It’s been a while since I’ve been officially involved in a Twitter whisky tasting. I gatecrashed Steve Rush‘s last one, thanks to a few random minis of Cooley whiskey I had knocking around, but I’ve stayed away from them to let other people get involved – one of the things that makes a Twitter tasting useful is new people seeing what’s going on, and almost everyone I know on Twitter is either already involved or bored by my twittering about booze. My resolve was, however, cracked when Steve announced that his next tasting would be of the Highland Park range.
Despite it being such a big name in the world of whisky I’ve not had much exposure to Highland Park. I’ve knocked back a few drams over the last few years, bought a bottle of their duty free only 1997 vintage (which I initially hated but returned to after 6 months to discover that my palate had changed enough that I loved it) and tried a couple of older versions of their whisky (which is the reason why I have a 1990s bottling of their 12 year old on my ‘Special Whisky’ pile) but don’t really have much of an idea of their current range. As such, an offer to try the 12, 15, 18, 25 and 30 as well as the new Thor wasn’t really something I could turn down.
We kicked off the night with the 12 year old, the entry level expression and a mainstay on bars for years. On the nose it had salted lemons, a whiff of charcoal smoke, crunchy green apples, tropical fruit chews, unripe mango, beeswax, honey, dusty wood and fruity dark chocolate – maybe chocolate limes? It developed in the glass, picking up more fruit and slowly cutting the citrus notes. To taste it started off with syrup sweetness, quickly moving on to sour and creamy wood, with more tropical chews, pineapple and smoked orange rind. It finished with smoky wood, malt syrup, green pine cones and woody spice.
Next was the 15 year old, which is on its way out in the UK, soon to only be available in the USA and Scandinavia. On the nose there was strawberry ice cream, rhubarb and custard sweets, floral meadows, sweetened grapefruit juice, a touch of honey sweetness, tropical fruit squash, sour cream and cocoa – or as @LRWhisky put it:
To taste it had rich vine fruit (not tomatoes, as a curious @lizbonline queried, but grapes of varied levels of raisin-ness), linseed oil, sweet citrus, tinned pineapple (complete with a metallic tang of the tin), creamy malt and a wisp of smoke. It finished with more tropical fruit (fresh mango) as well as some dusty wood and crushed charcoal.
We then moved onto the 18 year old, another one of the longer running members of the range (released back in 1997). On the nose it had lots of fruit – green apple, tinned pineapple (again with a touch of metal tin), kiwi and lime zest – as well as sweet pastry and floral notes, all backed up by coal smoke. On the palate it was big and sweet with sour coal dust matched by limes, bitter green herbs, rhubarb, a touch of marzipan, some menthol and a bit of cinnamon spice. It finished long, with nutmeg, clove and lemon sherbert, before fading to dry wood.
Next was the 25 year old, made up of more sherried whisky than most of the rest of the range (about half) and demonstrating what a properly active sherry cask can do to HP’s spirit. On the nose there was a pile of sweet and sticky fruit: figs, stewed apples and plump rummy raisins. Along with that there was marzipan, rich sweet pastry, wax furniture polish, some dry wood and a hint of cooling spice – mint/menthol/clove. To taste it started with a thick wedge of rich dried of fruit before a big whiff of struck match. Underneath that was woody smoke, soft brown sugar, some spicy cinnamon and woody liquorice. Again the finish was long, with marzipan, clove and cedar cigar boxes. The big thing for me in this dram was the way the wood was handled; as I said at the time:
Next was as close to the top of the regular range as we were going to get (as sending out £85 a go 40yo minis as part of a Tweet Tasting was probably a bit much to ask, and the 50yo is £9k a bottle) the 30 year old. On the nose it was sweet and floral, with some sour fruit (unripe peaches and mango, and lime zest), sweet buttery pastry, marzipan, cola bottles, sticky cherries, plum jam and a hint of metal. To taste it had sweet marzipan and sherry fruit up front, shot through with sour spices and wood. There were also Cinnamon Grahams, good maraschino cherries, polished wooden floors and big woody spice. It finished spicy, with nutmeg, ginger, soft brown sugar and dark unfinished wood.
We then went for our last dram of the night – the recently released and vaguely controversial Highland Park Thor. The “controversy” was due to a combination of three things: its relatively young age – 16 years; its price – £120; and its packaging – a nice looking rustic bottle wrapped up in a wooden cage of viking longboat prows. I wrote about Highland Park’s love of the special release over on the work blog recently and gave my opinions on the matter, but in short: not everyone who buys whisky just cares about the liquid and many people are happy to pay a bit extra for pretty packaging.
Anyways, tasting notes: On the nose it was quite spirity to start with, giving way to brine, lime and apple skin, tingly ginger, woody spice, earthy smoke, forest floor leaves, green herbs and a hint of mint. On the palate it was hot and spicy, with more ginger and cinnamon, muddy smoke, salted caramel, oranges and lemons. Adding water totally changed things, with a few minutes of resting after addition helping even more, calming the spice and producing more polished wood and sweet fruit – apples and bananas. It finished spicy, with lots of cinnamon, as well as floral notes, soil, lightly smoked wood and liquorice root. As that fades apple skin tannins and sweet marzipan linger on. Not as big and ‘oomphy’ as I remember from my last tasting of it, but I had just tasted my way through five not un-heavy drams.
At the end of the night Steve asked us all what our favourite had been. As I said at the time:
They’ve just rereleased their 21 year old whisky (at 46.5%, as it used to be before it was dropped to 40% and then discontinued outside of travel retail due to a continued stock shortages that meant they couldn’t supply the whole market) and if it sits, as I hope, between the 18 (not quite enough Good Wood for my liking but lots of great fruit) and the 25 (too much sherry but lots of tasty woody notes) then I might have found a new favourite dram.
Many thanks to Steve Rush (@TheWhiskyWire and @TweetTastings) and Daryl Haldane, global brand advocate for Highland Park, who took over the @HighlandPark twitter account for the night. Steve has some tasting note highlights from the evening over on his blog, and you can find a few more writeups around the web – Whisky Discovery, Glen Untitled, Living Room Whisky. I also have a transcript of the tasting along with the various tweets leading up to it, thanks to my magic ‘format a bunch of tweets vaguely nicely’ script – if you want to read through everything that was said you can find it here.
Highland Park 12
Orcadian Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 40%. ~£30
Highland Park 15
Orcadian Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 40%. ~£40
Highland Park 18
Orcadian Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 43%. ~£60
Highland Park 25
Orcadian Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 48.1%. ~£140
Highland Park 30
Orcadian Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 48.1%. ~£200
Highland Park Thor
Orcadian Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 52.1%. ~£120