It’s been almost two years since my last review of an official release of Highland Park. That was of their 12 yo, now called the “Viking Honour“. Once the Highland Park 12 was the great all-rounder of the single malt world and a whisky I recommended confidently to anyone looking to get into single malt whisky. Alas, I found the Viking Honour—while drinkable enough—to be some distance from the best of the old Highland Park 12. What was missing was the clearer sherry influence of the older versions. That should not be a problem for today’s whisky. It is also a 12 yo but this one is a single cask and a first-fill European oak hogshead at that. The sherry should be big and front and center. Will that add up to a much better whisky? We’ll see. This cask, by the way, was bottled last year for the Texan store, Spec’s—a store from which, in the last of the whisky loch days, I once purchased quite a lot of fabulous older whisky at prices that these days would seem like a lunatic dream if spoken out loud (very old Caperdonich for $150 and so on). Anyway, Highland Park have been releasing (expensive) individual casks for European stores etc. for some time now; I hadn’t realized these were in the US too now. Let’s see what this is like.
Highland Park 12, 2006 (63.4%; Spec’s selection; first-fill European oak hogshead 5965; from a bottle split)
Nose: Rich with big notes of raisin and dried orange peel and spicy oak (cinnamon, clove). On the second sniff there’s caramel, a bit of dark soy sauce and some red fruit; thankfully, the oak doesn’t seem tannic. With time the red fruit expands some—it’s plum rather than cherry and mixes nicely with the oak and the savoury notes. With more time/air still it softens a bit with toffee emerging along with more orange peel. With water there’s a big note of mothballs and camphor and there’s now some citronella mixed in with the orange peel.
Palate: Comes in sweet but then transitions almost immediately to savoury with brine, cured meat and then quite a bit of peat and char (wood smoke rather than phenolic). High strength, yes, but not unapproachable. More savoury on the second sip with dried shiitake mushrooms and soy sauce joining the cured meat. With more time the oaky bite seems to expand. Okay, let’s add water. Yes, water pushes back the oak and pulls out more of the char; the citrus is brighter here too now. The texture is much thicker too now. A little stickier as it sits.
Finish: Medium-long. The char builds here as it goes, picking up ashy notes. As on the palate with water.
Comments: I really liked the nose of this whisky. On the palate it was more a big sherry/oak bomb; water mellowed it out some and brought out more nuance but at 12 years old this is probably as much complexity as we could expect. Still, I liked this as much as a number of older Glendronach “single casks” and quite a bit more than some. Near the $100 mark I would be into a bottle of this—I rather suspect though that quite a bit more was asked for it.
Rating: 88 points.