Here to close out the month is a Highland Park. This is my first Highland Park review since June when I reviewed three in a week. One of those was an official single sherry cask; another was an ex-bourbon cask with a rum finish from the SMWS; and the third was a regular bourbon hogshead bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd. Like the BB&R cask this too is a bourbon hogshead and like it it bears not the distillery’s name on the label but a reference to Orkney. As you may know, Highland Park no longer allows indie bottlers to put their name on labels. Well, whatever the name on the label, I am a big fan of bourbon cask Highland Park and I hope this will turn out to be more evidence of how good those casks can be. I will maintain this optimism even though this particular cask was selected by K&L as part of their 2021 releases. It was very reasonably priced too—now long sold out, I think. Anyway, let’s get to it.
Orkney Distillery 17, 2003 (54.9%; OMC for K&L; refill hogshead; from a bottle split)
Nose: Peppery, heathery peat along with malt and cream. On the second sniff there’s some lemon and dusty oak. It all intensifies and melds nicely as it sits, with the lemon transitioning to lime peel. With time and air the musky fruit from the palate begins to pop out here and there are some sweeter floral notes as well. A few drops of water push the oak back and amplify the cream.
Palate: Leads with the pepper and more smoke (coal rather than phenolic peat) than presented on the nose. As I swallow there’s an unexpected burst of musky fruit (pineapple, lychee). Rich texture and very approachable at full strength. More oak on the second sip and then the fruit begins to pop out earlier. Yes, the fruit gets more and more pronounced with time (hints of passionfruit too now) and begins to pick up some vanilla cream to go with. A couple more sips and I’ll add some water. Ah yes, the oak gets pushed back here too and the lime expands—the muskier fruit recedes, however.
Finish: Long. The musky fruit crests and then it’s the pepper and smoke that takes us out. As on the palate with water except the pepper turns a bit metallic.
Comments: Ah, this is lovely bourbon cask Highland Park. I don’t mean to suggest that it’s a similar profile to Ardmore but it has in common with good ex-bourbon Ardmore that unusual quality of being both austere and fruity at the same time. Neat, there’s a touch too much oak on the palate. Water pushes it back but also pushes the fruit back. That’s about all that holds it back from the next tier for me. At $80 this was an absolute steal and if I’d tasted it before it sold out I would have had a friend in L.A buy a couple of bottles for me. Ah well; so it goes.
Rating: 89 points.