Apr 082018
 

Highland Park Fire

45.2% abv

Score:  80/100

 

One of two in this mini-series from Highland Park (I think this one came out second, actually.  We’re probably doing this backwards, but oh well).  The Fire Edition is a 15 year old malt finished in refill port wine-seasoned casks.  I have no clue what that actually means.  Same concept as sherry-seasoned barrels, I assume.  So…are these full pipes then, or maybe just hoggies?  No clue.  Anyway…

Nose:  Slightly muddled and barnyard-y.  Nutty.  A touch of rubber and some peat, of course.  Suede.  Faint coffee.  Damp hay.  Pepper and chili.  Cinnamon.  Faintly floral (dead, faint potpourri).  And an organic earthiness that isn’t entirely pleasant.

Palate:  Earthy and dirty.  Slightly cardboard too (almost cork taint-ish).  Orange.  Herbal and kinda leathery.  There’s a touch of smoke and an organic peatiness, but its all rather restrained.  A drying sensation at the back end (some tannins from the port, I imagine).

Thoughts:  Ultimately…not awesome and rather boring.  I expected bigger and bolder.  

 

Highland Park Ice

53.9% abv

Score:  81.5/100

 

And the other in the series.  Ice was a 17 year old HP composed from ‘rebuilt first fill bourbon’ casks.  Ummm…aren’t they all?  Or is they again just referring to inserting a few staves in the ‘bebuild’ and being able to call it a hogshead.  No matter.  More importantly, I suppose, these have been capped with virgin oak heads.  That should bring some spice and fat vanillins, no?

Nose:  Definitely noses as the fruitier of the two.  Quite some eucalyptus.  Peppered melons.  Floral notes (heathery).  With a touch a bubblegum.  Marzipan.  Cinnamon cookies.  Faint whiffs of peat and a soft smokiness.

Palate:  Vibrant – definitely moreso than Fire – but sharp and tangy.  Ginger.  Almost wine-y (ironic, considering Fire was the port-seasoned malt).  Lemon pepper.  More peat here.  Citrus.  An almond sweetness.

Thoughts:  Meh.  I do like it better of the two, but it’s still just okay.

 

Wrapping up:  Over-packaged.  Over-priced.  Over-promised.  Under-delivered.  Anyone else over Highland Park’s Viking obsession?  Once one of my unquestionable favorite distilleries has become a rather sad triumph of style over substance.  I’ll stick with the 12 year old.  It’s the only one in the range that offers any value (seeing as the 18 is now $220, the 21 about $350, the 25 running at almost $800 and the 30…fug.)

 

 – Image & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:24 am

  16 Responses to “Highland Park Fire & Ice Editions Review”

  1. While these whiskies weren’t, indeed couldn’t, be improved by simply having their age declared, it does raise the question why they weren’t better with 15 and 17 years behind them as time FOR greater improvement wasn’t the issue. Where aging is present, but improvement is not, it’s time to look to casking, cask definitions (or the lack thereof) and the wonders of wood management. If superior wood management techniques (at least compared to the Stone-Age ideas of the past) are taken as a given, then we’re left with the questions of what lumber’s (left) being managed, or “what happened?”, or “did someone think that this could be talked good?”

    Fire is $429.95 at the LCBO, $396 (ex-tax) internationally on Wine-Searcher, and Ice is the same price in Ontario and $416 on Wine-Searcher. Aggregate critic scoring on W-S gives them 88 apiece while a range of colourful opinion gives the former an average of 83.79 and the latter an average of 84.89 on WhiskyBase. Given what it’s producing, Highland Park might be trading on its reputation as much or more as Macallan or Ardbeg. Does any of it matter, in the smaller or larger sense? It remains to be seen.

