Highland Park (18 year)

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.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

The most northerly distillery in Scotland (although Scapa is only a kilometer to the southwest), Highland Park is located on the distant Orkney Islands, off the northeast coast of the Scottish mainland. The distllery’s water comes from Cattymaggie Quarry, which is decidely hard. It’s the peat, though, that makes Highland Park unique. Orcadian peat, sourced locally, is predominately compressed herbacious plants and heather (unlike peat from farther south, which is partially formed with tree matter and/or seaweed). The peat character is mild, however, as only 20% of the mashbill comes from Highland Park’s own floor maltings (and of that, only half is peated). The rest is unpeated malt imported from the Scottish mainland. Another Highland Park eccentricity is the use of predominately (and soon, exclusively) ex-sherry casks, without any finishing. This dance between heavily sherried wood and light Orcadian heather peat is what gives Highland Park its unique qualities. According to the website, all Highland Park whiskies have no coloring additives, although the core expressions are chill-filtered.
Highland Park (18 year)
43% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $90-$100
Acquired: 50ml miniature.

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  • hi! long time, no post. i just wanted to say that i recently enjoyed a few drams while in yokohama (japan, as you may recall)–including HP 18. i quite enjoyed it, from the first hits on the nose that really got my attention to the afterglow. i thought that it was indeed what you and many others have suggested: all things to all people, something for everyone. having said that, i’m amazed at how well-balanced it came across. at the same wonderful “all expressions at one price” (700 yen) bar i was able to enjoy ardbeg uigedail: i have to say that that is now my “so-far favorite” dram experience–albeit not one i’m likely to be able to repeat (or re-peat) any time soon.

    for the record, i also tried a tasting set that same evening in another establishment and enjoyed springbank 10, talisker 10, and laphroaig cask strength (3 20-ml junior drams for 1000 yen, or about $12.50). to be honest, the springbank didn’t knock me out, but the talisker caught my attention, and the laphroaig was suitably laphroaig (but not sufficiently overwhelming to knock cask strength out of the top spot on my “so-far favorite” laphroaig expression list)…

    wow, i’d love to have at that uigedail again, if the chance comes…

    • Brian, sounds like some great tastes. 🙂 You might also enjoy Ardbeg Corryvreckan, if it’s available there. It’s an interestingly different take on Ardbeg’s style – it’s cask-strength (and powerful!), but has a lot more fruit and citrus than you’d expect.

  • thanks for the (corryv)reckan-mendation! i’ll check it out: there’s a decent chance that i can find it where i found the uigedail!

  • comments on net say it Succulent, but then there thin comments. how is it Succulent. is this like i chewy, or big flavorsome malt on that mouth. can’t stand thin, light,subtitly there. looking to buy somethink in low price malts.

    • @J I would say that the Highland Park 18 is indeed thin-bodied in terms of texture (not chewy or oily), but it’s definitely not subtle on flavor. Lots of tart/sour fruit and light smoke (not heavy smoke like Islay malts, but the peat is certainly present).

  • If I had to select only one “desert island” expression, Highland Park 18 YO would be it for me. Crafted to a level of elegance like few other single malts, it possess amazing depth, complexity, and balance. Remarkable consistency from year to year as well. A near perfect dram in my book.

    • Cato,
      Also, I think, a better use of the money when compared to The Macallan 18, which is excellent but a bit variable and a bit oversold. If I had to pick only one 18 year-old, it would be a hard choice between this one and Talisker 18.

  • I’ve read a number of your reviews Noob. It would appear we have similar preferences. I cannot say I have a favorite, but I do always have the following on my bar.
    Highland Park – 18 yo (perfect balance)
    Ardbeg Uigeadail (complex and delicious)
    GlenDronach 12 or 15 yo – depth and richness
    Glenmorangie – Original – simple and sweet

    • McAulay, Those are some great choices! I particularly love GlenDronach 12. I wasn’t crazy about the Uigeadail when I tried it, but it wasn’t in isolation (it was at an Ardbeg tasting), and I think it deserves another shot. Cheers!

