Highland Park 25 Year Old Whisky
Whisky Review: Highland Park 25 Year Old Single Malt Whisky 94/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on February 10, 2011
A whisky sample for this review was provided to me from the personal collection of J. L. Wheelock, who is part of the Beam Global team here in Alberta. The sample was smaller than my normal 200 ml minimum sample size, and I augmented his sample by opening my own bottle of Highland Park 25-year-old Whisky such that I could complete my normal rigorous tasting regimen. However, I did not attempt to further explore the spirit with cocktail explorations, as I plan to save the rest of my bottle for special occasions.
The Highland Park Distillery 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.
The Highland Park 25 Year Old Whisky is blended with up to 50 per cent of its whisky coming from the matured (1st refill) Spanish oak, and it is bottled at 48.1 per cent alcohol by volume. This is a full 20 % higher than the 40 per cent bottling strength we typically see in North America. The combination of the higher bottling strength and a larger portion of Spanish oak whisky in the blend will bring forward a stronger more assertive aroma and flavour than the other whiskies in the Highland Park portfolio, and may even make the whisky a little intimidating at first tasting. On the whole I really like higher strength whiskies, but I approach them with caution as it is easy to sip a little to quickly.
In the Bottle 4.5/5
The Highland Park Distillery does a really nice job with the presentation of their range of whisky. The 25-year-old expression comes in a the rugged cardboard box which opens with a tiny metal latch on the side. When the display box is opened, the inside of the box contains a variety of advertising/informational highlights which are printed on the left inside portion of the opened box, while the oval-shaped Highland Park 25-Year-Old Whisky bottle sits on the right side. The front of the bottle is smartly labeled with a combination of black and gold lettering. But what I like most is the fancy glyph (Highland park logo) which is embossed on the bottom front of the bottle. This just looks plain classy. A solid high density cork finishes the presentation.
I should point out that this whisky represents an opulent purchase ($225.00 in my market), and although I think the presentation is solid, I do think that at this price point it could have been even better. I have seen similarly aged and priced spirits in solid wooden display boxes rather than cardboard, if we would have had a nice wooden display box I would have scored this a perfect 5/5.
In The Glass 9.5/10
The initial nose of the Highland Park 25 is sharper and more defined than the previously reviewed Highland Park 12. The whisky seems heavy in the glass with just a wee bit of an oily texture. I allowed the glass to decant a few minutes to help myself separate the various scents I was receiving. My first impressions included caramelized butterscotch toffee, sweeter underlying sugars, and a floral peat rich with heather, citrus, damp spruce moss, and humus.
As more of the scents separated in the air I was reminded of mildly boggy saw-grass growing in a damp lowland meadow below a field of ripe alfalfa and timothy growing in the early fall just before cutting. (This place I am describing is a real memory from my childhood days on the farm. The Highland Park Whiskies always seem to evoke these early memories from my youth.) The fully decanted glass added rich vanilla; apricots, prunes, and peaches in a vaguely smoky breeze; and then less familiar whisky smells of green grapes, punky oak, and more spruce moss. Although some of these scents seemed strange and unfamiliar in a whisky glass, I could not help but enjoy myself as I took one more wiff.
Like the nose, the flavour in the mouth is assertive. It starts with a peppery bite that heats up the tongue and is quickly followed by a chewy, organic peat full of floral and herbal flavours (heather and peat moss come to mind first). When you chew through the peat, some sweetness kicks in with raw honeycomb and a sweet caramelized butterscotch with toffee. The whisky continues to be spicy in the mouth as ginger, nutmeg and hints of cinnamon and cloves seem to materialize out of the oak spices and tannins.
I also taste strong elements of canned fruits (apricots and peaches) which seem to be adding weight to the whisky. There is a firm cereal grain running through the whisky, and a subtle smokiness under the peat with dry fruit flavours of raisins and prunes which seemed to burrow into, and become part of, the floral peat. The intensely of this smoky peat keeps rising and falling carrying and pushing forward the other whisky flavours rather than becoming the dominant flavour.
Amidst all of this is an underlying oak flavour which is firmly melded into whisky. On the nose I described the oak as punky; in the mouth it tastes the same as though the oak barrels were stacked in a damp forest and left until thick spruce moss was growing on their sides. I do not know if this description does justice to how wonderful this tastes.
In The Throat 13.5/15
The finish is softer and smoother than I expected at full strength with sweet honey, punky oak, and floral peat pushing their way through to the finish where suddenly the oak tannins take over and heat up the back of the mouth but not the throat.
The Afterburn 9.5
The Highland Park 25-Year-Old Whisky is a wonderfully intense, assertive dram which is sure to please the whisky enthusiast. The most surprising element of this whisky is that it tastes so good a full strength. During my entire tasting regimen I was practically loathe to add more than a few drops of water to dilute the whisky to a lower strength. It just seemed to me to be ideally suited at the higher alcohol content.
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)
In order to provide another opinion, this review has been published in conjunction with Jason Debly’s review of the same whisky on his website, Jason’s Scotch Whisky Reviews (We did not share any information before publication). Jason is an outstanding writer and reviewer of whisky, and I am happy to link to his review: