Today is the day before Christmas and therefore I have for you a whisky with Christmas in its name. This is the 2021 edition of the Whisky Exchange’s “A Fine Christmas Malt”. It is 16 years old and ostensibly from a mystery distillery. However, at the bottom of the product page for this whisky on the TWE website the links offer “More from Highland Park”. I think this means that this is a Highland Park. Actually, I know it is but don’t ask me how I know: if word gets out that he’s been so indiscreet someone might have to shave his beard. I rather liked the last Highland Park I reviewed of this general age: a 17 yo bottled for K&L. Unlike that one this is not a single cask but a vatting of bourbon and sherry casks. A friend visiting London in November muled a bottle back to me. I was expecting it to be sold out by now but somehow it is still available—oh, when will the war on Christmas end? On the other hand, this means I am reviewing yet another currently available whisky. I truly am the king of timely whisky reviewers. Continue reading
Like Monday’s cask for K&L, which it is four years older than, this one bears the “Orkney” appellation. It’s part of something called the Impex Collection. Impex is a US-based importer. I’m not sure if this Impex Collection business is new in 2021 or if they’ve been at it for a while. I do know the prices being asked for the bottles in the series are enthusiastic. This 21 yo, for example, is going for $200 and up. I suppose that’s low compared to what an official bottle from the distillery of similar age would go for but that’s certainly a price at which I expect a whisky to be very, very good indeed. K&L’s 17 yo cost a scant $80 and it was very good indeed. Let’s see if this one can match it. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
After Monday’s Jamaican rum and ex-bourbon cask lovechild, let’s move on to an altogether more conventionally matured Highland Park. Well, not very conventionally by the standards of the distillery’s own releases which are overwhelmingly sherry cask-driven. This 14 yo bottled by Berry Bros. and Rudd is from an ex-bourbon cask. And like almost all current indie releases of Highland Park, seemingly, it does not bear the distillery’s name. Instead it’s billed as “Orkney Islands” (this crackdown on the use of official distillery names by indies seems to be spreading through the industry). Well, I suppose it could theoretically be Scapa too. I will note, as I always do when reviewing bourbon cask Highland Park, that I really dig this profile and wish the distillery itself would release more in this vein and not just the massive single sherry casks that seem to be their current calling card (I”ll be reviewing one of those on Friday). Of course, there’s far more money to be made by selling massive sherry cask whiskies in this market and no one ever accused the proprietors of Highland Park, the Edrington Group, of being averse to making large amounts of money. Anyway, let’s see what this is like. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Well, friends, the pandemic is here. By “here” I mean Minnesota but really it is probably now wherever your “here” is. The time for denial and bravado, governmental and personal, is done. Now we have to all do our bit to restrict the pathways of infection and—also to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe: no one is immune.
Speaking of loved ones, the bottle I have a review of today was one of those I opened to mark my 50th birthday last month, all commemorating significant years in my life. I’ve already posted a review of the Glendronach distilled the year I left India for the US and the of the Springbank bottled the year our older son was born. This Highland Park was bottled the year our younger son was born. It is one of the oldest Highland Parks I’ve had and almost certainly the oldest bourbon cask Highland Park I’ve had. It was bottled by the Whisky Agency, in their very attractive “Bugs” label series. Continue reading
There was some rare good news recently on the American market for Scotch whisky front. Archives, the independent bottler label from the good lads at Rotterdam’s Whiskybase—one of the premier whisky stores in Europe—is finally available in the country. We usually get none of the top independent bottlers from the continent and so this was welcome news, especially as the Archives releases are marked both for the usual value and quality they represent. However, the news was tempered almost immediately by the discovery that these releases are restricted right now to stores in Georgia and California, making it all but impossible for most American whisky drinkers to get their hands on them, given the continuing farcical state of restrictions on inter-state shipping. And, of course, also by the fact that the three-tier mark-up system in the US renders these more expensive than they would be in Europe. I don’t know if the latter problem can be addressed but I am hopeful that availability at least may soon be expanded. At any rate, here is my review of the first of five bottles in their initial American release. I’ll have reviews of the other four as well in the coming weeks. Continue reading
