Feb 102013
 

OLD & ROUND vs. YOUNG & FLAT 18, 21, 25 and 30

If you change the looks of the packaging does the product in the packaging change?  Being on the wrong side of midlife, I firmly believe that all things older are better, but hey, that’s just me and I can’t remember the last time I was wrong…except for the time I thought Jim Murray was qualified to pick the whisky of the year.  We, the gang of four, all have our opinions on this smoldering whisky question of which version of the Highland Park is better.  So rather than debate this uncertainty we decided that we should just have a tasting to define the answer.

For the benefit of the Great Unwashed, the Highland Park distillery and its brother from a different mother, the Scapa distillery, are located on Mainland, the largest Island in the remote northern Islands of Orkney.  Highland Park is considered by regional experts to be a Highland Malt, which would make it a Highland-Mainland-Island-Highland whisky but not on the Mainland, not a Park and not part of Highlands.  Highland Park first started producing single malt with a license in 1826 but it is said that the smarter locals were cooking whisky there long before that date.  The distillery is currently owned by the upscale Edrington group which also owns the Macallan and the Glenturret distilleries.

On August 18, 2012, we, the gang of four, gathered to celebrate Denis Leary’s (Sarcastic Irish genius) Birthday and to bring to light the truth behind the bottle change.  We collectively pulled from our vast storehouse of liquid salvation to come up with a selection to accomplish this momentous task.  After much discussion we ended up going with two 18, two 25 and two 30 year old, round & newer flat standard bottle range expressions, the original 21 year old from duty free in a flat bottle and the new standard release 21 year old again in a flat bottle.  We didn’t include the 21 year old at 40 % ABV which was released between these two. We voted for best malt between the same aged contenders and also for our two favorite overall malts of the night.

 

Barry HP RVF18

18 Year Old, Round Bottle 43% abv   (AGE WINNER 18 YEAR OLD)   (#2 FAVORITE DRAM OF THE NIGHT)

NOSE:  Uber fruit, oranges, pineapple, banana.  Floral and honey sweet.

TASTE:  Creamy caramel, milk chocolate, touch of peat and little tart at the end.

FINISH:  Long, very warm throughout and drying.

ASSESSMENT:  Wow what a great start, does drinking whisky get any more enjoyable, I think not?  The character of this whisky is very, very complex as well as being very well rounded (This whisky is so old that when it was made Captain Crunch was still a private).

 

18 Year Old, Flat Bottle 43% abv

NOSE:  Cotton candy, mint.  Dark ripe cherries and melon and apricots.

TASTE:  Liquorice, oily, some peat smoke.  Pears and tart green apples.

FINISH:  Short to medium.  Disappears so quickly.

ASSESSMENT:  The character of this whisky is not of the same makeup of the older 18 (This whisky is so young that it needs to be drunk from a sippy cup).

 

SCORING THE 18 YEAR OLD:  The old 18 round bottle was the clear winner between the two contenders.  It was also the clear winner of “2nd FAVORITE DRAM OF THE NIGHT” with the most number one votes of the evening.

 

Barry HP RVF21

21 Year Old, Flat Bottle First Release Duty Free 2008 47.5% abv

NOSE:  Big floral notes and vanilla.  Earthy, honey and citrus fruit.

TASTE:  Spicy with cloves, floral with a bit of lemon.  Oaky and lite peat notes

FINISH:  Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT:  Always find this version of the 21 the most floral HP I’ve ever tried (This whisky is so old the candles on its birthday cake raised earth’s temperature by 3 degrees).

 

21 Year Old, Flat Bottle Standard Release 2012 47.5% abv   (AGE WINNER 21 YEAR OLD)

NOSE:  Oranges, grassy and waxy.  Some floral notes

TASTE:  Rich spices including pepper and cinnamon.  Fruity, oranges, nutty and a hint of peat

FINISH:  Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT:  The fruit reappears nicely on this newer version of the 21.  (This whisky is so young that the casks in the warehouse sleep with a night light).

