Highland Park

Review: Highland Park 15 Year Old "Viking Heart" Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
44%
Aging
15 Years
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Highland Park (Kirkwall, Scotland)

I love older Highland Park, generally, and 15 years is a real sweet spot - their older whiskies can attain such magnificent heights. This one is matured in sherry-seasoned European and American oak casks along side some refill casks. This is coming to Canada for a recommended retail price of $150. It has already hit shelves elsewhere in the world.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Code: ~2021

What a beautiful nose! It is starting to get some of those gorgeous aged Highland Park notes – waxy, floral, sweet. Bright barley, heather, vanilla, beeswax, baking spices, blueberry, marmalade, oak, poached pear, canned peach, stewed apple, and custard – among other things! Beautiful complexity. Magnificent nose, that. The palate starts out with dried fruit, but then there is a flourish of bright barley before fading into toffee, baking spice, and earthy barley. The finish is loaded with bright grain notes, baking spice, orange peel, leather, slightly smoky toffee, and a touch of earth and smoke.

Gorgeous! Just a beauty of a scotch. I’m always a sucker for a great nose. Better yet when everything else backs it up!

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low, at a price of $150. While this is better, the 10 and 12 year olds offer great value.


Review: Highland Park Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
63.3%; 63.9%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Highland Park (Kirkwall, Scotland)

I was a bit surprised to see this - I wondered if Highland Park would go the way of Macallan and dilute and try to premiumize their whiskies. Here we have something different - cask strength, natural colour, and matured predominently in sherry seasoned European and American oak casks. The whisky is blended from single malts of various ages. And, non-chill filtered.

Notably, the box actually provides details that I’m very interested in as a connoisseur, rather than a bunch of marketing nonsense. I’m legitimately excited when I see this from Scotch whisky brands.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: No. 1 (63.3%)

  • Bottling Code: L0201C L04 04/08 16:51

  • Bottling Date: ~2020

The nose here is very highland park – nutty sherry, light heather smoke, almond, black pepper…but also with a very strong dose of vanilla pudding, coconut, mixed dried fruit, earthy oak, pear, barley flour, and mossy grass. A very nice nose. On the palate, the barley really comes through – grainy, gritty, and fruity. This, combined with the spice, smoke, and floral character is awesome. And, we get some characteristic highland park orange too. The finish is light smoke, orange,

I’m so pleased to find this. Incredible bottle.

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: A nice bottle of Scotch, but also $130. Against the market, average at this price.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: No. 2 (63.9%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2021

The nose is a beauty – bright barley, apple, sharp clove, and loads of heather. There is a nice dried orange character also – as we see in highland park. Vanilla and wet, old oak too. It really does remind me a bit of a fresh rain in Scotland or Northern England – fresh, grassy, and slightly earthy. Great nose! The palate is sharp, spicy, with a decent hit of toffee and smoke before a floral and ashy finish with dried fruit and spice taking hold at the end.

Great stuff from highland park! A bit smokier and richer than last year’s version, and broader – but maybe not quite as complex. It’s different - but of great quality again!

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average at $140. Which means it’s pretty good whisky to not be bad value at that price…


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

Highland Park 12 5.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
12 Years; Sherrry Casks
Recipe
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.


Review: Highland Park 10 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
10 Years; Sherrry Casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Highland Park (Kirkwall, Scotland)

Highland Park, the most northern distillery in Scotland, is famous for their use of Orcadian peat to smoke their barley before it is distilled – this offers aromas and flavours of heather. Peat is made from compressed and decomposed vegetation over many years, and Orcadian peat is largely composed of heather because the island is too windy for trees. Heather is quite a distinct, unique smell which any walker in Scottish or English meadows and fells will be acquainted to. I myself loved family vacations in the lake district of England – and Highland Park whiskies take me back to those times.

Highland Park has followed the trend of many distillers to supply increasingly large demand , bottling a whisky with a lower age. Sometimes this results in good, new whiskies, and sometimes you just wish they would keep up with their older whiskies. I believe this Highland Park 10 Year Old showed up in Ontario last summer – and I was intrigued, bottled at 40%. It’s not a “core expression” of theirs, so I don’t know much of its availability in other whisky markets other than Ontario.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Nose: The sherry casks definitely come through on this one, offering slightly sour raisin notes, orange peel, cloves (but, the spicy note of cloves more than the floral note), and green cardamom. There is light smoke and vanilla in the background, along with some butterscotch pudding, honey, light oak, and some interesting notes of guava. Some of the smoke seems a bit too harsh and a touch bitter, and come into the aroma with a bit too much force at times, throwing it a bit out of balance. The vanilla evolves as the whisky sits, and the nose opens up and is less dense with time in the glass.

Taste: A sweet, light entry, before smoke like that of burning leaves sits atop a slightly sweet, rich, vanilla backdrop with heather, light honey, and black pepper until the smoke once again controls the finish. It’s not a strong peaty whisky – it has a medium level of smokiness but the smoke is quite integral to the flavour. The sweetness is just about perfect to balance this one, I find – this is delicious.

Finish: The mouth dries out slightly as the sweetness fades, with smoke and a bit of ash playing the major role in the finish – with some heather, caramel, light honey, vanilla, clove, and cinnamon eventually fading until there remains only light smoke and heather. And, interestingly, there are peppery tequila-like vegetal notes and the guava is back.

This is good whisky, but it’s still a step behind the 12 Year Old, in my opinion, and I’d pay the extra for the 12. Nonetheless, this is very well worth drinking, for sure, and this is a decent introduction to the fantastic range coming out of Highland Park.

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

Value: Average, at $65.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L0382T L4 22:09:01

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

I bought this bottle after a dissapointing 12 year old to see if the 10 to satisfy my Highland Park itch. It proved better.

Dried apricot, light charcoal smoke, heather, and quite a malty body with sherry darkness and black pepper in the mix. On the palate, nicely sweet with slight spices and a bit of the beautiful vanilla and butterscotch threads of highland park. Ever so lightly meaty on the finish with the sherry – but in this one the casks, thankfully, don’t have the sulphur of the last 12 year old that I had. The finish is very full, with quite a nice body to it and decent length… it doesn’t quite as much of the beautiful floral heather honey that I love in Highland Park – but this one is still pretty solid. It has a growing dry peat smoke that grows as you sip…quite wonderfully.

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

Value: Average, at $65.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

Time to revisit this again! Now, it’s a “viking scar”. The nose has that great mix of smoke, sherry, and malt. I find it comes together as it sits in the glass. Honey, ash, rubber, mulberries, raisins, grassy spice, almonds, bacon fat, and cinnamon.

The palate is sweet, with vanilla, light smoke (quite fragrant and floral), cinnamon, and a bit of almond and tannin. The floral-fragrance of the smoke, balanced with the dried fruit of the sherry, the vanilla of the wood, the honey, and the tannins are just perfectly balanced. It’s a great thing about this whisky. The finish is smoky and sweet, with some dried fruit, fruitcake, baking spice, and vanilla.

Terrific whisky, once again! I think this has outperformed the 12 in recent years for me, generally. (The best batches of 12 are better, but the average of these are better). This one also is a smidge better than the other 10s I’ve had.

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

Value:  High, at $60. Not many Scotch whiskies make it into this category. You don’t need to spend much money for good scotch…


Review: Highland Park Valknut Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Image provided by Highland Park.

Image provided by Highland Park.

ABV
46.8%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Highland Park (Kirkwall, Scotland)

The second of Highland Park’s Viking (what else?) Series, following Valkyrie. It is to be a smokier and dryer than Valkyrie, with a higher ABV (slightly). The release is largely matured in sherry casks and includes a higher phenolic (peat) influence than Valkyrie, and includes a small amount of Orcadian tartan barley.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 2018

Smoky, fruity, and rich on the nose with honey, fresh orange, light smoke, and a rich earthiness to it – which fits in nicely with the highland park profile. Also, I get a bit of white grape – never seen that in a highland park yet! And the lightest tropical fruit influence, too – very nice! It has the lightest spicy tang to it, almost sulphurous (which I don’t like) – but this I like. Nice “edge”. A rich, complex, interesting nose. My only slight critique is some rough oily edges usually caused by youth which slightly detract.

The palate is dry, smoky, indeed – lots of rich fruit including typical Highland Park orange. It has a bit of oily, younger components which slightly detract – but it’s still good. The orange carries through, along with a lot of fresh fruit – yet contrasted with the sweet smoke – quite the balancing act! It works well. The palate isn’t perfectly balanced but it’s integrated really well.

The finish is dry, smoky, and very fruity – but integrated and balanced. White pepper and heather honey - quite a nice finish. I think I like this more than Valkyrie. Nice work, and affordable, too!

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

Value: Average, based on $100.