Highland Park 17, 2002 (SMWS 4.255)

Having set the whisky world afire last week with my reviews of three single bourbon barrels of Glen Scotia released by the SMWS (here, here and here), I now turn to a week of Highland Park for a reprise. Yes, we’re going all the way from Campbeltown to Orkney.

First up is another SMWS release and, like Friday’s Glen Scotia, this is another 17 yo distilled in 2002. However, it’s not from a bourbon barrel. Well, it started out in a bourbon cask with but ended up in one that had most recently contained Jamaican rum. Did Highland Park have barrels of Jamaican rum lying around or did the SMWS have one filled? I’d guess the latter. At any rate, the label on the bottle says that the Jamaican rum barrel was the “final cask”. How much time did it spend in this “final cask”? Who can say and who would be bold enough to try? The wild profile of Jamaican rum seems an odd match for Highland Park but I guess someone’s got to try these experiments. (Or do they?) The SMWS named this one “When pineapple met pigeon”, which is certainly a name.  Let’s see what it’s like.

Highland Park 17, 2002 (56.8%; SMWS 4.255; refill Jamaican rum barrel finish; from a bottle split)

Nose: More rum than whisky at first and second sniff with anise, sugarcane and just a hint of ye olde rotting trash heap. A couple of minutes later and I’m still waiting for the whisky to come out to the top; it continues to nose like a light Jamaican rum, getting sweeter as it goes. With time there are some salty, maritime notes and then some prickly peat and citronella that are the first signs that this could be related to a bourbon cask Highland Park. Some sweeter fruit then begins to poke its way through and the rum begins to recede. With a few drops of water the fruit expands (peach, plum) and there are hints of toffee as well.

Palate: More of the whisky here as some peat makes its way through but this is more than a bit confused—a dhobi ka kutta, as we say in Hindi, na ghar ka na ghaat ka (a washerman’s dog, neither of the home nor of the laundry). The rum and the whisky notes aren’t exactly fighting but they’re not blended in any harmonious or even interesting way. The texture is rich and it’s quite approachable. As it sits the rum begins to recede slowly here as well, letting more of the ex-bourbon Highland Park character out: prickly peat, citrus and salt. With water there’s fruit here as well but it’s brighter here and not as rich as on the nose.

Finish: Long. Mostly peppery and sweet; the rum emerges here again at the end. More salt with water.

Comments: Well, I was getting to ready to lower the boom on what started out as a bit of a confused mess but then with time, air and water it improved greatly. I think I’d still rather just drink an ex-bourbon Highland Park and chase it with some Hampden or Worthy Park but this ends up working in its own way too.

Rating: 86 points.



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