 

SCORING THE 21 YEAR OLD:  The winner between the 21 year olds was the newer standard release edging out the first release.  Also the new 21 got one 2nd place vote for the overall favorite dram of the night.

 

Barry HP RVF25

25 Year Old, Round Bottle 50.7% abv   (AGE WINNER 25 YEAR OLD)

NOSE:  Lots-o fruit.  Old sherry with oranges.

TASTE:  Dark roast coffee, rich jammy fruitiness.  Dry tannins, liquorice, and some peat.

FINISH:  Long and keeps going.

ASSESSMENT:  Interesting in a nice way, very balanced (This whisky is so old its birth certificate has expired).

 

25 Year Old, Flat Bottle 48.1% abv

NOSE:  Honey, bananas, melons and dates.

TASTE:  Mocha cappuccino, bananas both on the nose and taste, rich tannins and some lite smoke.

FINISH:  Long and dry.

ASSESSMENT:  Really, really different, falls outside most HP I’ve tried. (This whisky is so young that the bartender serves it with a coloring book and crayons).

 

SCORING THE 25 YEAR OLD:  The old 25 routed its challenger but failed to be the 1st or 2nd overall choice of the night with honorable mention of a single number one vote for the overall favorite dram of the night.

 

Barry HP RVF30

30 Year Old, Round Bottle 48.1% abv

NOSE:  Floral and honey.  Mint, caramel and oranges.

TASTE:  Creamy milk chocolate, spices like nutmeg and pepper.

FINISH:  Medium and little drying at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Not overly complex (This whisky is so old the distiller that made this babysat for Jesus).

 

30 Year Old, Flat Bottle 48.1% abv   (AGE WINNER 30 YEAR OLD)   (#1 FAVORITE DRAM OF THE NIGHT)

NOSE:  Beautiful nose, tropical fruits, pineapple and coconut.

TASTE:  Very fruity lots of oranges, spices with pepper and some liquorice & mint.  Blueberry tea.  Chocolate.

FINISH:  Long, rich and complex.

ASSESSMENT:  Tastes like 40%, it’s so easy to drink.  Dark sherry colour with lovely fruity sherry notes (This whisky is so young that the distiller that made this still had a bell, basket and training wheels on his bicycle).

 

SCORING THE 30 YEAR OLD:  Well…the newer 30 kicked ass in both dispatching its older competitor but also winning the number one position of the “FAVORITE DRAM OF THE NIGHT” with one number one vote and three number two votes.

 

Personally, I’ve always considered Highland Park 18 as one of top single malts in the world but also found it guilty of some big batch variation regardless of round or flat bottles design.  I also consider the standard release 18 as one of the best buys in the range and should be a must try/buy for all serious malt fans. But………………..should you happen upon an older round bottle 18 sitting on the shelve of your favorite retailer, make like a hockey player and get the puck out of there with it.

 

– Your humble Drudge, Maltmonster

 

PS – It’s ok to swirl your glass and not chew your whisky if you choose so, in fact after (well during) a GIT* tasting a few years back, I now make it a habit to swirl my glass just a little.

PPS – Dear HP please don’t kick me out of the Inner Circle for the GIT comment, after all I never mentioned anything about the overpriced Magnus series and the surprise that purchasers got as they ** reduced the amount of bottles for the final release making it almost impossible to find and purchase this last overpriced bottle of a very rare 18 year old.

 

* Gerry Intense Tosh

** ‘They’ refers to the marketing assholes at HP

 Posted by at 9:02 am
Jan 272013
 

Highland Park 12 y.o.

43% abv

Score:  86.5/100

 

This is where it begins in the Highland Park range.  A young – but not too young – malty, peaty, smoky, heathery, honeyed dram that bears all the hallmarks of this windswept Orkadian distillery’s profile.

Oops.  Did I just give you all of the tasting notes in the first sentence?  Not quite, but those are most definitely the core of this dram.

