ABV: 43% Distillery: Highland Park Region: Islands
Highland Park 18 year old represents a significant milestone in my whisky journey for two reasons. My first encounter with it was nearly two decades ago. It was suggested by my Mother, that I should buy my Father ‘a nice bottle’ for a celebration, so I visited a well-stocked wine and spirits shop close to where I was working at the time and, rather unintentionally, ended up walking out with a bottle of 18 year old Orkney single malt.
I knew nothing about whisky at the time, and nervously pointed at a considerably cheaper bottle one shelf below the Highland Park 18 year old – the sales rep misunderstood my vague gesturing and pulled down the HP (it was the older dumpty style). Once on the counter he gave me a long talk about what an excellent selection I had made, and how this was an particularly good choice for a gift. I wasn’t brave enough to ask him to put it back up on the shelf, and to plum for the less expensive bottle. So, I left the shop with the Highland Park in tow, and a considerably lighter wallet (even in those days). Amusingly, my Father still to this day maintains that it was the 12 year old that I purchased for him that day – ah, memories - Mine is not the best, but I still vividly remember the purchase, and my embarrassment at the time in being too shy to correct my mistake!
It was not until a few years later, when already well on my whisky exploration, that I took the plunge and ordered a dram of the 18 year old in a bar (my Father’s bottle was long since departed at this point). It was a significant step-up to the entry-level whiskies I was drinking at the time. The experience was a complete revelation of flavour and complexity that I’d not come across before. It was love at first taste, and a cementing of my desire to explore fine spirits in all their forms. I’ve not looked back.
Fast forward to present-day, and Highland Park have recently announced that they are discontinuing both the 15 and 21 year old expressions. Whilst this is sad news (particularly for the wonderful 21 year old), the distillery has made these changes to protect the quality of both their entry-level 12 year old and what could be considered as their talisman whisky, the 18 year old. The 18 year old has recently joined other HP drams in receiving a 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. It’s bottled at 43% and is naturally coloured – let’s see how it stands up to my revelatory experience of the past.
Nose: Sophisticated and relaxed. The trademark HP aromatic heathery peat is immediately present and wrapped up in warming demi-sweet wild honey. Pear drops and orange peels provide a fruity grounding and are joined by some dried elements – raisins, prunes and figs. Smoke is wispy rather than vaporous and is both earthy and floral. Very inviting indeed.
Taste: Superb delivery - not quite oily, but certainly thick, full-bodied and mouth-coating. Honey comes through immediately alongside a broader spectrum of fresh and dried fruits - some hedgerow, others more tropical. It’s a real fruit salad with rather a lot going on to pick through. Cask influences comes to bear now with some well-judged pepper, salinity and notes of charred oak.
Finish: Medium to long and picking up both oak flavour and some tannic astringency.
Highland Park 18 is commonly regarded as a classic – for good reason – it’s refined, complex and with plenty of HP distillery character. The balance of fruit with heathery peat is both enticing on the nose and palate and exceptionally accomplished throughout the whole development. It’s a whisky which every single enthusiast should try, and just as delicious as the day I tried it. It seems my Father did rather well from my youthful error all those years ago.