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Highland Park 12

Review: Highland Park 12 year old Scotch Whisky (94.5/100)
A Review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on November 19, 2009

The 12 Year Old Highland Park Whisky is the core expression of Highland Park Distillery, that is to say, it is their flagship brand. Highland Park prides itself in not making any compromises when making whisky. The twelve year expression is the youngest in their impressive lineup. All of Highland Park whiskies are matured in Spanish and American Oak in warehouses with earthen floors and stone walls. The combination of different oak provides some of the whisky with an American whiskey enhancement and some of the whisky with a Spanish sherry enhancement. The whisky is matured in a cool consistent climate, and blended to create the unique Highland Park taste and character that the distillery is famous for.

Of particular note is the heather rich meadows which provide a rich floral backdrop around the aging warehouses which seems to impart its character to the whisky as well. I note the floral character in the review.

In the Bottle  5/5

I really like to take the Highland park whisky off my shelf to show my friends. The twelve year old comes in an oval shaped black cardboard sleeve. The back of the sleeve contains a variety of advertising/informational highlights which kind of whets the appetite for what is inside. The front of the box is labeled in white, silver and orange lettering.  But what I like most is the fancy glyph  (Highland park logo) which is printed onto the front of the container.

The bottle itself is adorned with a simple but professional label and has that same glyph embossed onto the bottom half of the bottle under the label. A solid high density cork finishes the presentation.

In the Glass   9/10

When I was young, I would have to wake up early in the mornings and walk about a mile into the pastureland to bring the cows home for milking. Our pasture was in a lowland muddy creek bottom, where the soil was rich in peat and sawgrass. I smell that boggy muddy creek bottom in the glass when I fill it with Highland Park whisky. It is not an intense boggy smell, just a whisper of that muddy creek and sawgrass meadow rising from the glass. I smell the willow thicket, and a faint floral scent which I am told is heather. This is the aroma of the Orcadian peat of which Highland Park is famous for.

The whisky has a nice gold colour, with very little oil to impart on the sides of the glass. A faint vanilla and caramel rise from the glass as well and the combination mixes into the floral organic peat. The entire experience in the glass is wonderful. I know the average person reading this will question my sanity, but trust me that boggy muddy floral whisky note is just what I need on the cold winter nights in Canada.

In my Mouth  57/60

This is so elegant and well balanced that I have a hard time describing the experience. We have a honeyed, floral whiskey resting in a boggy meadowland pasture. The mouth is soft and buttery, with faint wisps of caramel, sweet honey, and hot spicy oak tannin. This is rich and luxurious, yet it constantly reminds me of that simpler time back home early in the morning walking through boggy fields of farmland.

In my Throat  13.5/15

The buttery texture of the whiskey gives a longer finish than one might expect. The floral peat has a tendency to turn ashy in the throat, but the honey and caramel mingle with this ash making the experience far nicer than what I can describe. The colder the evening, the better this experience is for me.

The Afterburn  10/10

It is hard when one uses terms like: boggy, ash, and farmland pasture, to give the reader a sense for how divine this whisky is. One has to be initiated in the ‘Brotherhood of the Bog’ to understand how these are good things for a Scotch Whisky. The whisky is much more than words can describe, and I consider the Highland Park 12 year to be one of the premier whiskies that I have tasted.

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)


8 Responses to “Highland Park 12”

  1. Neil Cake said

    good review. I just bought a bottle on Saturday, but it hasn’t revealed itself to me yet (for lack of a better phrase). It doesn’t yet seem as complicated as I have been reading it is, and it appears light-bodied in comparison to the Bruichladdich Rocks I had been enjoying previously. Still, I often find it takes me time to decide whether I like a whisky or not.

  2. Matt said

    Highland Park 12 is my Scotch Whiskey of choice.

    At first I wasn’t sure I liked it, I couldn’t get over that oily turpentine flavor. But I gave it a week as I had read that it may need to breath a bit once the cork was pulled. Maybe it was the breathing time or maybe my mind decided to force the taste the smoked peat but suddenly the smokey, peaty and sweet flavors started to show up. In reading your review you mentioned the willow thicket and it hit me as to what the sweet flavor is to me – flowering dogwood. Thanks for the hint I needed!

  3. J. Wheelock said

    Senor Francisco, let me check with the folks in Mexico and I will post any info I find. Thanks for your support!

  4. FRANCISCO said

    Where can I get at Mexico City the Whisky “Highland Park 25 Y.O.”?

    • Since I have never been in Mexico City, I am not sure. Perhaps if we are patient we will get a response from Highland Park or one of their ambassadors.

  5. Biochem said

    I agree with Canadian Thistle. HP 18 year is one of my favorites (at least the bottle I had 2 years ago). the 25 yr tha I had last year was really smokey and rich in aroma. A little too mellow of a taste, but the aroma carried it well.

  6. Canadian Thistle said

    Good review. Additionally, the HP 18 is likely one of the most rounded and well-crafted whiskies I’ve ever encountered.

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