From the Northern fringes of Scotland hails one of the greatest single malt whisky distilleries in production.  Highland Park is a distillery built on, and intent on retaining, its traditional practices.

I found, as do most others, I believe, that the single greatest attribute (among many) of Highland Park is the astonishing balance they have created in juggling the softer, sweeter nuances of sherry…the organic essence of peat and smoke…and the malty old school face of whisky from ages past.  This is great harmony.

You’ll read it all over any HP review…heather and honey and smoke and peat.  Hate to be predictable, but yep…

Notes of peat and smoke are bold, but not over-powering.  There is a nice build of sherried dry fruit, tobacco and oak, with notes of honey, leather and salt.  Orange sauce.  Hints of sour plum and the whole picture rounds off nicely with a creamy caramel finish and wisps of smoke.  Fade is vaguely tannic woods and honeyed fruit.

Really a great 12 year old, but if you’re looking to find Highland Park at its apex…try a little older.  All of the pieces are here, even at this young age, but the refinement hasn’t been fully realized.

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:49 pm
Jul 292012
 

Highland Park 40 y.o.

48.3% abv

Score:  92/100

 

Though a mere decade has lapsed between Highland Park’s 30 year old and 40 year old expressions, the price point has soared by more than 400%. Now…anyone familiar with aged drams knows that it is not necessarily a directly proportional ratio between age and price. More importantly, it is also not a directly proportional ration between age and quality.

While I won’t speak too much to the first point (as I believe both are expressions are actually quite fairly priced), I do want to address the second.

Odds are a distillery of renown and repute is not going to deliver a sub-par expression when it reaches the point of multiple decades in the cask. It simply compromises reputation to a degree that far outweighs any possible profit.

This Highland Park is no exception. Though by no means a ‘young 40’, this one is still able to toss a ball with the kids, but just ain’t likely to be knockin’ ‘em into the upper deck anymore. In simplest terms…this could have been pulled from the cask a little earlier, I think, but only by a hair. Unfortunately (or some might say fortunately) I have only ever tasted this alongside the more vibrant and robust 30 year old expression, where it simply falls short.

The hallmarks of maturity are all present and accounted for. The nose is deep and changing. Full of burnt rubber and spent candle. Dry wood smoke. Woody and waxy notes. Sharp clove and burnt sugar meet sweet plum and echoes of a very old rum.

Those wax and oak notes tag along to the palate as well. Delivery is somewhat salty and characterized by tannic fruit skin tartness and dried fruit flavors. Tendrils of smoke swirl around the mouth.

Maybe my expectations were just a little too high here. Great drink though. I simply expected a little more.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:38 pm
Jul 222012
 

Highland Park 25 y.o.Bottle Shots 2 009

48.1% abv

Score:  91/100

 

Highland Park makes damn fine whisky.  And one of the neatest things about this distillery is that they make good whisky at almost any age.  The 12 year old flagship is an absolute go-to malt for many folk I know, while the older expressions are the things to serve kings and queens.  And the 18, of course, is oft considered one of the world’s great whiskies.

A few loping strides further along though, is where you start to see the majesty of this distillery.  As you enter the two decade mark for Highland Park (and beyond, if you’re one of the fortunate few), you’ll see a character almost unparalled.  Part of the reason for this is simply due to the fact that the spirit itself carries such a diverse profile.  At once honey sweet and richly smoky.  You’ll find complexity and individuality in any of the range’s expressions.  So…you can only imagine what happens when you allow a malt like this to take its time and mellow in the cask for a few extra years.

Bottled at a still healthy 48.1% abv, after 25 years in oak, this thick rich nectar is a beautiful brunette I’m more than happy to curl up with.  A real charmer, rich in huge notes of sherried fruits, faint billows of peat smoke and chocolate.  Complimentary notes are a soft dried fruitiness, honey nougat (think Toblerone) and a toffee creaminess.  Finally, there is a rich and comforting note of fine unlit cigar all over this whisky.  You’ll find a wee bit more smoke than peat (deep and dark smoke), though both are more restrained than in younger expressions, and fine layer of salt over it all.