    My concern isn’t that HP will “forget” how to make an 80-class whisky for less than $100 – it’s that they won’t have to if consumer thinking on the subject gets much sloppier, and all the “new but not improved” trending with Macallan, Glenlivet, Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin raises exactly the same sort of concern. These distilleries have traditionally set the bar against which other distilleries, their products and product values, are judged. If the thinking at large becomes “like Lore, our whisky isn’t really all that good, but we manage to sell it for less than $199.90”, things will go to shit rather quickly.

    Sláinte!

  2. Hi there,

    owner Edrington seems wildly determined to go the Macallan way with Highland Park as well.

    Small wonder that your reviews reminded me of something the malt activist wrote as conclusion under a Macallan review.

    https://maltactivist.com/2017/10/10/macallan-edition-no-2/

    Contrarily to his opinion I did not even find much promise in the two Highland Parks… nor in any others of late.
    A shame they pushed the 18yo so deep into premiumisation country that nobody wants to pay for it anymore. Which could rise the question what would justify the price points of the above mentioned malts. Quality of product seems unlikely but I digress…

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    • Sadly, the overpriced 18 is nothing like it was 10 years ago. My most recent bottle is quite bland and lacking in any real complexity. Very easy to drink, it just doesn’t provide a particularly memorable drinking experience.

  3. Curious what your thoughts are on the HP Full Volume, Curt. Some of the fellas here in Montreal are big fans. I liked it and it’s pretty good value for age/ABV. Not the classic HP profile by any means, though.

  4. Hi there,

    https://malt-review.com/2018/04/09/the-highland-park-comparison/

    says a lot.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    • Hi there,

      I think this is in the line of a general discussion about price and quality…

      http://spiritsjournal.klwines.com/klwinescom-spirits-blog/2018/4/18/whisky-windfall.html

      an extention of policies like at The Macallan or Highland Park taken to the realm of IBs?

      Greetings
      kallaskander

      • I think that the points the piece touches on are very interesting, although it might have more significant impact if not used to set up promotion for a couple of K&L exclusives. I know, Adam Smith, “it’s a business”. Then again, I’m beginning to believe that very little said on the web can help whisky anyway – it’s a medium simply for promotion, not reform.

        There’s a huge amount of 80-class whisky (and stuff that wouldn’t have been called 80-class a decade ago) out there which, despite widespread default bourbon oak finishes, is probably more diverse than it has ever been… at least in terms of sourcing, if not always performance.

        Then we get to pricing, and value, and a lot of unavoidable chickens come home to roost:

        “When we came around to discussing price, my excitement turned to utter disbelief. The look on my face must have made it obvious. 9 and 10 year old Single Malt for $80-100? Who is going to buy this stuff? If it was Lagavulin, Ardbeg, sherried Macallan or Glenfarclas, maybe this might just maybe make sense. I broached the subject with caution. They insisted the prices seemed right in line with the market. They’d done the research on comparable products and priced them accordingly. The brands were doing great in Europe!

        Ultimately they might be right – tons of young whisky is being marketed and sold by independents at wildly inflated prices.”

        So well I remember those heady days when premium, “one off” and stunt pricing by leading producers wasn’t going to affect the market at large, but where did those harmless, carefree days go? Now the nonsense at the top is seen to justify the nonsense at the bottom – as above, so below – but the truth is that there haven’t been a lot of recent releases, even from premium producers, that have really been worth the money without a constant day-by-day sliding reevaluation of what a dollar is expected to deliver.

        Now we talk about blending HP pretty unless it’s simply lackluster, while distilleries cash in on their names and most look the other way when people are being charged more for “innovation” that isn’t as good as the stodgy tried and true. Thank God we’re progressing, but the point at which most of these new products become “stunning” is when you reach the price tag.

        We’ve entered an era where there’s somehow nothing really wrong at the same time that there’s little really right while the quality stuff is being pushed beyond the availability and price reach of many people lurking on these blogs.

        “A pretty bottle and romantic story only go so far. In the end, we can sell you one bottle of nearly ANYTHING, but if you don’t go home crack ‘er open and immediately start think about buying a second then we’re not doing our job well enough.” – yeah and, surprisingly enough, current problems might be rooted in whisky resources (like casks and cask time) being spread too thin for the expanded marketing to cover.

