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Highland Park 18 Year Old

Review: Highland Park 18 Year Old Single Malt Whisky  87.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on February 16, 2012

The Highland Park Distillery traces its heritage back to 1798 where it was apparently founded by Magnus ‘Mansie’ Eunson, a local butcher, beadle (lay official of the church), and part-time smuggler. (The association with Magnus Eunson is by no means certain, but it does provide a wonderful back story for the distillery.)  The distillery itself is located in the Highlands of Scotland on the Island of Orkney which is famous for its heather rich meadows, and its unique organic Orcadian peat. At this distillery, all of the Highland Park Whisky is matured in two styles of oak barrels which are stored in warehouses with earthen floors and stone walls. Some of the whisky is matured in Spanish (Sherry) oak, and some of the whisky is matured in American (Bourbon) oak. Maturing the whisky in two different styles of oak allows the blender to capture characteristics of each in the final blend.

According to the Highland Park Website their 18 Year Old Single Malt Whisky is blended with 45 % of the whisky coming from first fill sherry casks, and the other 55 % of the whisky comes from refilled ‘seasoned’ sherry casks (typically seasoned American Oak). The Whisky is bottled at 43 % alcohol by volume which is slightly higher than the more typical 40 % bottling strength and gives the whisky a touch more assertiveness in the glass.

In the Bottle 5/5

I like to show off my whisky bottles from Highland Park. The 12 year and the 18 Year Old expressions each arrive in handsome black oval-shaped cardboard sleeves. The back of the sleeves contain a variety of advertising/promotional information which kind of whets the appetite for what is inside. The bottle itself is adorned with a simple but professional label, and has the Highland Park logo/glyph embossed onto the bottom half of the bottle under the label. A solid high density cork finishes the presentation. When I have a bottle of Highland Park in front of my guests at one of our tasting sessions, there is always a nice sense of anticipation that the bottle presentation lends to the occasion.

In the Glass 9/10

In my past reviews of Highland Park, (the 12, the 25, and the 30 Year Old expressions), I suggested that the nose from the Highland Park Whisky reminds me of a walk through the lowland pasture on the farm where I grew up. This pasture had a muddy creek running through it with willow trees and ferns abounding on its edges. The pasture itself was full of sawgrass and timothy with the soil underneath full of boggy peat. As a kid, I played hide ‘n seek with my brothers and sisters down by the creek; and when I hold the Highland Park 18 year Old Whisky under my nose and close my eyes, I can almost imagine that I am hiding in that sawgrass again smelling all of those scents and aromas from those long ago days of my childhood. I always enjoy nosing a Highland Park Whisky, and the 18-year-old is no exception.

In the Mouth 53/60

The initial sip of the HP 18 brings forward a dollop of smoky peat melded almost perfectly with the butterscotch-toffee flavour of malt whisky. At first this seems slightly sweeter than the other expressions of Highland Park I have tasted; although as the glass is allowed to breathe, the flavours become drier and woodier in the glass. I begin to sense grassy floral flavours of dry alfalfa hay and willow tree bark wandering into the flavour. The butterscotch becomes soft and punky over time, and the organic peat begins to turn ashy in the mouth although there are still strong floral undercurrents and strong impressions of dry fruit.

I like everything about the Highland Park 18 except for that light ashy flavour which is keeping the score down just a little below the other Highland Park expressions I have tried. This ashy taste is similar to cigarette smoke. When I add an ice-cube the whisky becomes very creamy; the ashy quality is muted, but it does not disappear.

In the Throat 12.5/15

The whisky finishes with a burst of peppery spice, and dry cigarette ash which coats the throat. This is a long exit with a punky butterscotch fade at the end. It is the dry ashy quality of the finish which prevents me from scoring this higher.

The Afterburn  8.5/10

As I said above, I love everything about the Highland Park 18 Year Old Whisky except for that light ashy quality which comes forward when the glass decants and which coats the throat on the exit. In a strange quirk of fate, it is (according to the Gerry Tosh core expression videos on the Highland Park website) exactly this smoky quality which has caused others to raise this whisky to the height of whisky stardom. This expression is the most awarded whisky in the Highland Park family.

I think it is a matter of preference, with my preference being towards a more organic experience with respect to peat and smoke. But I certainly understand that opinions differ, and if you are the sort who likes a nice cigar with your dram of Scotch, I expect that the finish with the ashy smokey peat, will definitely appeal to you far more than it does to me.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)


2 Responses to “Highland Park 18 Year Old”

  1. rawkabillyrebel said

    I have not tried the Highland Park 18. I thought the Highland Park 12 was a little thin and felt it was overated. I recently tried the Ardmore Traditional Cask Highland Single Malt an LCBO Vintage product in Ontario.. It was really rich and delicious. I am not normally a big fan of peated malts but this one was light and really well integrated giving the whiskey that extra layer of complexity. It was fairly cheap at $44.95 Highly recommended.

    • I guess I am one of those who feels that the HP 12 fully deserves it’s reputation, however if you are a fan of a richer sherry cask influence, I can see how you might consider the flavour just a little thin.

      The Ardmore Traditional Cask sounds delicious.

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