ABV: 47.5% Distillery: Highland Park Region: Islands
Highland Park 21 year old has not had an easy life. It was originally released in 2007 as a travel retail expression. In 2009 it was named 'Best Single Malt of the Year' at the World Whisky Awards and the resulting increased demand led to HP producing a second bottling at a disappointing lower ABV of 40%. Shortly after, the bottling disappeared off the shelves altogether, replaced by the 1990 Vintage. Such was the clamour for the 21 year old, that at the time Highland Park simply did not have the suitable cask stocks in terms of age, type and quality to sate this demand.
A welcome reissue in 2012 saw the 21 year back and at the original strength of 47.5%. Huzzah. But, in 2017, stocks are once again under pressure and Highland Park have announced that both their 15 and 21 year olds are soon to be discontinued to ensure that stocks can keep the ever popular 12 and 18 year olds on the shelves constantly. Boo.
So, it's been a bumply ride, and perhaps in the future the 21 year old will return anew again. But for the time being, let's raise a glass and celebrate a whisky which every enthusiast should try at somepoint in their sipping career.
Nose: Immediately likeable with dense layers of aroma to attempt to discern. Sweet honey, toffee dark ripe fruits come out to play right away. In support there are nutty malts, leather, polish, heather and dusty smoke. Hiding away is a real umami flavour - balsamic vinegar maybe? along with sharp burnt orange and subtle wood spicing, particularly ginger and nutmeg. There's an awful lot going on.
Taste: Intense, rich and full. Rather oily mouthfeel. Sweet, but never cloying - honey certainly, with a scattering of caramel brittle and demerara sugar. The sweetness is tempted by strong spicing, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg again. There's also an earthy note which sits alongside a dry, ashy smoke and balances perfectly with the sweeter flavours. There's an intriguing herbalness under the surface, whilst expected flavours of leather, polish and dusty cereals reinforce the 21 years of age of the liquid.
Finish: Initially sweet, but turns drying (never too astringent) gradually as the spicing asserts itself. Dry smoke and dry spice are the notes which linger the most.
If you're ever looking for whisky which is both delicious and facinating, this really should be on your shortlist. A real sweet spot for me in in terms of cask influence vs. HP malt spirit - both equally supporting, neither overly dominant. Excellent balance, full of flavour, full of interest...