        In terms of value, if the problem can’t be corrected on the quality end, it can only be fixed on the price end, even as people just looking for decent whisky they can afford watch that 90-class stuff sail over the horizon. But, in the end, retailers can only retail what the industry makes, and prices, upstream, and maybe it’s at the headwaters where things need to change… if people can ever bring themselves to simply say “no” to the craziness.

        Sláinte!

  5. Hi there,

    insights? Especially considering the source and wha we discussed earlier…

    “That press of people in the Sunday afternoon was mostly comprised of bartenders and owners on their day off, there to enjoy themselves, but also learn and suss out what is next.

    We live in a whisky bubble; we think of it as being the most important spirit in the world. Because we love, we are protective and loyal, but the reality is that whisky is not alone, it doesn’t have a self-given right to consider itself superior.

    In the minds of those who are serving and drinking, it is just one other element within a matrix of flavour that we all play in.

    Yes, whisky is in a stronger position than it was in the Bad Old Days™ when the bartenders were specialists and the attendees were the geeks who helped save a category, but the world has moved on and we ignore that fact at our peril.

    Today we browse our way through a wider world. And celebrate it.”

    https://scotchwhisky.com/magazine/from-the-editors/19053/life-beyond-the-whisky-bubble?utm_source=mailjet&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=sw-digest-16-05-2018

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    • “Yes, whisky is in a stronger position than it was in the Bad Old Days™ when the bartenders were specialists and the attendees were the geeks who helped save a category, but the world has moved on and we ignore that fact at our peril.”

      I’m not sure who “we” are in that sentence, and I’m not sure what peril hangs over us. I think it’s pretty clear that Broom’s view, however, parallels that of the industry at large to some degree – he needed (and needs) the whisky geeks, and would never be in his current position without them, and at the same time he wants to marginalize their importance. The world, and presumably Broom with it, has moved on. Now that the category has been saved, and the position of producers and their “objective” journalistic marketing arm is secure, it’s time to celebrate the wider world of spirits that producers want to promote while a lot of value, and thinking, about whisky is debased.

      Yet the “whisky bubble” has been very good to Dave Broom and I think that the peril he faces in forgetting that exceeds the peril posed by a lot of bartenders and hangers on at a Tokyo bar show not being die hard whisky fans. I’m not even sure that Broom, or the industry, should really be interested in creating more die hard whisky fans anyway, given that the point of the exercise seems to be to label them geeks and to tell them that the world has passed them by.

      Today, the message is “there’s more out there than whisky” but, if too many people really take that to heart, it will then somehow inexplicably be time to once again “celebrate” the unique place that whisky plays in the world of spirits, at least while Broom makes the rounds promoting his next and latest whisky book/product… and there’ll be no talk of “moving on” or how whisky is only one of many spirits then.

      One thing is for certain: the peril Broom is talking about isn’t posed to alcohol megacompanies that can also sell anyone whatever it is that someone might leave whisky for, whether it be multiple white spirits or beer. The interests of whisky fans, however, have been in peril for some time, but that peril isn’t posed so much by the presence of whisky alternatives as by the pricing, propaganda and nonsense that serves to drive people to those alternatives; the peril is posed, not from without, but from within. At the very least, it’s not the alternatives themselves which are the problem but the fact that the people who make both them and whisky need not care which you buy in terms of category; if Diageo made only whisky, maybe we’d see more attention paid to whisky fans and less talk of how they need to appreciate other spirits.

      It could easily be argued, in fact, that whisky’s sudden popularity has been a prime source of sloppy thinking and largely indifferent achievement in recent whisky making, so I’m not sure that I’ll lose sleep if some of those who superheated the market go to blends, much less to gin or vodka. For everything the whisky industry has “discovered” in recent years, “make something not quite as good but far more expensive” is right at the top of the list, and it’s been encouraged, if not necessitated, by the whisky boom itself.

