Highland Park 10

Highland Park 10
I don’t really follow distillery press releases and marketing so please forgive me if I’m wrong about the following: my understanding is that Highland Park 10 is only available in a couple of countries in Europe (the Netherlands among them) and only available in 350 ml bottles. Why either of these things should be so, I don’t know. And I suppose it is possible that neither is still true—this is not a new whisky. At any rate, I guess we should just be happy that Highland Park are putting out an age stated whisky even younger than their mainstay 12 yo. (This seems to be a bit of a happy trend these days, by the way, what with Lagavulin’s new 8 yo-–though that may not continue past this year—and Bowmore just releasing a new 9 yo.) Maybe there’s a faction at the distillery who’re embarrassed about Highland Park’s endless parade of whiskies with silly names and stories and this is a sop to them. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like.  Continue reading

Highland Park 12, Cask 2820 (for Twin Liquors)

Highland Park 12 for Twin Liquors
It has been more than six months since I’ve reviewed a Highland Park. Considering it was once one of my very favourite distilleries that seems like a long gap. I say “was once” not “is” because it’s been hard to get excited about Highland Park of late. They seem to have gone irrevocably down the path of premiumization at one end of their range and NAS’ization at the other, and silly names and stories and gimmicks like Dark Origins and Ice taking the place of the no-nonsense quality that was once their calling card. Of their old range the 15 yo has been phased out, the 18 yo‘s price has long gone out of the “good value” range and the 25 yo and 30 yo are now only for the very wealthy. The 12 yo remains their one saving grace, though I haven’t had a recent bottling: who knows if, with all the NAS stuff they’re putting out, enough quality casks remain for what was once the cornerstone of their range.  Continue reading

Highland Park 22, 1991 (SMWSA 4.191)

Highland Park 22, 1991, SMWSA
Highland Park, as I have noted on many occasions, is one of my very favourite distilleries. And as I have doubtless also noted on many occasions, bourbon cask Highland Parks—which are rarely available from the distillery—always catch my eye. They’re obviously very different from the distillery’s usual fare: as Highland Park matures its spirit predominantly in sherry casks, bourbon casks are rare from even the independents. Unsurprisingly, they’re also quite different from the standard profile. While I don’t myself believe that it it’s in bourbon cask matured malt that a distillery’s true profile/character is revealed (this is because I don’t believe in “distillery character” as something separate from maturation*), it is true that it is from bourbon casks that you can most clearly get a sense of the nature of Highland Park’s peat, in particular. And the continuities between bourbon cask Highland Park and malt from distilleries like Clynelish and Springbank that I also like very much indeed are interesting as well.  Continue reading

Highland Park 19, 1990 (Signatory)

HIghland Park 19, 1990, Signatory
I purchased this cask strength Highland Park 19, 1990 from Signatory a long while ago with the express purpose of comparing it with this marvelous OB 19 distilled four years previous. I finally opened it last year but I still haven’t gotten around to the head to head comparison. This is because I only just remembered that that was why I’d purchased it. Isn’t getting older so much fun?

That’s all I have by way of introduction, I’m afraid.

Highland Park 19, 1990 (56.5%; Signatory; sherry butt 15696; from my own bottle)

Nose: It’s a bit tight but with my nose deep in the glass there are dark sherry notes to be found: raisins, orange peel, toffee edging into fudge territory. Some leathery oak as well. Something farmy/leafy too (and is that a whiff of peat?). Water should open it up nicely. With more time the sweeter notes mix with savoury and there’s a mild inkiness too. The apricot that emerges late on the palate shows up on the nose too along with some maple syrup. With a few drops of water the sweeter fruit are emphasized and there’s a light dusting of cocoa powder. Continue reading

Highland Park “Dark Origins”

Highland Park, Dark Origins
After the recent mini-run of bourbon cask matured Highland Park from indie bottlers (1 and 2) here’s an OB sherried version. This NAS Highland Park was released last year and is said to contain twice as much first-fill sherry cask matured malt than the regular Highland Park 12. Of course, for all we know the Highland Park 12 has been matured twice as long. Highland Park, one of my favourite distilleries, have really upped the ante on NAS releases and general tomfoolery in recent years but as long as they continue to give us the core age stated range at reasonable prices I’m not going to complain. Oh wait, the prices of the 25 yo and 30 yo have reportedly skyrocketed recently and even the 18 yo seems to be going up. And with all these younger and/or travel retail releases will they have enough stock to keep the 12 yo a viable concern or is that the next endangered creature? That sound you hear is my complaint engine beginning to rev up. Continue reading

Highland Park 17, 1996 (Malts of Scotland)

Highland Park 17, 1996, Malts of Scotland
Let’s stick with Highland Park and let’s go with another from an atypical (for the distillery) bourbon cask (after last Friday’s 11 yo from Hart Brothers). This is a 17 yo from the German bottler Malts of Scotland, who seem to have bottled more bourbon cask Highland Parks than they have sherry casks (I have an older one that I plan to open later this year; fascinating information, I know). Anyway, let’s get right to it.

