ABV: 40% Distillery: Highland Park Region: Islands
Whisky reviews all too often focus on comparing and judging against the soaring heights of vaunted bottles. Whilst in essence that’s perfectly understandable, the practice can lead to unrealistic expectations or simply an inability to enjoy something for its inherent qualities. Understanding a distillery's younger expressions helps us appreciate how their spirit develops over time and in different cask conditions. If you jump in at the deep-end right away you'll not only miss out on that journey, you'll potentially be setting yourself a high bar which will reduce your ability to understand and enjoy more commonly available expressions.
So, with that intention in mind, let's sit back and take a look at Highland Park 12 year old. Currently, the distillery's current entry level bottling HP12 was proclaimed as "The greatest all-rounder in the world of malt whisky" in the esteemed Michael Jackson's Malt Whisky Companion. Several of HP's range have recently received revamped packaging - because we clearly all need more Viking in our lives. We'll be looking at the previous well recognised edition - though there's nothing to suggest that the liquid inside the new bottles is any different.
Nose: Warm baked toffee apples, ripe pears, and both lemon and orange notes whisk us right into an early evening on a summer day. Earthier notes such as light hay, and the expected Orkney heathery peat add welcome depth. The smoke is very slight. Certainly, the many descriptions you’ll read about ‘wispy’ peat are spot on. It’s highly organic and slightly floral. When combined with our summery fruits you could easily be wandering round a garden. A nice touch of polish coming and a hint of salinity both of which keep the dram fresh and zingy.
Taste: This translates excellently from nose to mouth – all the flavours listed above are represented on the palate. However, to leave it there would do disservice to this dram. The smoke which was fairly dainty on the nose is now amped up and our hay notes are much deeper and more burnt tasting, but the peat is still always subtle. Sweetness comes less from the fruit elements and more from honey, dark sugars and custards. Wood notes, are heighted also with cinnamon, a greater sense of polish and, again, that lovely salty tang.
Finish: Medium long in length, cinnamon spicing and a well measured fade which is never jarring.
Highland Park 12 year old offers both quality and depth for its price point. Though it’s worth noting that the price point is starting to creep up a touch – wait till your local supermarket has a deal on….which they often will. This is a great choice for a ‘daily drinker’ and a great dram as an introduction to whisky. Sometimes the simple things in life are just what's needed.