Thursday, 6 February 2014

Highland Park, from "zero" to 30 year old hero

We have had the pleasure of attending last year a Twitter Tasting with some new releases of Highland Park. During this Twitter Tasting we were triggered to be on the lookout for more samples or possibilities to give Highland Park a good shakedown, since we both had never really had a proper tasting of the Highland Park standard range, and other ranges they have to offer. We were very lucky to receive a bottle of New Make Spirit from Daryl Haldane to see and taste the difference between the base and the rest of the matured products.

On a little road trip we did at the end of 2013, we came across a sample set from Highland Park, containing the 12, 15, 18, 25 and 30 year old, and found a 35cl bottle of the 10 year old, "exclusively for the Dutch market". Plans quickly came together to have a 'little' horizontal tasting from New Make to 30 years in the cask, in order to see what maturation does with their spirit.

Sadly, the only expression from the core range not in the package is the 40 year old. Anyone that has a sample left; feel free to contact us.

Along the range the cask selection changes a lot. Not one expression is "just" an older version of the previous, every single one has her own selection of casks where different combinations of wood-types are matched the right way to create the perfect vatting for that age. This gives a great view on how wood and age influences the spirit in different ways.

What did we get out of all of this with the two of us? From New Make Spirit to 30yo, here we go...

New Make Spirit, the base of every drop of Highland Park, the only thing they produce in their distillery on the Orkney Islands, and not even whisky yet. This product needs to be as good as they can make it, since a good cask cannot turn a bad spirit into good whisky. Sure, a bad cask can ruin a good spirit, pointing out that good cask management is probably as important as the New Make. Did the Scottish Vikings do their job well?

The nose is a bit dominant, coriander, cloves, dark liquorish, grains and green herbs at first. Sweet, fruity and fresh, filled with mint, raisins, citrus, oranges, and barley take over, with some dates and tobacco in the back. On the palate this continues in a sweet, spicy and fruity combination. White pepper, slightly dry, raisins, citrus, dried fruits, and different kind of berries. Liqeurish, ginger bread, heather, woody herb notes, thyme, honey, cinnamon, apples and some lemon. The finish is sweet and medium long, again with dried fruits, raisins, citrus and lemon notes. It gives a bit the feeling of a creamy lemon cheesecake.

You can tell that the main themes here are sweet and raisins. Clearly this spirit drink forms a good base for the Highland Park product line. It is always nice to smell and taste how the basic flavours of a spirit can make or break the result of the whisky before she is put away for several years in a good selection of wood. This one is a maker for sure.

Selecting the cask-type
In selecting the types of wood used for maturing Highland Park, they choose to do things different from other distillers in the Scottish whisky industry. Where the vast majority of the competition uses ex-Bourbon barrels for maturation, at Highland Park they use casks created from traditional Spanish and American oak, butts, puncheons or hogsheads, seasoned with dry Oloroso Sherry. The type of wood is more important than the Sherry type. Typically, Spanish oak ex-Sherry casks give colour and dried fruit character whereas American oak ex-Sherry casks give vanilla and butterscotch flavours. The main cask type used in this range is refilled American Oak ex-Sherry casks.

Highland Park 10
20 to 30% is matured in 1st fill American oak ex-Sherry hogsheads. The 10 is bottled for the Dutch market exclusively. Malty, fruity and creamy are the first notes on the nose at first. Apple syrup, chocolate, oranges, banana, red apples, vanilla and raisin follow, and on the palate these notes continue, together with some fresh lemon notes and gingerbread. It gives a bit the feeling of a fruity granola bar with chocolate covering. The finish is not very long, but sweet and filled with cocoa and vanilla.

Highland Park 12
matured in 25% 1st fill Spanish oak ex-Sherry casks. The nose is filled with a light sweet smoke and fruity notes. Lemons, pink grapefruit and mixed red fruit combined with vanilla are present. Light, fruity, sweet and a hint of smoke. Like a rich fruitcake: creamy, soft and full. In the back there are notes visible of bit heather and smoke, combined with vanilla, honey, apples, orange, lemon, grapes and many different kind of berries. This continues on the medium long finish.

Highland Park 15
30% has matured in 1st fill American oak ex-Sherry casks. A mellow nose with some heather and smoke, berries, vanilla sweetness and fruit. The palate brings these notes back, nicely balanced, but adding some more fruity notes like abricots and grapefruit mix on the palate with raisins, caramel and woody herbs. The finish is not very long and has some dark chocolate and coffee notes in it, combined with marzipan sweetness.

Highland Park 18 
Matured in 60% 1st fill Spanish oak ex-Sherry casks. The nose has leather, spicy and wax, filled with heather, green herbs, coastal notes and sweet notes from toffee and forrest fruits. Continuing on the palate together with some tobacco, vanilla, honey, and different kind of berries, the coastal, peaty and spice is very nicely mixed in here, with a creamy, toffee, and chocolate infused, medium long finish. A slight coffee bitterness is present in the end. This is a more complex and full dram, and you keep going back to it and find more and more different flavours.

Highland Park 25
35% first fill Spanish oak ex-Sherry casks have been used to mature the spirit in. This expression is definitely a step up from her younger siblings, filled with raisins, sweetness, warmth and spices. Light smoke and wood notes come to your nose, giving you the idea of being curled up by the fire, with a snow storm outside and the room is filled with different wood notes. Behind this all there are a lot of fruit notes present, apples on the front, combined with some heather or moor notes to it. A bit earthy flowery notes and some good roasted ham, chocolate and fudge, a whiff of eucalyptus in the back, with some tobacco, prunes also. Many different notes on the nose alone, never seeming to stop, going everywhere. The palate delivers more and more warm spices, sweetness, cacao, a creamy mouthfeel, brownies, toffee, mint, dark chocolate, lemon drops, and liquorish, It is a very complex, balanced and full dram. A medium length finish with some high notes on dark chocolate, liquorish and mint.

Highland Park 30
The final dram in this vertical is fully matured in American oak refill ex-Sherry casks, mostly butts. A very nice, sweet and full expression. The nose is filled like a rich desert buffet with notes of chocolate, fudge, stone fruits, vanilla and raisins. In the back there is again that salty coastal feel combined with a mixture of blossom and green herbs. The palate continues this path, together with spicy, warm, wood and chocolate notes. Hints of liquorish and coffee combined with fudge come to the front and mix with hints of salt and different fruits and honey and fruits like peaches, citrus, apples, oranges, pear, and sweet red summer fruits. A medium length finish with lingering fruits, a creamy mouthfeel and sweet vanilla and chocolate notes.

Highland Park has many different expressions, and we are looking forward to see whats more out there. The discovery of this distillery continues... Interested to read what we thought of the other Highland Park expressions we tasted?

Thomas - Highland Park Tasting Notes 
Ansgar - Highland Park Tasting Notes 


  1. Great post, and lineup! I love, love, love Highland Park, just wish I could get my hands on a bottle of their New Make - very eager to try. Nobody but the distillery seems to carry it anymore. Will have to make my way there someday soon.

    The 12-year-old is a staple in my bar, and the 30-year-old, well, I don't have to say anything about that. I'm with you, though, the only one I've yet to sample is the 40-year-old. Well, that and the New Make I guess. Another of my more recent favorites is the 21-year-old (47.5%). Unfortunately that, too, is not available stateside.

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment! We found it very nice to experience this from New Make to older expressions and see what the influence of wood is. Hope to visit the distillery one day, and to explore more of their expressions :-)