Nice texture despite the low strength. Gets smokier with each sip and there’s just a bit of oaky bite too with time. With more time the oak/spice notes expand. Water pulls out more smoke again and more pepper.
Finish: Medium. The fruit and oak fade, leaving peat and pepper. With water there’s some cocoa and malt at the end.
Comments: This is nicer than I remember it being, and also smokier. I’d guess there’s a fair bit of ex-bourbon Highland Park in the mix in this one. Reminds me a bit of the Hakushu Heavily Peated. Too bad about the sample of the 1994: it would have been interesting to compare the two head to head. Anyway, a reminder, again, to not keep samples on the shelf for years and years. I plan to try to drink all of mine by the end of the year.
Rating: 84 points.