      Whisky isn’t “just another spirit” but the attitudes and actions of its producers have been working to make it so (except for price, of course) for some time now. If that’s cause for celebration, Broom and I are on very different pages.

      Sláinte!

  6. Hi there,

    right Jeff I was wondering what Mr Broom ist up to now. Is it a warning to the whisky industry that killing whisky’s spirit further will ultimately turn the whisky fans away? It already did and further does so.
    Is it the embrace of all the other spirits there are by a – whisky writer?

    All in all it reminds me of the crocodile tears the Scotch whisky industry or the whisk(e)y industry at large was crying in „the bad old days“ when not a week passed in which one whisky industry representative or the other lamented about the evil white spirits that ate away whisky’s spirit and substance – financial substance that was – and the sales figures of vodka mainly were raising day by day at the expense of whisky.

    It was then as it is now: the drinks giants lamenting about the decline or better non-growth of whisky sales are the same that make all the evil other mostly white spirits that are the bane of whisky sales again. Today only more so because all of them make vodka or bought themselves heavly into tequila brands or whatever is fancy at the moment like gin. Not to forget brown spirits like rum.

    That was before the Broom, err boom of the late 1990s. Fact ist that whisk(e)y as a category has manoeuvred itself into a cul de sac with all the shenanigans you described above from which only the next „1983 crisis“ will bring an escape.

    The risk of the drinks giants of today is quite different. They have exploited almost all existing drinks and spirits categories for what they are worth. Shifting between categories to compensate for sales declines among them is not so easy anymore.
    And the world market for alcohol is finite not ever growing as the drinks industry wants to believe.

    So it seems we live in interesting times as the Chinese curse says.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    • Yes, somehow there’s danger, but it’s not clear what it is or who has to pull up their socks to avert it – and I’m not convinced that the peril can be all that intense anyway, given that we’re supposed to celebrate this and celebrate that, even though most of the festivities seem to be about everything but whisky (and, recently, with good reason).

      Broom has some strong things to say about Japanese whisky, but there’s little risk taking and he echoes what others have said rather than going out on any limb. Furthermore, Broom seems to embrace the great leveling that will see the average whisky become the equivalent of the average gin or vodka – which scares me, and partly because he embraces it, but it doesn’t appear to concern him in the least. Whisky is just another spirit… except that, recently, it supposedly just keeps getting better and better in ways many people can’t taste and that you always have to pay more for.

      It’s really just a weird piece from Broom – is the point a “warning” to producers that, if things continue, people will stop buying their whisky and start buying their tequila, even though that would be something to celebrate in the “matrix of flavour” anyway? I don’t know if I took the red pill or the blue one, but producers have been telling me, in ways big and small, that they don’t care whether I buy whisky or not for some time now. What’s more, none of it breaks my heart because if whisky suddenly lost half of its current fanbase, I think it might the best thing that could happen to it in the last 10 years, and it might avert more Haig Club by David Beckham or Giorgio Armani (take your pick).

      Whether people will admit it or not, I don’t think I’m alone either. Just like many of the whisky writers who first cheered it on, many of those who could find little problem with whisky’s new direction are now largely sitting back on bunkered bottles waiting for the trending they endorsed, and will still publicly endorse, to correct itself (even though nothing’s wrong). Most people know that whisky is sick, and that we’re in the process of congratulating it to death by not calling out its industry’s bullshit, even as many of the producers and marketers who don’t care so much, or can’t afford to care so much, about much of what they make seek out others like themselves in the marketplace to replace the hard-to-satisfy whisky geeks they want to leave behind.

      Until the fickle hipsters move on – then they’ll need the geeks again, hopefully to “assemble in sheds and halls around the world, clustering together nervously and, slowly, more and more excitedly.”

      But they’ll shit if the response from the geeks is “fuck you, I’m a gin drinker now, celebrating the matrix of flavour just like Dave Broom told me to”.

