Highland Park 12, 18, and 25

There had been some debate between friends at the Whisky Party whether Highland Park, the northern-most distillery in Scotland, produced scotch that is good, great, or (imagine this), average. I am personally an HP apologist, and I sat down over the last week to taste a handful of their Orkney-born products. One thing that became even more apparent than usual is that HP is anything but usual. With the softest water in Scotland, peated maltings, Orcadian sea breezes, sherry casks, and loads of heather in the stream beds, even their affordable and accessible 12-year is a whisky unto itself.

Highland Park 12 (new packaging)

Alc/vol: 43%
Color: deep golden (amber, I think they call it)
Legs: med.-large beads, medium-slow drip
Nose: big heather, sweet flowers, touch of grass, hints of some subtle fruit
Palate: malty, honeyed, and smokey, with movement toward soft milk chocolate and berries
Body: oily and pleasant; medium bodied
Finish: subtle but long, very enjoyable without being very intense; a grass-fire smokey ending
Overall: a very nice, complex, balanced, and relaxing drop. not challenging, but it never stops offering flavor. So good.

Score: 8.75/10

Highland Park 18 (older packaging)

Alc/vol: 43%
Color: copper
Nose: Lemon zest, saltiness, oak, a touch floral, becoming creamy vanilla with maybe an old blueberry after time in the open air.
Palette: toffee, smokey oak, almonds, pine nuts, salt.
Body: firm and just a tad buttery, with flavor happening all over.
Finish: still going… touch of smoke turns to intense mocha that just lasts forever.
Overall: There’s so much to this; one of the most complex and pleasurable drams around, for my taste.

Score: 9.25/10

Highland Park 25 (older packaging)

Proof: 101.4
Color: crimson gold
Legs: sm.-med. beads, deathly slow Nose: butterscotch, plums, nuttiness, banannas & fudge, all ensconsed in raw honey
Palette: cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, fudge, bananna-nut bread, fresh coffee beans, and more
Body: Medium-full; spicy and hot mouthfeel.
Finish: Honey into different nuts, oak, etc, that keeps moving while it lasts and lasts.
Overall: Wonderous, but tending away from the playful honey and smoke of the 12 and developing the nuttier, earthier flavors present in the 18. Definitely similar to the 18, but with even more complexity (if that is possible) and a depth of flavor all its own. The nose was ridiculous, and I didn’t even have a decent glass for nosing. If I had, it might have been sensory overload.

Score: 9.4/10

Next up: two 13-year single-barrell independent bottlings of Highland Park.

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10 Cheap Scotches to Get You Started

A number of people here at the Whisky Party have been discussing some cheap, quality bottlings to recommend to folks just getting into drinking single malt scotch whisky.  Here’s what one of us came up with.  Let us know what you think:

  1. Jura Superstition (never had it, but young peated casks vatted with 23 yo unpeated casks from a unique Island distillery; $40-45)
  2. Highland Park 12 yo (one of my favorites, a critical darling, and a true “all-rounder” Island whisky for under $40)
  3. Glenkinchie 10 yo (light and grassy, with a non-citrus fruit in the middle. Maybe pears).
  4. Caol Ila 12 yo (I prefer the 18 yo, but at $45, this one is peatier and more interesting than often assumed)
  5. Laphroaig Quartercask ($47; a vatting of young whiskies finished in tiny casks, imparting much wood flavor and mellowness.  Anyone who hasn’t had this should kill themselves)
  6. Clynelish 14 yo (a northern, coastal Highland and undervalued)
  7. Glenmorangie 10 yo (another superb Highland; $40-50)
  8. Bowmore 12 yo ($30-40; see Dr. Whisky)
  9. Cragganmore 12 yo (top notch Speyside; big, floral nose; nice buttery body with some rich fruit and a touch of smoke; right around $50).
  10. Balvenie – either the 10 yo ($40) or the 12 yo doublewood ($50)