This week’s reviews are of whiskies from island distilleries. On Monday I tasted a Bunnahabhain 15 bottled by Old Particular for K&L in California. Today I have a Highland Park 24 bottled by Signatory for another store, the famous La Maison du Whisky in Paris. This was distilled in 1990 and bottled in 2015 after maturing in a sherry butt. The cask yielded 489 bottles at 51.4% which must seem like very little to anyone whose notion of sherry cask outturn has been conditioned by Glendronach’s cask shenanigans. I purchased this bottle some years ago and only opened it a week or so ago. I enjoyed the first couple of pours a lot and am looking forward to taking some notes on it. Let’s get right to it.
Highland Park 24, 1990 (51.4%; Signatory for La Maison du Whisky; sherry butt 15706; from my own bottle)
Nose: Orange peel, honey and light caramel with a big seam of toasted malt running through it all. The malt edges into milky cocoa pretty quickly and there’s a bit of vanilla to go with it. Brighter/more acidic with time. With a few drops of water some pastry crust emerges and melds with the orange. Continue reading →
Okay, let’s bring to an end this week of reviews of recent’ish releases in Signatory’s Un-Chillfiltered Collection. The week began on Monday with an Ardmore 11 that was matured in ex-Islay casks. It continued on Wednesday with a bourbon cask Glenrothes. Both those casks were unusual expressions of those distilleries’ profiles but neither got me very excited—though I did like them both. The final whisky for the week is more in line with the distillery’s official profile: this is a Highland Park from a refill sherry butt. Yes, it says it’s an “Unnamed Orkney” but unless word emerges that casks from Scapa are also being sold under these “Unknown/Secret Orkney” appellations, it’s safe to assume these are all Highland Parks. I did a whole week of Highland Park reviews last month (here, here and here). I liked two of those quite a lot and was only a bit disappointed by the one official release in the lot (though I didn’t think it was bad). Let’s hope this one is more in line with the two indies from the last go-around. Continue reading →
Highland Park week didn’t get off to the best start. The first release of the Cask Strength was a pretty raw alcohol bomb that was rescued by water but still didn’t make it out of middling territory. Wednesday’s 17 yo from Duncan Taylor was quite a bit better. Will that trajectory continue with this cask from The Daily Dram which is two years older still? As with the Duncan Taylor label, this one doesn’t specify cask type but I am hoping it was a bourbon cask. The label also doesn’t name the distillery—though we all know these Secret Orkneys—and all the other indie “Orkney” variants—are Highland Park. This is a nudge-nudge, wink-wink deal, of course. While there isn’t a lot of it around, there is some indie Scapa out there: Gordon & Macphail (who else?) have released a number of them in their Connoisseur’s Choice series in the last few years. And so in theory a single malt whisky identified only as being from Orkney could be from Scapa. If so, it doubtless would benefit the bottler mightily price-wise from all of us assuming it was a Highland Park—just as those who bottle undisclosed Islays benefit from the speculation that those might be Lagavulins or Ardbegs. Anyway, let’s get to it. Continue reading →
A week of reviews of Highland Park began on Monday with the first edition of the relatively new official Cask Strength release. It continues today with an indie release that is doubtless quite a bit old. This 17 yo from Duncan Taylor was also released recently—just last year in fact. Assuming it’s the same one, Whiskybase indicated an outturn of almost 650 bottles, which would indicate a sherry cask (if it was indeed a single cask release). I’m waiting to hear if the source of my sample has any more information on the cask. If so, the colour after 17 years suggests it would have been a refill cask. It’s been a while since I’ve had a Duncan Taylor release—they weren’t always good with divulging cask details back in the day. Who knows, perhaps contemporary Duncan Taylor is more forthcoming with the details. I’ll let you know what I hear. I was actually kind of hoping it would be a bourbon cask as I am rather partial to bourbon cask Highland Park—an incarnation we very rarely get from the distillery itself. Anyway, whatever this is, I hope it is good. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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 →
I closed out November’s whisky reviews with an independently bottled Highland Park from a bourbon cask. Let’s start December’s whisky reviews with another.
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 →