Recently I ended up having some Highland Parks. This past year (2019) we saw the market flooded with tons of middle-aged Highland Parks under the name “Orkney”. I was lucky enough to try some.
The thing about Highland Park is this: It’s good, it’s great at cask strength, and they charge a pretty penny for it at cask strength. Yes, you end up with a boat or a plastic mountain or a bag extra, which… I guess makes up for it?
What I’m saying is that most of us have trouble finding cask strength and/or older Highland Park, as we’re not made of money. Enter Independent Bottlers. However, perhaps we need some age and we have some scratch to spend, so I’ve included an OB that isn’t. It benefits from selected casks and vatting, expert cask picking, etcetera.
Let’s see how they compare, shall we?
Thanks to /u/devoz for sharing this dram
Highland Park Orkney 17 2000 Berry Bros & Rudd Companions of the Quach is up first. The Companions of the Quach are a whisky group that’s been around the block or two.
Berry Brothers & Rudd have been bringing booze around the world for so long they have a letter stating they aren’t being paid back for the Titanic sinking.
Highland Park had many a good cask on the market over the last few years.
What happens when these things come together in Alberta? Well let’s see, shall we?
Price: Sold out
Region: Island (the bottle says Highland, I get it. There’re some splits between how regions are done, I don’t do the split of Highland out to the Islands, if you don’t like it I guess we’ll have to just disagree)
Year of Distillation: 2000
Drawn from cask ref. 5
Colour: 7.5Y 9/8
Nose: Raisin, caramel, dandelion, brine
Nice raisin, caramel. Sherry notes. Some floral, that’s different. Like a Lowland attempt but with some grass or lighter. Water brings out the brine. To remind you this is a Highland Park, in case you’re aliterate.
Taste: Lemon curd, brown sugar, plum, hard candy, banana
Alright, some acidity, some cream, some… candy? Fruit? It hints at something more complex but doesn’t quite get there.
Finish: Grass, gravel, brine, caramel, pear, earth
Goes back to grass, earth, brine. Insert notes you’ve had with an Island/sherry whisky trying to be a Lowland.
Conclusion: Boring, floral, trying to be something like a Lowland and not really doing it well. I love Lowlands. I love Highland Park. The idea of that going together should really be a home run for me.
Instead, I found this just hitting the same notes, not doing enough. Don’t get me wrong, I could sip on this and be alright with it. But it’s a single cask, cask strength Highland Park. Picked by a group that drinks out of elaborate bowl/glasses that were made for Scotch. Selected by an old independent bottler.
Oh well, maybe next whisky.
Highland Park 25 Douglas Laing Xtra Old Particular was part of a tasting that I ended up missing but was nice enough not to run off with my money, cackling, potentially into the wind and twirling her mustache.
So we’re jumping up a little higher here. 25 years old, single cask, and part of Douglas Laing’s second-highest level of whiskies. All of them are cask strength, single casks, and unfiltered. They are left out of the Old Particular, allowed to age longer and not be watered down, yet not quite epic enough to be XOP Black.
What happens when a Highland Park hits 25 years? All from an ex-bourbon cask, which normally Highland Park uses sherry (in their vattings that is, it’s part of their charm)? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: Sold out
Cask type: Refill hogshead
Cask Number DL 10435
Number of bottles: 210
Colour: 10Y 9/6
Nose: Quince jam, molasses, brine, nutty
Really floral and fruity. Interesting and odd and sugary too. The standard brine and some sweetness is here, but frankly, it’s all floral, fruity jam.
If you’re wondering, because you didn’t live the life I have, Quince is a floral fruit. It’s really hard to eat by itself, you usually eat it after it’s cooked, and the main thing is it’s really strong and floral and tart.
So basically the nose is all strong, strong floral notes. Unique and one-note.
Taste: Lime juice, tahini, orange juice, pineapple, soft oak
Acidic, seed, and some sugar/tropical aspects. The oak is a nice touch, and even given the age doesn’t come on too strong.
It’s complex enough that even though it’s acid/fruit-heavy doesn’t seem boring and you come back to it over and over. Think a good, fresh fruit platter.
Finish: Mango, brown sugar, lemongrass, oats, cassia buds
The finish reminds me of something between a standard crumble with brown sugar, oats, and spices mixed with more of a South-East Asian inspired flavour.
Aka like that time I made mango pie and I enjoyed it and everyone else realized I had a problem. The answer was I ate a pie.
Conclusion: Good taste and finish, the nose has some floral issues. As in nothing to balance that floral aspect.
This one was frustrating to me. I can see why people love it. And why it made it into this “class” of releases. You have a unique, fun dram that does cool stuff in the taste and finish, mimicking better than a random chest you find in a dungeon.
