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Highland Park 30 Year Old

Whisky Review: Highland Park 30 Year Old Single Malt Whisky 90.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on February 26, 2011

This review is based upon a sample 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 the reader should be cautioned that I was not able to give the sample my normal rigorous tasting regimen of five independent tasting sessions. Instead I completed two tasting sessions of the sample and did no cocktail explorations.

Unlike the Highland Park 25 Year Old Whisky which is produced with a high percentage of the whisky coming from 1st fill Sherry Casks; the Highland Park 30 Year Old Whisky is produced with all of the whisky coming from refilled  Sherry Casks. This change in the style of maturation serves to dampen the effect of both the oak and the sherry influence upon the whisky. This should allow the Orcadian peat to have a greater effect upon the flavour and character of the final whisky. Like the 25 Year Old Highland Park, this whisky is bottled at 48.1 per cent alcohol by volume. The combination of long-term aging and higher bottling strength should provide a whisky which will be somewhat intimidating, but also one which should be full of flavour and nuances that will linger in the palate long after the whisky is consumed.

As I have said before, I really appreciate these ‘cask strength’ style whiskies; but, they must be approached with care such that the nuances of flavour which they possess are not lost in the thrust from the higher alcohol content.

In the Bottle  (4/5)

Although I was not given a full bottle of the Highland Park 30 Year Old for review, I did manage to find a nice photo on the Highland Park website. Permission to use  this photo was provided by the aforementioned J. L. Wheelock. As you can see the bottle arrives in an attractive oak display box in what appears to be the standard oval-shaped Highland Park bottle. The presentation is classy but not over the top.

In my locale the Highland Park 30 is about a $395.00 purchase. At this level of expense, I expect to be ‘wowed’ by the presentation of the whisky. In my opinion we are not quite there. I like that we have moved from the cardboard display box to the oak box display, but I feel the bottle itself should be reflecting the fact that this is a far more expensive whisky than its siblings. Instead we have the same oval bottle as is used in the rest of the line-up.

In The Glass  (10/10)

I was not prepared for the treat that greeted my nostrils when I opened my sample container which held the Highland Park 30-year-old. In fact, it was as if I was transported back in time to that place I have described in previous Highland Park reviews. I remember vividly a muddy creek bottom running through the lowland pasture which I tramped through as a boy on my farm in Central Alberta. It was full of willow, spruce trees, lush ferns, and of course the soil was full of boggy peat. I have captured impressions of those scents and smells in the other expressions of Highland Park before, but nothing like I experienced when I opened my sample jar from Mr. Wheelock. The aroma was intense, penetrating, and absolutely wonderful.

I think perhaps that it is true that the most intense and pleasurable memories of childhood involve the sense of smell, and it is the pleasure that these memories bring back which forces me to award a perfect score.

In the Mouth 54/60

As I expected, the initial delivery of whisky into my mouth was intense and full of smoky/peaty flavour at full strength. The Orcadian peat does not carry nearly as much sweetness in this 30-year-old expression as it does in the younger whiskies of Highland Park. An astringent bite of alcohol accompanies the peat making this a whisky you must chew through to arrive at the other flavours. As it is chewed, it is dry woody flavours (I am thinking willow bark and spruce trees) which are squeezed from the whisky first with dark unsweetened chocolate and slightly bitter tea leaves following. There are light sensations of sweetness underneath, with dabs of honey and vanilla, but these flavours do not develop fully as the whisky continues to pucker the mouth with its dry woodiness.

You may find it strange that I scored the nose perfectly but the flavour down a full notch or two. I guess this is because the aroma was so enjoyable; but, even though I love to smell willow thicket and spruce trees, I do not necessarily like to chew on them. (That analogy is perhaps is a little unfair as I still enjoyed the flavours I encountered, but they did not offer the sweetness needed to temper the woodiness.)

In the Throat 13.5/15

The finish is dry and long with echos of cocoa and tea leaves trailing down the throat. The palate is left heated, and the woody flavours of the whisky and the dryness of the whisky stay in the mouth long after the dram is consumed.

The Afterburn 9/10

This is a whisky which is big and bold with the gargantuan flavours of Orcadian peat and oak barrels up front. It will pucker the palate causing it to water, and this dryness will cause you to want another sip. Restrain yourself, and let the flavours slowly subside so that you can enjoy each dram to its fullest.

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)



6 Responses to “Highland Park 30 Year Old”

  1. Steve said

    Love Highland Park, but wish someone would offer me a chance to try the 30 year – I am dying to sample this but I just can’t bring myself to spend >$300 on a bottle. Maybe someday I’ll work up the fortitude…

  2. rus said

    agree totally with your observations…the whole hp line with the 18yr as favorite,the macallan line and of coarse cardhu all similar ,all brilliant. thanx for the time you put in on this blog,a favorite here in oliphant rus

  3. I don’t think Highland Park is capable of producing a disappointing product. At ABV over 43%, sometimes the addition of a drop of water or two will take away astringency that you note on the palate.



    • Hi Jason

      A drop or two of water does open the whisky a little and make it easier to approach. But that astringency of the high alcohol content is still there. In all ‘cask strength’ offerings we get this effect to some degree or another, and it is actually enjoyable to work through it to get at the underlying flavours.

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