A beautiful dram.  Really.

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:15 pm
Jun 182012
 

Awkward is having your wife catch you with a sassy 18 year old.  Domestic nuclear winter is having her come home and find you messing around with nine 18 year olds at the same time.  Not that anyone would want to be in that situation.  Errr…ummm…

Ok, ok…listen up, boys.  They may be pretty…they may smell good…they may taste good…and they may not even be ‘out of your league’…but no 18 year old will ever give you what a stunning 32 year old can.  I promise.

Though usually I’d give you a few paragraphs of preamble before jumping in to the nitty gritty, this time let’s leave it up to the imagination…

Let me tell you a little about how this one goes.  First there was a fair-haired lass from Speyside…

 

Glenfiddich 18

43% abv

Nose:  Heather and gooey honey.  Big ol’ baskets of fruit and armfuls of flowers.  Creamy vanilla ice cream, drizzled in creme caramel.  Red apple.  Berries in cream.  Pancakes and syrup.  Oaky, but young and vibrant for 18 years.

Palate:  Smooth and unchallengingly sweet.  Creamy vanillins dance with dried fruit and crunchy apple.  Lovely really.  Almost refreshing.

Thoughts & Impressions:  She’s familiar and you can’t help but sneak a second peek.  Cute and red-apple-rosy-cheeked.  Probably dated the quarterback.  Do you have a chance?  Maybe.  Is she worth it?  Hmmmm…time will tell.

 

GlenDronach 18

46% abv 

Nose:  Heavy sherry, rich and sweet…could only be Oloroso.  Cherry and cocoa.  Cinnamon and gingerbread.  Vanilla.  Slight yeastiness.  Fruitcake, mild cigar leaf and deep plumminess.

Palate:  Slight bitterness, almost tannic.  Heavy raisin bread and rummy fruitcake.  Drying.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Bubbly and fresh, but…there’s a little more of a dark side here.  This is not vanilla sex.  This is jeans and cardigans by day…handcuffs by night.  There’s a sensibility and maturity here that tells you no one will ever know about this dark side but you.

 

 

Macallan 18

43% abv

Nose:  Rich and chewy sherry…but very soft.  Nutmeg and cream.  Muted cherry.  Toffee.  Heather.  Nearly faultless nose.

Palate:  Mildest of dried fruit.  Caramel.  Warm melted chocolate.  Oak.  Lasts none too long, but a beautiful top note and denouement.  Man…what exceptional balance.

Thoughts & Impressions:  This one is a princess.  She’s not in your bed ‘cause she wants to be.  She’s there ‘cause she’s slumming and looking for an experience.  Don’t get too settled…don’t fall in love.  You can’t afford the upkeep on this one.

 

Highland Park 18

43% abv

Nose:  Creamy honey and rich peat smoke.  Dusty, spicy vanilla.  Mild cigar.  Rich sweet butter.  A bouquet of soft fruit and barely seen floral notes.  Hint of dill.

Palate:  The delivery is unbelievably smooth and calculated. Rich wood smoke teases, then mellows out with sweet caramel notes

Thoughts & Impressions:  Messy-haired and ready for a pillow fight.  She’s not leaving till sun-up.  And that’s not ‘cause she wants to sleep.

 

 

Bunnahabhain 18

46.3% abv 

Nose:  Smoke and sherry.  Ashy peat.  Pear and sweet banana cream.  Some sort of orchard fruit.  Honey and vanilla.  Stunning interplay at work here.

Palate:  Gooey, chewy malt full of smoke.  Sherried honey oak and a complex tapestry of spritely fruits.   This is maturity and youthful zest in perfect harmony.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Just a down-home small town girl that everyone underestimates.  The thing is…she’s bloody brilliant at everything she does and no one who meets her can resist her.  This is a keeper, if only you were looking to settle down.

