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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

July 31, 2013



The Whiskyfun Anniversary Tastings
Five decades of Highland Park
(2000, 1995, 1984, 1977, +/-1967 plus bonus)

I believe Highland Park is one of the rare brands… oops, distilleries that managed to keep blending high quality with unlikely stories/branding (come on, we love the Vikings, but even my grandma, who was born in the 19th century, hardly met any…) So content and substance at the same time, that’s rare while some brands are all about content now… And seem not too care about (or simply don’t have) their products anymore. The ravages of branding! But enough cheapo babbling, let’s have a few…

Highland Park 11 yo 2000/2012 (53.3%, Whisky-Doris, bourbon, 131 bottles)

Highland Park 11 yo 2000/2012 (53.3%, Whisky-Doris, bourbon, 131 bottles) Four stars Colour: white wine. Nose: one of the freshest and the cleanest, very ‘mineral riesling’, all on wet rocks and lemon juice so far. Nice and very much chiselled. After fifteen minutes: much more vanilla! With water: it became fruitier and the rieslingesque side went away. But it remains pleasantly clean and neat. Fresh garden fruits. Mouth (neat): same feeling as on the nose, many fresh fruits, especially grapefruits but also pears (youth), plus some heavier mineral notes. It’s quite waxy in fact and I cannot not think of Clynelish. Very good youngster! With water: the wax stays there and the fruits get louder. Perfect distillate. Finish: of medium length, clean and very fruity. Peaches? Comments: it’s a rather gentle young HP, very clean, not overly complex but very perfect in its fruitiness. It seems that the 2000s started well up there on Orkney. What’s missing a bit is the peat and smoke… Peat, wazzat? SGP:541 - 85 points.

Highland Park 12 yo 1995/2007 (60%, OB for Maxxium Holland, Cask #1550, 35cl)

Highland Park 12 yo 1995/2007 (60%, OB for Maxxium Holland, Cask #1550, 35cl) Four stars and a half Colour: amber. Nose: obviously a sherry cask but what’s striking is that we remain very close to the ultra-clean 2000. That means we have the same mineral, citrusy and rieslingesque notes, only with an added layer of leather, chocolate and tobacco. And that works! Maybe also more of the trademark heather honey. Some coal smoke too. With water: superb! Swims like a champ, with many more complex notes, old tea, tobacco, spices, soy sauce, cedar wood… all very fine. Mouth (neat): big, fat and rich but balanced by the pepper and the ginger. A lot of Seville oranges and ginger, honeydew, crystallised oranges, a little nutmeg… I like these biggish HPs! With water: here you go, water made it pleasantly drier and a little bitterer, but it also added spices and more grassy elements. Chlorophyll? Green walnuts as well. Finish: long, grassy, curiously tequila-ish (in a good way). Comments: when the sherry’s first class young whiskies can taste older, and that’s what’s happened here in my opinion. Hard to beat at just 12 years of age. SGP:653 - 89 points.

Highland Park 20 yo 1984/2004 (57.9%, OB for Germany, Cask #45)

Highland Park 20 yo 1984/2004 (57.9%, OB for Germany, Cask #45) Four stars and a half Colour: amber. Nose: we aren’t far from the 1995, we’re even very close. It’s just a little smoother, with more oranges and more honey, as well as a little more peat. Lovely orangey nose, becoming more and more intense. After fifteen minutes, it’s the chocolate that plays first fiddle. With water: same scenario as with the 1995, the sherry comes out and we have more tobacco, walnuts and spices. Top notch. Also ginger tonic, maybe… That ads freshness. Mouth (neat): more difference, which translates into more resinous and grassy notes. It’s a bit bitter (nice alliteration, S., but don’t expect a raise) but all that remains very fine. More nervous and grassy than the 1995 at this stage. With water: a superb woodiness comes to the front. Could be a flaw but it’s an asset in this context. Also oranges, honeys (heather, there you have it) and then the ginger tonic is back. Or rather a ‘blend’ of ginger tonic and orange squash. Nice, unusual and fun. Finish: long, beautifully earthy now. Well, maybe it’s a little cardboardy toward the aftertaste, its only (tiny) flaw. Comments: at times very similar and at times completely different from the 1995. But there is a tiny flaw (IMHO) so I couldn’t go to 90… SGP:562 - 88 points.

Highland Park 15 yo (46%, Cadenhead for Wilson & Morgan, +/-1992)

Highland Park 15 yo (46%, Cadenhead for Wilson & Morgan, +/-1992) Five stars Although the label doesn't say so, this should be a 1977. Having a ‘46%’ after all those beasts is almost like holidays ;-). Colour: white wine. Nose: oh hell, oysters! Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever nosed any whisky that was reeking of fresh oysters that much! Even the Islayers don’t. So oysters galore with even a little lemon to go with them, this is absolutely perfect. Because, mind you, I love oysters. Okay, behind all these oysters, a little bread, yeast and yoghurt. All that works well even if the distillate was probably a little less ‘perfect’ than in the 1990s and 2000s. Sometimes variety is more important than perfection. After fifteen minutes: a rather massive smoke comes out! It’s even a little Longrowy, I have to say… Mouth: but… the smokiness is huge indeed! Nothing to do with recent HPs, this is well within Ledaig/Longrow/Caol Ila territories. We’re talking peat levels. So soot, coal, smoke, ashes and all that jazz, plus a moderate coastality (coastalness?) and again our friends the oysters. What a dram! Finish: long, salty, peaty, grassy… Great notes of grapefruits in the aftertaste. Comments: flabbergasting early bottling by Fabio’s Wilson & Morgan. One day I’ll tell you about my wanderings in the Tuscan Bottegas around the year 2000. It was amazing what you could find, the indies had brilliant whiskies!… SGP:466 - 92 points.

