When you’re continuingly sampling dozens of whiskies all with broadly similar profiles, there’s something to be said about giving your palate a more challenging experience. Whilst it can be useful to mentally compare whiskies with characteristics, it doesn’t half get tedious and predicable when you’re facing countless honey and vanilla-led Speysiders. Forming associations helps us both determine what we enjoy in a whisky and what we might expect from a particular style.
But, preconceptions can be dangerous - whisky is far from a monolithic liquid – the many variables which go into its creation result in an equally diverse set of eventual aromas and flavours. Sometimes something unexpected comes along…
The Whisky Exchange continues their steady release of 20th anniversary exclusives with the addition of a Highland Park from indy bottler Gordon and MacPhail. The Orkney spirit was distilled in 2001 and matured in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel for 17 years before being bottled at 54.9% ABV. 163 bottles have been produced at a cost of £130 from the TWE website.
Nose: Expressively floral with buttercups, sunflowers, gorse and hay – all wrapped in delicate smoke. Tinned pineapple and lemons are in support with barley water and buttered toast following behind. In the background a dusting of sugar is joined by stimulating combination of mint leaves, brass polish and beach pebbles. The addition of water adds richness – chocolate spread, sponge cake and orange liqueurs.
Taste: The arrival is big, brassy and fulsome. Citrus, kiwi and tart grapefruit are up first – joined by an industrious combination of copper piping, iron filings and olive oil. Most unusual and quite sharp. Burnt heather and dried grasses sit with cocoa nibs and stem ginger whilst in the back-palate, toffee is joined by mint and menthol. Reduction offers a softer arrival, with a better balance of flavours – preserved lemons and oranges are added into the fruit assortment, whilst dried soils and charred cask ends add earthiness.
Finish: Medium to long with fading lemons, resinous oak and a slight pang of salinity.
This Highland Park has all of the traits you’d expect from 17 years in ex-bourbon wood. And then some you wouldn’t. Whilst the usual sweetness and heathery peat smoke is present and correct, they’re presented alongside some left-field aromas and flavours - thought-provoking, though oddly discordant at times.
Despite the peculiar combinations (which to my taste were improved with some dilution), I still found plenty of enjoyment here – just not necessarily in the manner I was expecting from a Highland Park. This is a whisky which teases your preconceptions. It offers up the familiar and then twists those presumptions laterally. Thinking whisky.
Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange