I’d been saving this miniature (it’s not every day you find a 50ml sample of an 18 year-old single malt) for a special occasion. Last Wednesday was my birthday, so I cracked it open and had my first Highland Park. All of Highland Park’s malts are lightly peated with local Orcadian peat (see Distillery inset), and matured mostly in ex-sherry casks. This combination of sherry and peat is uncommon, but very interesting. In the 18, I noticed that the two contrasting elements (fruit-sweet and smokey) were both low-key, and also married extremely well. This made for a delicious combination, and so well integrated. According to the website, all Highland Park whiskies have no coloring additives, although the core expressions are chill-filtered. I’m curious to see how many of these flavors are present in the younger 12 year-old distillery bottling.
Nose: Cider vinegar, low-key mossy peat, lemon verbena tea, lavender, peaches and summer fruits. There’s also something sour and juicy – like fat red raspberries. Overall a very fruity, tart nose. A few drops of water bring out some tropical fruits – kiwi, pina colada, pineapple. Nice.
Palate: Thin body, but that tart peat whips in immediately, filling the mouth with bursting strawberries, blackberries, and key lime pie. Evolves on the tongue into softer malty cereal notes, marshmallow, and nutmeg. The water soups up the burn a little, but heightens those same tart flavors.
Finish: Lengthy. The peat takes center stage, echoing the tart nose but now asserting a round, smokey presence. This fades into slightly bitter oak, cinnamon, and black pepper. With water, there is a delectable lemon zest note throughout the finish.
Overall: Not what I expected. This is a versatile chameleon of a dram – sometimes fruity and light, sometimes peaty and brooding. While it may not be able to decide what it is, there’s no denying the quality of the flavors and the smoothness on the tongue. I recommend a few drops of water, which really make this dram dance.