Highland Park 8 yo (43%, OB, view of Orkney, straight neck, +/-1975)

Highland Park 8 yo (43%, OB, view of Orkney, straight neck, +/-1975) We already tried some of these with a bulky neck. This neck's straight. It is 1960s distillation. Colour: pale gold. Nose: there’s OBE and there’s more phenolic, smoky and downright peaty notes than in the more modern distillates. Okay, maybe not the 1977. There are also wackier notes, such as waxed papers and ink, but those may come from OBE. It’s also a little butyric. Mouth: OBE gone mad this time. I mean, some parts are magnificent, especially the heavy salt and such, but the cardboard and stale tea have taken over. Finish: long and very drying. Comments: not all old bottlings are great. It’s easy to talk or write about the better old days, but remember that if whisky may improve in glass, it can also go awfy wrong. This one, despite some very shiny parts, was a good example. For the record, other bottles may be magnificent. SGP:232 - 65 points.


Highland Park 25 yo 1988/2013 (55.7%, Cadenhead, small batch, sherry butts, 1086 bottles)

Highland Park 25 yo 1988/2013 (55.7%, Cadenhead, small batch, sherry butts, 1086 bottles) Five stars From the much talked-about new 'black' series by Mark Watt. Elegantly old school, squat bottle, black label and even this legendary very 'Cadenhead' mention: "matured in oak" (they ran out of cedarwood, I imagine). Even the round logo and the gold hint at HP's old official labels, but that wasn't done of purpose of course as the whole series has it. Colour: coffee. Nose: a big, phat, slightly flinty and smoky sherry at first nosing, with quite a lot of coffee to match the robe. It's almost as old-school as the packaging! Goes on with roasted chestnuts, pecan pie straight from the oven and maybe touches of bacon and big black raisins, say Corinthians. A timeless nose so far. With water: classic figs, raisins, dates and other dried fruits. Perfect. Mouth (neat): heavy, big, not pungent though, quite smoky again and rather perfectly leathery as well as slightly sappy/resinous. Also cloves and cumin plus black pepper, chestnut honey (big time! it's a very powerful honey if you don't know it) and then the very classic fruitcake and raisins notes. Big stuff indeed. With water: perfect again, there's even a nice grapey touch (and prunes) that makes you think of some good old armagnac. A lovely honey too as well as quite some caramelised peanuts - that part never stops growing. Finish: very long and it would remain clean and tidy. The coffee returns in the aftertaste, and so does the armagnac. Comments: wham! This could have been bottled for Silvano Samaroli, Eduardo Giaccone or Nadi Fiori thirty years ago. Honest. SGP:563 - 92 points.

BONUS TO THE BONUS: Tah-dah! ...

Highland Park 40 yo (40%, OB, ceramic, 1970s)

Highland Park 40 yo (40%, OB, ceramic, 1970s) Five stars This is most probably pre-war distillation. I've come across this baby several times in the past but as these decanters were quite porous, levels have always been very low to very very low so I've never considered the whiskies were worth proper tasting notes. Great news, my friend Diego recently found a rare 'only a little low' bottle and sent me this sample. Hurray! Colour: amber. Nose: noh, this ain’t possible. This not can exist (how do you like my Italian?) this outta this world, this like the drink of the Olympus. It’s a sin, it’s poetry, it’s not whisky. I mean, imagine they just took some barley, brewed it, distilled it and let it mature in second-hand wine barrels and… they came up with this? This was originally only an agricultural by-product, for crying out loud! Life is unjust. Good, as far as aromas are concerned, I seem to get hundreds but since we’re having a crisis all over Europe, I’ll only quote five. Say almond oil, say old car (engine), say Havana cigars, say sandalwood and say heather honey (HP, you owe me a dram). Mouth: you have to close your eyes to get everything here. What’s impressive at first sips, like in all truly great whiskies, is the power. This is low in alcohol but it’s jam-packed with flavours! I guess you already called the anti-maltoporn brigade – and you did well -  so I will only list five main flavours… Say the best green tea, say bitter almonds, say salted liquorice, say chewing tobacco and say cough lozenges. I’m sorry, a lot are missing…  Finish: right, it’s not as long as a day without whisky (mum, I’m joking) but the oaky impact is huge. Having said that, it’s so immensely complex that any amount of oak would be no problems. Stunning soft spices. Comments: simply legendary but I insist, these decanters are very tricky. Never buy any unless the seller’s got a perfect reputation. Some bottles are unopened and… nearly empty! Same with old Springbank ‘books’, by the way. Yup I’ve been caught. SGP:463 - 95 points.

(With thanks to Diego, Kasper, Olivier and Tomislav)

More tasting notes Check the index of all Highland Park I've tasted so far







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