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.

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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.

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Highland Park 12

hp12
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

highlandpark15
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 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