Highland Park 17, 1996 (54.2%; Malts of Scotland; bourbon cask 14040; from a purchased sample)

Nose: Opens with honey; some lime peel as well and a hint of apricot. Despite the strength not being particularly high it feels somewhat closed. Let’s see if some air doesn’t open it up. No, still quite closed 20 minutes or so later, with only a little bit of pine and more lime zest showing up. Time for water. With water, the lime peel/zest retreats a bit and it’s sweeter with some cream. Continue reading

Highland Park 11, 1993 (Hart Brothers)

Highland Park 11, 1993
This is an older release from Hart Brothers, a bottler who I don’t think I’ve seen anything new from in the US for a while—are they still in the country? Anyway, this was released in 2005 and hung around for a long time at Binny’s before they finally discounted it massively for one of their Spring sales a couple of years ago, which is when I decided to finally give it a go. It is from a bourbon cask (I believe, there’s no specific info on the label). The distillery only releases sherry-aged malt and so it is to the indies we must go for Highland Park from bourbon cask. (I assume the distillery produces these casks for use in the group’s blends: I’m not sure to what degree sherry cask Highland Park itself is allocated for blending.)

This is not my favourite profile of Highland Park by any means (like everyone else I’m a sucker for their quintessential sherried style) but it’s always very nice as a change-up. And if you haven’t had a bourbon cask Highland Park it’s also an opportunity to see how much sherry cask aging alters the base spirit—which, if my limited experience is anything to go by, starts out much more minerally, peppery and peaty than you would expect from the official distillery profile.

Continue reading

Highland Park 18

Highland Park 18

I’ve previously reviewed the Highland Park 12 and 15, and here is the third in the classic trifecta from the distillery. The Highland Park 18 is one of the great distillery bottlings and in some ways may be the quintessential Highland Park malt. Richer and rounder than the 15 yo, mellower and fruitier than the 12 yo, this and the Lagavulin 16 would be at the top of my list if I was told that I had to pick only a handful of widely available bottles to drink for the rest of my life (the Laphroaig 10, the Nadurra and the Clynelish 14 would probably round out the top five).

The price has gone up over the years but it remains good value in my book (and it helps that in our neck of the woods it can still be found a little south of $100 from time to time). I think it’s between this and the Yamazaki 18 for the title in the OB heavily sherried class, and the Yamazaki 18 now costs almost twice as much. Let’s hope that the owners don’t muck this (or the 12 yo) up as they continue to release an endless stream of NAS/young bottles with silly concepts and packaging.

Continue reading

Highland Park 12

Last week I reviewed the Highland Park 15, the least loved of the Orkney distillery’s regular line and apparently marked for extinction. Today I have its younger sibling, the Highland Park 12, an altogether better known and more popular whisky (though not the youngest in Highland Park’s range anymore). As you have doubtless become sick of hearing, the Highland Park 12 is considered the all-rounder of single malt whisky, bringing together the major characteristic aromas and flavours of single malt whisky. If someone is new to single malt whisky and wants tips on what they might like it’s not uncommon to hear whisky geeks recommend that they try Highland Park 12 and note which aspects of it they like—the smoke, the sherried notes, the citrus, the sweetness, the brine. It is also remains a very reasonably priced whisky—available in Minnesota for less than $40.

It was one of my gateway malts—along with the Clynelish 14, the Talisker 10 and Laphroaig 10, it confirmed my ensuing obsession with single malt whisky and with Highland Park in particular (it is one my very favourite distilleries). And it has been a staple on my shelves ever since. I am pleased to finally be reviewing it for the blog. Continue reading

Highland Park 15

Situated between the more famous 12 and 18 year olds in Highland Park’s core range, the 15 year old tends to get lost in the shuffle. I know a lot of people who’ve had a lot of Highland Park but have not tried it. It may be, I suppose, that it’s not as widely available as its siblings or that it falls into an awkward price category, being neither entry-level not qualifying as a “special” purchase. As it happens it is different from the 12 yo and the 18 yo in production terms as well: as Gerry Tosh is quoted as saying on this blog’s review from 2010, whereas the 12 yo and the 18 yo are aged primarily in sherry casks made of European oak, the 15 yo is aged predominantly in sherry casks made of American oak.

