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.
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.
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.
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.
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