The Highland Park 12 was one of the first whiskies I fell in love with when I started in on single malt whisky. Of course, that was many years and many bottle designs ago. Even though I have included it on both editions of my “Well-Rounded Single Malt Bar” lists, I have to admit that I had lost touch with it for a few years now. I reviewed it in 2014 back before the distillery had doubled down on its alleged Viking heritage (see the discussion in the comments on my write-up of my visit to the distillery last June to see how much this pivot bothers some people). Since then it’s been relaunched in a fancy new bottle with a slightly new name: it’s now the Viking Honour. I guess we have the honour of the Vikings to thank for the preservation of the age statement. Well, okay, that’s a cheap shot: while the distillery has indeed launched a number of NAS whiskies with Viking names it must be said that they’ve preserved their age-stated line and even delivered the occasional age-stated one-off (see the Full Volume). Anyway, I purchased this bottle on sale last year and opened it for a charity auction tasting friends asked me to host last month. I was curious to see what I would make of it—there’s been a lot of talk online about how it has gone completely downhill. Of course, with distilleries like Highland Park it is hard to separate people’s views of the whiskies from their views of their marketing. I liked my first pour at the event but wasn’t paying very close attention. I am now. Continue reading
I guess this has de facto turned into a sherried whisky month—all my reviews save for that of the Loch Lomond 12 have been of whiskies from sherry casks of one kind or the other. Might as well keep that going. Like Monday’s Ballechin 12, this too was released as an exclusive for the Whisky Barrel, and I got this sample as part of the same larger bottle split. This is an Orkney 11 yo, or an indie Highland Park—it seems like new indie releases of Highland Park mostly bear the Orkney nomenclature these days; and I think I read recently that Highland Park may even be cracking down on indie bottlings altogether—shame if that’s true. Anyway, I suppose it’s possible that an Orkney cask could also be from Scapa. But since I know less about these matters than most, I will go along with the notion that Orkney=Highland Park in the indie market unless there is info to the contrary. I was particularly interested in this one as it’s from a PX sherry hogshead (presumably not full matured) and I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those. Continue reading
Here is another timely review and another recent Archives bottling (see here for my review last week of their bourbon cask Aberlour 12). This is a 15 yo from an unnamed Orkney distillery—well, it’s Highland Park. It was bottled last year and is still available. This is a bit of a head-scratcher as the price is pretty good in this market for a 15 yo Highland Park at cask strength. Perhaps it’s because this is from a bourbon cask and bourbon cask Highland Park—like bourbon cask Aberlour—continues to be a bit of an unknown quantity when it comes to the average single malt enthusiast. My own enthusiasm for bourbon cask Highland Park is as high as my enthusiasm for bourbon cask Aberlour and I do not understand why more people are not interested in what their whisky tastes like without sherry cask involvement; especially as bourbon cask Highland Park tends to be more peat-forward than the regular (see this G&M release, for example). I opened it last month for a tasting of bourbon cask whiskies for my local group and it did very well. Indeed, it was the top whisky of the night, narrowly beating out an older Ardmore (which I liked better and will be reviewing soon). Here now are my notes. Continue reading
Yesterday I had a report on my visit to Highland Park in June. Today I have a review of a Highland Park whisky of a kind you won’t hear too much about on a tour at Highland Park: one from an ex-bourbon cask. At the distillery they are very focused on official Highland Park’s sherry-based identity, though they will concede when asked that bourbon cask Highland Park is used to make some of their special editions. It’s a pity that they don’t embrace those casks and that profile more fully as, in my (unoriginal) opinion, bourbon cask Highland Parks can be one of the great and unusual pleasures of the world of single malt Scotch whisky. It is where you get to experience peat most fully in Highland Park, and it’s quite a unique flavour of peat, derived as it is from local heather, and quite different from the phenol-soaked variants of Islay or Jura or even the smoke of Springbank or some distilleries in the highlands. I’ve had some very good ones and I’m happy to say that this one is not a disappointment. Continue reading
I toured Highland Park this June and it turned out to be one of the better tours I’ve been on. But when planning the trip I’d not planned to tour it at all. This because I’d read numerous reports from whisky geeks about the experience at the distillery being soulless and so on. As all of this seemed of a piece with the relentless premiumization the owners have been engaged in for the last half-decade or more, I tended to believe it. However, when I had a drink in Edinburgh with James he recommended it highly. I still didn’t make a reservation but decided I’d give it a go if the chance presented itself once actually on Orkney. And it did. Continue reading