I’m not really sure, by the way, what the status of this expression is. I’d heard rumours a couple of years ago that it was being discontinued, but it’s still listed on the distillery’s website and is still widely available in Minnesota.  Continue reading

Highland Park, St. Magnus, 2nd Ed.

Highland Park, St. Magnus, 2nd Ed. In recent years Highland Park has really invested in the Norse history and connections of Orkney. The Magnus series, and the Hjarta before it, may have paved the way for Thor, Loki and Freya, proving people are willing to pay a lot for cask strength teen Highland Parks in wooden boxes and in “limited” releases. (The cheaper and lower strength travel retail warriors–Harald, Svein and Einar–hopefully do not foretell changes in the core line.) Though it must be said that the boxes the Magnus and Haakon (the third in the Magnus series) bottles came in look rather tame next to Thor, Loki and Freya’s longships. I did like the Loki a lot and so am looking forward to trying this sample from the second edition which saw Magnus get upgraded/downgraded from an Earl to a Saint while losing three years in age.

Highland Park 12 “St. Magnus” (55%; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: Strong peat–a little leathery, then quite a bit rubbery. After a minute or two here comes the fruit and it’s all dried: apricot, tangerine peel, figs. Just the faintest whiff of gunpowder. Gets salty (sea salt crystals) and sweet (inky) at the same time. With more time the fruit is more like very reduced preserves rather than dried/fruit leather/peel and it gets increasingly raisiny as well. With a drop or two of water the fruit is all integrated and there’s a savoury, slightly meaty note as well–oh wait, maybe that’s the gunpowder getting stronger. Continue reading

Highland Park 21

Highland Park 21

This Highland Park 21 was first released in duty free stores in 2007 and was very reasonably priced. Passing through Heathrow in late 2009 I sampled it early in the morning at World of Whiskies and made the mistake of trusting a palate soured by travel unease: in short, I did not purchase it. Later, I got to try a sample again and liked it much, much more and kicked myself. By this time it was available in regular retail but had been brought down to 40% abv. The current version (unavailable in the US) is back up in strength but it now costs quite a bit more than it originally did. I tasted the current version at a celebration of sherried whiskies in St. Paul earlier thislast year and it’s still very good. This sample, however, is from the original release.

Highland Park 21 (47.5%; for travel retail; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: Oranges, milk chocolate, a little caramel and a whiff of smoke. With time there’s honey and apricot and maybe a hint of peach as well; and the orange seems to take a turn towards lemon. Some toasted wood emerges as well along with honey. Wonderfully integrated and the notes intensify with time. Water doesn’t do anything worth mentioning. Continue reading

Highland Park 25, (45.7%, 2012)

Highland Park 25, 45.7%
In my review of the 25 yo at 48.1% which kicked off this month I explained the uninteresting history of my relationship with the Highland Park 25. I was glad to discover that that bottling (from 2007 or 2008) did not disappoint. Here’s hoping that this 2012 release, which comes in a whopping great wooden box, is as good. Though this is being posted at the very end of the month, I tasted this right after the other so as to be able to compare them directly–as a result these notes will make constant reference to the other bottle.

Highland Park 25, 2012 Release (45.7%; from my own bottle)

Nose: Not quite as intensely sherried as the other. The citrus/apricot note is more apparent at the start and it’s generally brighter (in comparative terms, that is; this is still quite obviously sherried). No gunpowder here at all and far less smoke. With a minute or so of airing there’s toffee and golden raisins soaked in brandy and also an earthy note and the quintessential Highland Park floral peat. The raisins get more and more intense with time and that earthy note turns to pencil lead/graphite. More fruit in here too. With water there’s a vanilla/shortbread note and the fruit turns to fruit leather. Continue reading

Highland Park 1975-2001 (Scott’s Selection)

Scott's Selection, Highland Park 1975This Scott’s Selection Highland Park is not from one of the four Scott’s bottles I recently split with a number of friends. This is from a sample swap from a while ago. I’m not sure why I’ve been sitting on this for so long but now’s as good a time as any to get into it.

Highland Park 1975-2001 (50%; Scott’s Selection; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: Acetone at first and then get a little bourbonny with notes of rye and pine. Some slightly darker sweet notes behind all that and it gets a little malty too. With time there’s a little honey and a tiny bit of smoke. And then some fruit begins to emerge: apricot jam, maybe a little hint of over-ripe peach and, so help me, Jeebus, some caramelized plantain/banana too. Also, some toasted wood. With a drop of water the fruit gets a little thicker but the wood also seems to perk up. Does this bode ill for the palate? Continue reading