Review: Highland Park 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky / by Jason Hambrey

Highland Park 12 5.jpg
12 Years; Sherrry Casks
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Highland Park (Kirkwall, Scotland)

Highland Park is one of my favourite distilleries – I think all their products are phenomenal, though I think price doesn’t always mean more quality for some of their expensive no-age-statement releases. Highland park self-malts about 20% of their barley, using Orcadian peat, which is largely comprised of heather as Orkney is so windy that not many trees grow there. This malt adds a phenomenal floral, smoky quality to their releases. A lot of their maturation is done in sherry oak casks, which also contributes particular dryness and dried fruit notes to their products – and I like their usage of these. The 12 year old is often what I recommend for a high quality Scotch which has medium smokiness, lots of complexity, and isn’t too pricy. It’s one of my absolute favourites, and one of the best whiskies I have ever tasted (~93 score) was from a batch of this in 2012.

Most of the maturation is done in sherry casks, but there is skepticism about exactly how much.

Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Code: ~2013

Nose: Wonderfully fruity, with light peat in the background, heather, raisins, apple, marmelade, toffee, and very light smoke. Lots of honey. It’s quite bright, and quite lively! Vanilla comes out more as the whisky sits, and the smoke is so fragrant and floral. All the major players in the nose – the orange, the honey, the smoke, the heather, and the earthiness from the peat – are all quite large, and yet balanced brilliantly which is certainly no small feat.

Taste: A sweet entry, with malt, apple, raisin, lots of honey, and some tingling spices. The smoke isn’t that present until the end, where it simply comes alive. The balance is quite nice, and the sweetness, smoke, and fruity notes are all complementing each other beautifully. The end of the palate dries out very lightly, leaving the mouth with smoke and a spicy feel before the finish starts to develop. The smoke also has some brilliant earthiness taking me back to childhood smells of a creek by our house.

Finish: The spicy feel tingles on, and mingle with the peat, which is wonderfully earthy and smoky. There’s some apple and light orange and cinnamon in the mix, and a touch of nuttiness in almonds and the sharp nuttiness of cashews. The subtle sweetness makes you want to just keep tasting the lingering flavours. Brilliant. Agave notes on the finish too.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, based on $80.

Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L0157T L4 22:04 08:09

  • Bottling Code: 2015

Nose: Sweet sherry, with a medium malt body. In the background, lightly, we have some detracting sulphur while this is also showing more dry earthiness than I'm accustomed to in a Highland Park 12. Apple sauce, honey, candied oranges, pepper, but even less floral than the typical 12 year olds. Really, not very impressive.

Taste: Fresh orange, cacao, and raisins, with the peat and sherry doing a bit of work together - even being a bit floral in points. Slightly sweet, and drying lightly on the finish with apples and honey playing more of a role towards the end. All this said, though the flavours around the malt aren't quite there - the malt, itself, is quite brilliant here.

Finish: Dry, with orange, green apple, sweet heather, light sulphur, and vanilla - but still not quite in step.

This is ok, but really, just that. After some fabulous batches of HP12, it's too bad to see one like this. However, based on what I know of highland park, I will keep getting the 12 - this has still been my only bad apple. Never nice to see a relatively bad batch of one of my favorite whiskies...I wonder how many times people's first experience of a great whisky is that of a poor batch which doesn't take them back.

Value: Low, at $80.

Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L0446P L4 06/11 11:29

  • Bottling Date: 2011 (I think; maybe 2012)

This is a beautiful nose. Wow. Apple juice, oak, sweet vanilla, orange, sherry, heather, honey, and some licorice. The texture of the nose is amazing, too. Not very smoky – even on the palate, it starts off with big fruit before the smoke and spice come in at the end in drying fashion. Brilliant. A long, complex finish full of oak, fruit, cinnamon, and smoke – and lots of heather. A touch of juniper, here and there, as well.

Every time I am able to take time to appreciate a good bottle of this, my love for whisky rekindles.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High, at $80.

Review (2020)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L0331B L04 10/07 09:45

  • Bottling Date: ~2019

The nose has sharp sherry aromas, along with a decent dose of orange, baking spice, slightly ashy smoke, honey, and a nice maltiness. The palate carries forward a nice wine character with a nice backing of spice and smoke, with more honey on the end and a nice touch of smoke – slightly mineral, too, which is very nice. The finish turns nicely fruity, too, with some peaches and apples coming through nicely.

Good stuff, but doesn’t quite compare to the bottlings of a few years ago.

Highly Recommended (50% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, based on $70. Not bad value for Scotch.