  • This was the first scotch I bought. I just recently started drinking scotch. My favorite has been Macallan’s 18. I found the Highland Park tasty, but a lot more smoked than the few other scotch brands I’ve tried.

  • I got the impression that Highland Park did use chill filtration on all their whiskies except the 30 and 40 year old. See the video on their website where Gerry Tosh talks to Gordon Motion about it (and were they mis-spell “chilll” in the description). They do seem to take some care to minimize the effects of the chill filtration, however.

    • Thanks for the update, Brother Juniper, it looks like Highland Park has redone their website, and now the only mention of filtration is in the video you describe. I will update my post. I appreciate the fact-checking, thanks!

  • Just forked over some serious cash for this bad boy at BevMo. I bought it based on Jim Murray’s recommendation in his bible (yes, I am a fan of Jim Murray’s – putting my cards on the table – Jim seems to be either loved or hated ;-). Anyway, his notes just didn’t match my experience with this whisky and I got a bit frustrated trying to nail the HP 18 down. I started googling for other people’s tasting notes to see if their take matched mine and I came across your blog.
    Frankly, I thought you ~nailed~ it!! The description of the fruit and tangy-ness (is that a word? 😉 yet also floral and lavender, even peat, was right on the money – you captured what I was thinking and then some. But, it was the ~”Chameleon”~ behavior of the HP 18 that you describe that really resonates with me and I completely agree! I cannot nail this sucker down.

    The fruit “punch” I too got on my initial nosing reminded me of my first impressions of a Glen Grant 10. So, after a dram of the HP 18, I decided to do a side-by-side nosing with the GG 10. Lo and behold, the HP fruit now disappears and becomes all floral and lavender (like you mentioned – still can’t get the salt Jim M mentions). On to tasting side by side and the GG 10 goes sideways – eek – falling toward oak bitterness (seriously!?!). Now I also really start to appreciate the length of the HP 18 finish.

    Just as the fruit reminded me of the GG 10, the syrupy sweetness made me think Glenfiddich 18 so….., well…next, I put HP ~and~ Glen F 18 side by side too. Same as with GG 10, the HP remains remarkably smooth but the GF looses ~its~ smoothness and also goes a into the rough. Wow. I did not expect that!…..and so on.

    Well, at the end of the day, and..apologies…I am definitely rambling now – being 6 drams in ;-)…after going back and forth comparing HP 18 with what I initially thought were (much cheaper yet) equatable malts, I feel like the HP 18 is……..an enigma……. My first (and subsequently flawed) impression was to catalog it as a simple, yet decent and respectable dram that cost 3 times the price of what it should.

    Now, after working my way through a few cups I am not so sure. Perhaps the strength of this whisky ~is~ its changeling nature? The way it skilfully eludes attempts to be categorized or defined?….at least, it eludes mine….and the way it retains a rock solid consistency while exposing flaws in other good whiskys that would otherwise remain hidden (yes, I regard GG 10 and GF 18 as good for what that is worth). I do wish HP 18 was, say, 46% ABV, or even 48%, that it had just a little more oomph (and was cheaper! 😉 but, at the end of the day, it is truly a complex dram and one that is not easily dismissed.

    • Charlie,
      Thanks for your observations! Yes, I do think HP 18 is worth the money (and actually not that expensive compared to some other 18 year-old malts on the market, like Macallan). If I wasn’t constantly compelled (by my own nature and also the blog) to buy new malts each time, I would definitely come back to HP 18 as one of my standards for the “top shelf” in my cabinet. I also like that it has a little bit of everything – a little peat, a little (or a lot) of sherry, and a decent dose of malty/cereal character. It shares that tangy quality (I think) with Ardbeg Corryvreckan, but that packs a lot more peat and a much higher ABV. Cheers!