Highland Park Week began with an indie release from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society which featured a Jamaican rum finish. On Wednesday, I reviewed an ex-bourbon cask from Berry Bros. & Rudd. Here to close out the series is an official distillery release that has the distillery’s favoured official profile front and center: sherry. Indeed, it is a single sherry cask. In the last few-several years Highland Park have really stepped up their single cask program. This one is a 13 yo distilled in 2006 and as per Whiskybase there are at least 40 such releases from the 2006 vintage alone and at least as many from each of the preceding years in the decade (the 2007s and 2008s appear to still be coming online. Not being insane, I have not gone and looked at the details of each cask but a random sampling suggests they’re all heavily sherried and all at ludicrous strengths, and that many if not most are from first-fill European oak casks. It’s no big surprise that this should be the case. In this market there’s only one thing that would top the mix of stupidly high abv and a sherry bomb when it comes to convincing whisky geeks to pay the big bucks and that’s if you add heavy peat to the mix.
Well, even without the heavy peat Highland Park has been able to get punters to open their wallets. None of these single casks have been reasonably priced. I believe this so-called Cask of the Forest and its partner Cask of the Earth went/go for north of $200 in the US—this for a 13 yo whisky. And no, I don’t know what those names are supposed to mean. I assume there is also a Cask of the Mountain, Cask of the Sea, Cask of the Air and Cask of the Desert (Hillock? Meadow? River? Lake? Pond?). I suppose we should be happy at any rate that they’re not NAS releases. Anyway, let’s see what this is like.
Highland Park 13, 2006, Cask of the Forest (63.9%; first-fill European oak sherry butt 1994; from a bottle split)
Nose: Rich sherry, no surprise. It leads with the fruit (plum, dried orange peel, apricot) and then the oak comes up from below, palpable but not overbearing or tannic. Not much change with time. With a few drops of water the fruit expands—the plum and apricot in particular—but so does the oak (still not tannic). Some pencil lead too now. As it sits further the fruit gets richer still (some fig along with the apricot and plum) and the oak recedes. A few more drops of water and, yes, we’re now in the arena of the right drinking strength for this: the fruit comes leaping out of the glass, with the apricot in the lead, ripe and jammy.
Palate: Hot but surprisingly approachable at full strength. Which is not to say the first sip is very interesting: there’s some indistinct citrus, some salt, some oak. I take the econd sip a few minutes later and now there’s more of the fruit but the alcohol is still masking too much. A few more minutes and another sip and I’ll add water. Yeah, needs water. With a few drops of water it develops mostly as on the nose, with more fruit, some graphite but less oak. Richer here too with more time. Ah yes, with the second addition of water it gets stickier and there’s marmalade now along with the apricot and plum; the oak provides a nice frame.
Finish: Long. At first there’s noting here beyond lingering alcohol burn, some oak and then some salt. As on the palate with both additions of water with spicy oak at the end.
Comments: At full strength this is drinkable but boring. With water it really opens up and reveals its fruity charms. If you have an unopened bottle I’d recommend water when you do open it. My rough estimate is that I probably got it down to 55% with the first addition and closer to 50% with the second.
Rating: 87 points. (Pulled up quite a bit by water.)
So if a bottle of this whisky has to be watered down to about 50% for the best flavor, does that bring the price of a bottle down about half? How much weight does the price of a bottle have on your ratings?
I don’t know about the math but my preference would be for whiskies to be bottled at better drinking strengths to start with.