Then there’s that nose. I like the floral whiskies. I really do. This is too much. It really drove it down for me. Too bad. It’s still pretty amazing, and if you love quince, it’s a must buy.
Highland Park 26 1988 Cadenhead Small Batch Cask Strength was part of our end of year drams. Each year we have such a tasting, and it was picked because seemingly none of us had had it.
And what a pick: Sherry casks, Cadenheads, cask strength, and doesn’t come with a dumb boat. What else could you want? I certainly was excited.
Well if that isn’t a setup, I don’t know what is. Turns out I had picked it up before, and both /u/xile_ and /u/devoz proceeded to chirp me for this fact. It’s good to have friends looking out for you.
What did I think this time versus last? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: Sold out
Number of Bottles: 1,082
Colour: 10YR 6/10
Nose: English toffee, wood furniture, plum, orange, dough
Strong buttery sweets balanced with furniture so nice that millennials only remember it from when their boss hosts a party and allows them to see what homeownership is like for a night.
Water opens up some of the fruit/sherry aspects and even this dough note that gets a bit raw.
Taste: Orange Pekoe tea, leather, hay/farm, plum, butter, mint
Tannic and leather. Kinda like that good tea shop that you enjoy because it feels old. Some farm aspects, and again, water brings out plum, butter, and simpler, yet still fun, flavours.
Finish: Cinnamon, leather, farmy, peat, orange pith, coffee
Long. Super luscious flavours. More of those lovely, complex flavours, a finish with coffee, and a bit of peat/smoke to tap it all off. Dry, fun. Nothing that goes to the moon and back but really good flavour.
Damn, I should have bought more than 2 ounces of this.
Conclusion: Tannic, coffee, complex, dry, and fun. New year, new me enjoying it differently. Really I had similar flavours each time and overall felt similar each time. There are times where this feels like it’s going to take off and run you through memory, and then it doesn’t. You gotta fill in your own, silly stories.
What it is is great. And a simply great dram. I think I enjoyed it more last time, but just a bit more, meaning I’m amazing and consistent and therefore a better person (that’s all meant to be tongue in cheek and joking).
Thanks to /u/EvilAFI for sharing this dram.
Highland Park 21 is the one OB here. Now let’s be clear: Part of the whisky hobby is that standard “show off your wealth” side that the Internet makes worse. The best camera is needed to take a picture in a beautiful location with an OB that isn’t opened in “high” demand that cost a ton due to whisky people not counting the numerous IBs that do the same thing.
Suffice to say, due to not being born with a diamond-encrusted platinum spoon in my mouth, I typically buy IBs. And try to review the whisky based on its merits alone.
So while there’s a lot of Instagrammers who would show you 12,000 pics of the bottle of this one, few of them would taste it or open it, lest they hurt their “investment”.
So I’m not going to put down Highland Park 21 because of that. I’m also not going to buy a bottle and take a million pics. I’m going to put it in my mouth, and see how the hard work of balancing ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks worked. People worked hard on these for a long time and picked out specific barrels.
Did it work?
Price: Sold out
Colour: 10YR 6/8
Nose: Plantain, raspberry, brine, dry birch, menthol
Really earthy/sweet, interesting nose. It takes me a while. It’s not as sweet as a cooked banana or ripe bananas. It’s that distinctive plantain and raspberry note.
Well, sir, you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention. Menthol, typical brine, and even an odd drying/mineral/sugar syrup note.
Taste: Brown sugar, cantaloupe, brine, plantain, cereal/hay
Less dry, more brown sugar and cantaloupe, for those of you who feel your Vitamin C needs more diabetes.
Water brings back that distinctive plantain note. Granted I’ve only ever had fried plantains, so perhaps it’s specifically fried plantains. Some cereal to round it out. Not as odd as the nose, still nice.
Finish: Dry apple, marshmallow, oak, burnt caramel, mint
Very dry, burnt sweets finish. Gets a bit on that cloying side though never enough to make me stop wanting it.
I wish there was a bit of the brine on the finish here. Sadly missing.
Conclusion: Surprisingly unique. I came into this expecting similar to the 25 or 30, which are rich sherried beasts. Or maybe something super sweet like the old 18 which was dialled right into my sweet tooth.
If I was lining them up, here’s what I’d say: The 18 takes everything and hones it well. The 30 tries to do that but is only slightly at that great elvel. The 25 is for the people who tried the 12 a few years ago and it got them into Scotch. This one is for the nerdier, unique, not-quite-into-independently-bottled-whisky people who are looking for different. It never really becomes as amazing as others, but certainly surprised me. Which means something these days.
Scotch reviews #1178-1181, Island reviews #134-137, Whisky Network reviews #1815-1818