Highland Park 18 year old has been rather the talisman whisky for many years – not just for enthusiasts, but for the distillery itself. The 21 year old and 15 year old have both been discontinued to ensure that the quality of the 18 (I.E. the availability of casks) can be maintained. The whisky is still one of my favourites and always has had a place on the bar for many years. It offers a considerable step up in depth and complexity to its younger 12 year old sibling and has won scores of industry awards over the years.
The core range 18 year old has recently joined other HP drams in receiving a full-on Viking-themed makeover, with a new bottle design and an extra brand name: ‘Viking Pride’. The liquid is still the same as in the previous bottling, but now receives a ‘batch code’ - presumably so that HP can closely monitor the quality of their flagship, and ensure that consistency is maintained.
The recently released Viking Pride 18 year old ‘Travel Edition’ joins new three new ‘Beast’ bottlings (which we’ve reviewed over the past three days) as HP’s new Travel Retail range. The special edition 18 year old is delivered at a higher ‘marrying strength’ than the core range at 46% ABV – just 3% more, but that can often make all the difference in terms of the definition and impact of aromas and flavours. Let’s take a look.
Nose: Expressive, refined and just as elegant as the standard edition. Richness and depth come from chocolate sponge cake, orange peels, comice pears and wild heathery honey. Black cherries and maple syrup provide additional sweet nuance. There are plenty of dried fruits (raising and figs) and a mixture of coffee and chocolate (much be a mocha then!). Smoke is wispy rather than vaporous and is both as floral as it is heathery. The addition of water (which seems somewhat strange in this instance considering the product has been deliberately delivered at a slightly higher strength) brings out breakfast waffles, chocolate sauce and a touch of damp earthiness – mosses and soils. Leather also makes an appearance on the nose – tanned hides and fashioned suede.
Taste: Thick, oily and viscous on the arrival with plenty of wild, but sweet honey and both fresh and dried fruits (berried, cherries and apples). Smoke is restrained, but permeating throughout the development – charred wood, smouldering grass and hay. Cask influence is supremely well-judged with pepper seasoning and just a touch of tangy salinity. Reduced, the fruits becomes syrupy and tinned. The initial attack is reduced (no surprise), but, in doing so, a vein of zesty orange and lemon peels is revealed and cinder block toffee and salted caramel come to the fore.
Finish: Long and delivering hazelnuts, dark chocolate, coffee beans and a scattering of smoked red berries.
Highland Park 18 year old Viking Pride Travel Edition (the name becoming almost as much of a mouthful as the liquid itself) is just as refined, complex and impactful as its core range equivalent. The balance is superb and smoking perfectly judged from nose through mouth to finish. Quite excellent indeed.
But, the question you’re surely asking of this review is how does it compare to the standard bottling. I’ve thought long and hard about this and have come down on the side of it being an ever so slight improvement. Whilst the spirit DNA and character are identical, the extra 3% ABV provides both additional distinction and gradation of aromas and flavours allowing for a bigger impact and longer, more thoughtful development. The difference is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, so if you’ve got a case of HP18 to work though I’d not sweat dashing off to an airport to pick this up. But, if you’re due your next bottle then I would heartily recommend this special marrying strength edition as your next purchase. It’s the same band, singing the same song, but with the tempo increased.