Way back in 2010, when the whisky world was a less complicated place, Highland Park released three vintage bottles to duty-free. There was a 1990, a 1994, and this 1998. All were bottled at 40%—which is the kind of thing we grumbled about then, not knowing that a day would come when Highland Park would replace ages and vintages on their bottles with names of Vikings. I purchased my bottle of the 1998 from World of Whiskies in Heathrow in 2010. It cost $55, which I guess was pretty steep even then for an 11 yo at 40%, considering the regular 12 yo was then available for $32 in the Twin Cities and the 15 yo for a bit less than $55. I cannot remember how much the 1990 and 1994 cost. I finished my bottle a long time ago but saved a large reference sample. I then forgot all about it, and only found it while rummaging around for a Highland Park sample that I might review to mark my visit to the distillery today. I also found a sample of the 1994 that I’d received in a swap a long time ago, but, alas, that sample seemed to have deteriorated a bit in the bottle (perhaps because of the low strength). I’ve consigned the remains of that sample to one of my home vattings and have instead a review of the 1998, which has held up fine. Continue reading
I’ve reviewed a number of very good whiskies this month but let’s close with something really special. This Highland Park 25 was released sometime in the mid-90s—most people say 1995 but I’m not sure if that’s confirmed (and no, I haven’t squinted at my bottle for an undecipherable code). I like to believe that it was released in 1995 because that would mean that there was distillate from 1970 in there and that’s the year I was born. (I know, this means a lot to you as well.) I opened the bottle on my 48th birthday this year—my new policy, now that I’m closer to death than birth, is to open a very special bottle on my birthday each year. This is Highland Park from well before they began to care about packaging (which started in the late 2000s and led to today’s series of embarrassments). High quality sherried whisky, not sold in a longboat or in a black bottle. It’s also from a time when you didn’t need to choose between paying your mortgage or purchasing Highland Park 25 for a special occasion. Anyway, as I’m in danger of veering into the territory of the negative—an area which, as you know, makes me very uncomfortable—I’m going to now turn to the review itself. Continue reading
Less than a week ago, I complained in my review of an ex-bourbon cask Highland Park bottled by A.D. Rattray that the distillery itself doesn’t see fit to give us ex-bourbon Highland Park, one of the true secret pleasures of the single malt whisky world. It was very soon pointed out to me by EricH in the comments that one of the distillery’s most recent releass, Full Volume, is in fact all ex-bourbon whisky. I had actually been aware of the existence of this whisky but, as I noted, its stupid name had led me to believe that it was one more in Highland Park’s unending series of NAS whiskies, and so I’d ignored it. Lo and behold, it turns out to not only have a vintage statement but an age statement as well. It’s a 17 yo put together this year from casks distilled in 1999. And it’s at a respectable 47.2% abv. Of course, it’s also clad in extremely ridiculous packaging (a black bottle, in a box that is meant to resemble a Marshall amp) but having complained incorrectly about the lack of an official ex-bourbon Highland Park, I felt it was only right that I should check out the one that had just been released. And my decision to do that was made easier by the discovery that it’s actually priced quite reasonably—as low as $89 in Minnesota. Not cheap in the abstract, but these days an official 17 yo at a strength above 43% for less than $120 seems like a steal. Continue reading
On Wednesday I posted a review of a bourbon cask Highland Park bottled by A.D. Rattray and noted in passing that Highland Park used to be one of my favourite distilleries. I said I’d elaborate soon on why I’m more ambivalent about them now, and here I am, just two days later.
Well, it’s not for any earth-shatteringly surprising reason. Highland Park and I have both changed but they’ve changed more than I have: I’m losing hair but they’ve lost their minds. When I first started drinking single malt whisky, Highland Park put out a limited line of very good whisky at good prices in ugly bottles. In the last 15 years the bottles have got updated but in the process prices have gone up drastically (especially for their 18 yo). Their lineup has gotten more bloated than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and they increasingly seem to be designing/marketing their whisky with children in mind: an endless series of Viking-themed whiskies (too many to list), black bottles (ditto), boxes shaped like amplifiers (the new Full Volume), this abomination, the list goes on…I know we’re only supposed to care about the whisky in the bottle but it’s got to the point where it’s embarrassing to be seen buying a bottle of Highland Park. I mean, they make mid-late 2000s Bruichladdich’s output seem restrained and thoughtful. Continue reading