 

Talisker 18

45.8% abv 

Nose:  Yeah, baby…there’s the Talisker pepper!  Salt.  A peaty backbone.  Cinnamon and ginger.  Some kinda soft orange fruit.  Toblerone.  Warm leather.  An absolute classic on the nose alone.

Palate:  Pepper.  Surprisingly sweet and fruity.  Swirling ribbons of smoke.  Peat.  Faint notes of old sherry.  Such a phenomenal linger smoked green apple.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Yow!  She’s a spicy one.  Blonde and bold.  Fiery-tempered.  Full of personality.  Highly possible she’s also the love of your life.

 

 

Longrow 18

46% abv

Nose:  Prickly and peppery.  Hint o’ mint maybe.  Smoke and caramel.  Licorice.  Some salt and thick cream over blueberries.  Wee bit o’ peat, but not near what I’d generally expect from a Longrow.

Palate:  There’s the peat I expected on the nose.  Comes through with some spiced apples and smoke.  Lindt chocolate with chili.  Long, long finish.

Thoughts & Impressions:  The dark-haired younger sister of your girlfriend.  Sassier and miles more charming.  No, you’re not wrong…she is trying to seduce you.

 

Caol Ila 18

43% abv 

Nose:  Slightly ‘green’.  Honeydew melon.  Aloe.  Mild citrus.  Fruits are starting to come forward.  Salt.  Very light smoke.

Palate:  A little more smoke than on the nose.  Great green fruit delivery.  Lovely and uplifting.

Thoughts & Impressions:  She comes from the biggest house on the street.  Her parents have lots of money and drive brilliant cars. She’s the one everyone wants but are afraid to approach.  Shame, really.  She’s also a sweetheart, and easy to love.

 

 

Laphroaig 18

48% abv 

Nose:  Orange and chocolate.  Cedar.  Fruity.  Heavy vanilla and black licorice flavored jujubes.  Pear drops.  Sambuca and fruit bowl with dominant bananas.

Palate:  Poached and caramelized white fruits.  Floral smoke.  Some dark chocolate and Werther’s Originals.  Drying with tobacco and clean smoke.

Thoughts & Impressions:  This is a mysterious one.  Redolent of exotic and foreign perfumes.  Dark and alluring.  This is the Dashiel Hammett heroine seen through a haze in a dark and smoky bar.  You love her.  But can you handle her?

 

 

But…

After a romp like that I promise you you’ll still be left wondering ‘what if?’  And further, that empty feeling won’t be sated until you finally spend a little time with the one that should have had your attention all along…

 

Springbank 32

46% abv

Nose:  Smoke and wax.  Coconut milk and soft pineapple juice.  Marmalade.  Vanilla and oak.  Some tame spices.  Becomes fruitier and fruitier over time.

Palate:  There’s the maturity.  Waxy…smoky and oaky.  Dried fruit…apricot maybe.  Creosote.  Gorgeous, gorgeous oak.

Thoughts & Impressions:  She’s what you’ve waited for.  Vibrant and sweet.  The older she gets, the more you love her.  Age has taken all of her best and given it just a little more brilliance by imparting a mature knowing.

 

barry's place pics 014

How can you possibly top her?  Simple…you can’t.  I’ll take my beautiful 32 year old over any 18 year old…any day.

Happy birthday, babe.  Love you.  Always have.

 

– Tasting notes and write-up:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt (except Caol Ila, courtesy of Pat)

 Posted by at 10:50 pm
May 162012
 

Highland Park 15 y.o.

43% abv

Score:  86.5/100

 

This was a pleasant surprise.  I remember being somewhat less than enthused with Highland Park’s 15 year old expression.  Not that I didn’t like it, but simply that it seemed a little lackluster in an otherwise brilliant portfolio.  To sate my curiosity, and alleviate a gnawing concern that I wasn’t giving this one its due, I nabbed a bottle a few months back and finally got around to popping the cork.

I’ll be honest here and say that I still find this the least spectacular of the range, but it sparkles in ways I don’t remember from initial impressions.  It is a mellowed version of the 12 year old, but I still find I prefer the youthful bite and malty edge of that expression to this.  Maybe that’s just me.