      Sláinte!

  7. Hi there,

    a reply to an older Broom we were talking about

    https://malt-review.com/2018/04/06/if-anything-scotch-whisky-isnt-geeky-enough/

    and a new Broom ambigous as ever – I think.

    It is the last paragraph of the newest editorial and I could hardly beleive my eyes when I read this:

    “People come to our shop or bar or class, or read our writing, not because it is us, but because they want to learn about whisky.

    As soon as we think we are more important than the story, the moment when ego takes over, then that simple aim is lost./ We are servants of the spirit as well. We are all learning as well, sitting quietly at the feet of the people who know more than we do, asking why and then passing it on in a way which entertains and informs, but focuses on the whisky itself.

    We all have to remain humble.”

    https://scotchwhisky.com/magazine/from-the-editors/19236/the-importance-of-being-modest?utm_source=mailjet&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=sw-digest-30-05-2018

    In the context of Highland Park above where story telling is everything these days or too many other whisky offferings where story telling is more important than the content in the bottle this sounds strange in my ears.
    Again I am at a loss where this piece of editor writing want’s to lead me. If only the whole whisky scene was more geeky…

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  8. Hi there,

    hello Jeff, I wanted to reply a few days ago but ran into trouble with the template behind this blog… or whatever.
    We’ll see if this goes through.

    I was about to say….

    a reply to an older Broom we were talking about

    https://malt-review.com/2018/04/06/if-anything-scotch-whisky-isnt-geeky-enough/

    and a new Broom ambigous as ever – I think.

    It is the last paragraph of the newest editorial and I could hardly beleive my eyes when I read this:

    “People come to our shop or bar or class, or read our writing, not because it is us, but because they want to learn about whisky.

    As soon as we think we are more important than the story, the moment when ego takes over, then that simple aim is lost. We are servants of the spirit as well. We are all learning as well, sitting quietly at the feet of the people who know more than we do, asking why and then passing it on in a way which entertains and informs, but focuses on the whisky itself.

    We all have to remain humble.”

    https://scotchwhisky.com/magazine/from-the-editors/19236/the-importance-of-being-modest?utm_source=mailjet&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=sw-digest-30-05-2018

    In the context of Highland Park above where story telling is everything these days or too many other whisky offferings where story telling is more important than the content in the bottle this sounds strange in my ears.
    Again I am at a loss where this piece of editor writing want’s to lead me. If only the whole whisky scene was more geeky…

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    • Well, as per Broom’s reversal on the unique nature of whisky itself, above, he has his work cut out for him because his message must reflect an industry which wants its product to be all things to all people: geeky enough to support vastly inflated revenues as collectibles and hipster enough for those who don’t want to care, know, or learn what it is they’re actually buying.

      Like Dave Driscoll was to some degree, Broom is trapped into writing about whisky from all angles and to serve all perspectives, which will eventually, and inevitably, lead him to say things that are incongruous… and open up the question “what does Dave Broom himself actually think about whisky and when, if ever, have we seen it in print?”.

      Going forward, and even looking back over past pieces, what becomes clear to me about professional whisky writing is that, as a form of undeclared marketing, it’s major role is as grist for the mill of an industry that’s “constantly improving”, yet declines in terms of the quality and value of the average bottle produced as production resources are spread ever thinner over an overheated market.

      The story behind a whisky takes primacy where there isn’t much else to talk about, or that can BE talked about if the inflated price is be supported. Thus we get nonsense like cask time doesn’t matter (except when it does) and the redefinition of quality as youth and vibrancy rather than age and complexity because the former is what the industry is willing to supply in volume.

      While value largely doesn’t matter when you drink on the cuff anyway, our best and brightest experts never drank much of cheap(er) stuff either, so it going to seed for other people was never really a problem so long as you can sell the masses on the idea that whisky is “all about the stories and the experience” instead of the actual product purchased.

      Sláinte!

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

(required)

(required)