Here is another timely review and another recent Archives bottling (see here for my review last week of their bourbon cask Aberlour 12). This is a 15 yo from an unnamed Orkney distillery—well, it’s Highland Park. It was bottled last year and is still available. This is a bit of a head-scratcher as the price is pretty good in this market for a 15 yo Highland Park at cask strength. Perhaps it’s because this is from a bourbon cask and bourbon cask Highland Park—like bourbon cask Aberlour—continues to be a bit of an unknown quantity when it comes to the average single malt enthusiast. My own enthusiasm for bourbon cask Highland Park is as high as my enthusiasm for bourbon cask Aberlour and I do not understand why more people are not interested in what their whisky tastes like without sherry cask involvement; especially as bourbon cask Highland Park tends to be more peat-forward than the regular (see this G&M release, for example). I opened it last month for a tasting of bourbon cask whiskies for my local group and it did very well. Indeed, it was the top whisky of the night, narrowly beating out an older Ardmore (which I liked better and will be reviewing soon). Here now are my notes.
Orkney 15, 2002 (58.7%; Archives; refill hogshead; from my own bottle)
Nose: Quite pungent with a dirty, rubbery peaty quality reminiscent of Ledaig or Jura—I don’t think I’ve ever nosed a Highland Park with that quality! With a bit of air and time that note recedes, letting fruit up from below (lime, dried apricot); there’s also a leathery quality. With more time the rough notes subside further (or maybe my nose adjusts) and there’s a chalkier, mineral quality now along with some moss; some red fruit too now. With water the fruit is emphasized (cherry, orange peel)
Palate: Rough and peaty here too to start but it’s drier and ashier. Very drinkable at full strength. The smoke gets sharper and brighter with each sip and there’s more lime here too now. With more time it gets leafier but less dirty and there’s more woodsmoke. Okay, let’s see what water does. It brings out even more citrus and balances the rougher notes further.
Finish: Long. The smoke continues for a long while. Saltier with time. More citrus here too with water.
Comments: This is listed as a refill hogshead but the cask seems to have been pretty active: did they char it heavily to recondition it? It’s also far peatier than any Highland Park I’ve ever had and peaty in a very different kind of way—rough at first, leafy and organic after that. An oddity for sure. I have to say I like the more usual ex-bourbon Highland Park profile better. That said, while this is less unique, it’s also quite good in its more conventional way. I preferred it with water.
Rating: 87 points.