Highland Park was once one of my very favourite distilleries but it’s been a while since I cared to keep up with what they were up to. Of course, this is not a reflection on the distillery itself but on the owners but they’ve gone down an increasingly silly path of premiumization over the last half decade, with prices increasing and NAS releases proliferating. As I’ve stopped following them, I had no idea they’d launched a new cask strength edition until the chance came up to go in on a bottle split on the first release from 2020. Though as I say that I’m not sure that it is in fact the first release—or rather, what that means. As per Whiskybase, this is the first release of this particular Highland Park Cask Strength (subtitled, “Robust and Intense”). But Whiskybase also lists four other cask strength distillery releases, the last of which came out in 2019—all of those were 350 ml bottles for the Swedish market. So, it may be more appropriate to say that this is the first general release of a cask strength line under the “Robust & Intense” moniker. There’s been a second release in 2021 as per Whiskybase. Unlike the Swedish casks, which don’t specify, this first release is listed as having been matured in “sherry seasoned American oak casks”; the second added sherry seasoned European oak casks to the mix. That one seems to have come to the US too—I’ll keep an eye out for a possible bottle split of that as well.
As with a lot of Highland Park special releases, this has been bottled at a ludicrous strength. I am sure this is a smart marketing move with the whisky bro crowd but in practice it’s probably going to mean a lot of tinkering with water to get it closer to its best self.
Highland Park Cask Strength, First Release (63.3%; from a bottle split)
Nose: Unsurprisingly, pretty closed at first with just some dusty oak making an impression. As it sits, some more organic notes emerge (leaves, humus) and then there’s some dried orange peel along with the dusty oak and some slight hints of toffee and other sweet things. A few more minutes and the orange becomes sweeter and some apricot pops out to join it. A few drops of water and the apricot and toffee expand and are joined by some honey and some roasted malt; the citrus begins to turn to citronella. A couple more drops of water and it’s now all about the apricot with a bit of powdered ginger in there too.
Palate: Comes in with the citrus in the lead but this is hot, hot, hot. Thankfully, the oak is not over the top as I feared it might be. Softens a bit with time/air but it’s still too hot and closed. Water lets the citrus out more fully but it’s still pretty hot and one-note here; maybe two notes if you count some oak. As it sits, the apricot emerges here as well and the citrus sets my teeth on edge a bit. Okay, let’s add a few more drops of water. Hmm here it seems to make not the fruit but the oak expand.
Finish: Long. The sherry separates pretty quickly and it’s hard to tell much else from under the burn of the alcohol. More citrus here too with water and a faint lick of smoke at the end. More sticky with time. And yes, the oak expands here too with the second addition of water, turning a bit bitter at the end.
Comments: I was not terribly impressed with this neat, even though it did soften up a bit with time in the glass. Water made the nose sing but never quite brought the palate up to that level. Can’t help thinking this would have been better if the batch had included enough lower proof casks to bring this the strength down well below 60% as both Springbank and Laphroaig’s CS editions regularly do. Then again, if you have a bottle and get lucky with tinkering with water you might happen upon a ratio that works even better for you—hopefully, with enough whisky still left in the bottle.
Rating: 84 points