All personal preference aside, this is simply another solid outing from one of the best operational distilleries out there.

As mentioned, the maltiness of the 12 year old has all but disappeared by this age.  Three more years in oak have dulled that throb down to a slow heartbeat.  So what remains of the Highland Park character when you tumble the edges off?  Peat and smoke?  Check.  Honey?  Check.  Meadow flower/heather?  Check.  These three always seem to form the backbone of any HP I’ve tasted (excepting that odd…truly odd…Hudson’s Bay, bottled by the fine folk at ‘Laddich), and while they by no means define Highland Park they do sort of exemplify the distillery’s character.

I also picked up a touch of dill, some toffee (or light caramel) and a hint of chocolate.  Finally, and quite interestingly, hay and horse blanket.  Nifty.

All told…not a bad ride.  Personally though…I’d get off one stop sooner (12 year) or take this train to any of the more distant stops (18, 25, 30, 40 year).

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:55 pm
May 032012
 

Highland Park 30 y.o.Bottle Shots 2 012

48.1% abv

Score:  93/100

 

Here it is.  The apex of the Highland Park line.  In my eyes, anyway.  The years have been infinitely kind here, as this maturity wears well.  Heads and tails better than the 25 year old and also a few notches higher than the 40 year old.  Sadly…to date…the 50 year old has yet to make its way to my glass.  I cling to hope though.  What else is there?

All that Highland Park promises in its younger bottlings is brought to full glorious realization here.  The defining notes of smoke and heather and honey are in perfect harmony now (though some insist this is the case in the 18 year old variant as well).  There is the vaguest notion of peat, subtle fruit cake nuances, mild eucalyptus and dried spiced apple.  Said spices being perhaps nutmeg and cardamom.

The delivery is rich in eddies of smoke and infused dried fruit.  It blooms on the tongue in layers of spice.  Warming … coating … and slightly anesthetizing.  The finish remains fruity and vibrant.

A few years down the line the 40 year old expression sits beneath an old elm tree waiting for you to make your way down the path.  Though the journey is well worth the while, for some the destination may not be.  Though a great malt in its own right, the 40 year old simply cannot top this one.

This, however…this is a damn fine spirit.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:30 pm
May 022012
 

Highland Park 18 y.o.

43% abv

Score:  91.5/100

 

There is a reason this one sits in so many ‘Top 5′ or ‘Top 10′ lists. This is unmistakably Highland Park and uncontestably smooth and sophisticated. If you weren’t a believer based on Highland Park’s younger vintages, I dare you to not be moved by this one. If ever there were a gateway malt, this would be it.

Age in whisky in a contentious subject. And well it should be. Too many years in a ‘live’ cask can easily lead to the oak dominating the whisky. Conversely, the natural mellowing that occurs can round out jagged edges as if the cask were a rock tumbler working a precious stone. There is a fine line here, and this line is the one we expect the distiller to walk.

Though 18 years is much like the bare threshold of maturity in Western thought, it is already approaching old age when it comes to whisky. The finished product becomes much more delicate at this point. Highland Park has time and again flaunted its rich and beautifully aged whiskies in the face of this idiom. The 25 year old is gorgeous. The 30 year old is awe-inspiring.

And the 18? Quite simply one of the best standard expressions on the market. It is unconventional in how its stark simplicity is actually a deep complexity. Spend some time wrapping your head around that one, but do so with a glass of this in hand.

The senses, both nose and taste, are seduced with creamy honey and rich peat smoke, before being led into the depths of this whisky. Dusty, spicy vanilla…mild cigar…rich sweet butter…a bouquet of soft fruit and barely seen floral notes. I even get a tiny hint of dill somewhere. Quirky and unique. The delivery is unbelievably smooth and calculated. Rich wood smoke teases, then mellows out with sweet caramel notes (and yes…this is a good thing).

What I wouldn’t give to have this at cask strength. Stunning and majestic.

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:57 pm