The Highland Park 12 was one of the first whiskies I fell in love with when I started in on single malt whisky. Of course, that was many years and many bottle designs ago. Even though I have included it on both editions of my “Well-Rounded Single Malt Bar” lists, I have to admit that I had lost touch with it for a few years now. I reviewed it in 2014 back before the distillery had doubled down on its alleged Viking heritage (see the discussion in the comments on my write-up of my visit to the distillery last June to see how much this pivot bothers some people). Since then it’s been relaunched in a fancy new bottle with a slightly new name: it’s now the Viking Honour. I guess we have the honour of the Vikings to thank for the preservation of the age statement. Well, okay, that’s a cheap shot: while the distillery has indeed launched a number of NAS whiskies with Viking names it must be said that they’ve preserved their age-stated line and even delivered the occasional age-stated one-off (see the Full Volume). Anyway, I purchased this bottle on sale last year and opened it for a charity auction tasting friends asked me to host last month. I was curious to see what I would make of it—there’s been a lot of talk online about how it has gone completely downhill. Of course, with distilleries like Highland Park it is hard to separate people’s views of the whiskies from their views of their marketing. I liked my first pour at the event but wasn’t paying very close attention. I am now.
Highalnd Park 12, Viking Honour (43%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Prickly, slightly rubbery peat off the top, some lemon and a bit of honey below that; somewhat grassy as well. With a lot of time there’s a sweeter note (toffee). Water pulls out more of the lemon and more of the softer notes.
Palate: Pretty much as indicated by the nose except there’s no rubber here. Not much evidence of sherry here either. The texture is decent at 43%. Smokier on the second sip. Improves with more time here as well—then rubber recedes, the lemon gets stronger and there are sweeter hints here too. Let’s see if water improves it further. With water the sweetness expands but the peat is still here
Finish: Medium. The prickly peat is to the fore here too and then it gets leafy at the very end. With time there’s a bitter note at the end that I like (coffee grinds).
Comments: Well, this is certainly different from the version I reviewed in 2014. There is not much of a palpable sherry influence here, none of the richer notes. By the same token it’s a lot smokier (though not at all phenolic).. When reviewing indie ex-bourbon Highland Parks I usually note that they’re much smokier than the distillery’s own core releases—well, this version of the 12 yo is pretty smoky. Personally, I preferred when there was more sherry influence in the 12 yo but this is not a bad whisky, just different from what it used to be. I liked it better with a lot of air and a bit of water.
Rating: 84 points.