There are some whiskies which everyone knows are the best in the world. The marketing has been so consistent and ubiquitous that people start to know it to be true without it ever touching their lips. Like with exotic cars or celebrities is it ever a good idea to buy/meet one of your heroes?
The Highland Park distillery is located on the Isle of Orkney in the town of Kirkwall. The gates over the entrance say the distillery has been in that location since 1798. The distillery as we know it today though dates back to 1826 when it got its official licence to distil and was a strong internationally exporting production facility as far back as 1876.
Currently under the ownership of Edrington since 1999 it was also one of the first distilleries to have a visitor centre. The visitor centre opened in 1987 when such an idea was considered a radical and risky idea which would get in the way of production. Today of course no business plan for a new distillery is complete without a visitor centre and the sale of new make spirit (something Highland Park also sells).
The dram I am tasting is from the older style packaging as shown. The newer packaging which came out in 2017 plays up to the current theme of Vikings and Nordic tradition. If I am honest I much prefer the older style of bottle which, to me, represented the Scottish brand and the historical dependability of the whisky sector rather than some weird new hipster branding to get in the young folks (of which I am one)
In terms of the specs this is a 18 year old whisky bottled at 43% ABV and a natural colour from sherry casks. The price for the older and newer style bottles is around £120 in the UK. Even just a couple of years ago you could expect to pay £75 for something like this and we had the naivety to think that was expensive then.
Colour – sunshine yellow
Nose – nice tart raisins and sultanas give us a sherry influenced starter for 10 before a whiff of charring rather than smoke moves us along. The gentle smoky nature of Highland Park spirit is generally quite subdued though behind intense strong fruit notes
Palate – The texture is thin and the flavours match up the nose again with those alcohol soaked fruit notes but they are not intense or special. What I am getting is something very middle of the road and underwhelming. Perhaps even a little hollow and soulless.
Finish – There is a whiff of smoke to the medium long finish with more sultans and fruit loaf. Actually the gentle heathery smoke is most noticeable in the finish out of anywhere else.
Quite a disappointment for over £100 which is a significant investment for a lot of people. I can still remember tasting the 12 year old quite vividly and being impressed with it again and again each time I get offered a glass. Can I say the same for the 18? I very much doubt it will be remembered well at all.
Before writing this piece I was talking to someone about this whisky and how disappointed I was. I went on to say that there is far better options and for the price tag I was left wondering if I had been mugged for the money. The individual looked at me with horror and shock. This was for two reasons I suspect, the first that I was talking heresy and the second reason which was much more close to home: They had invested in a bottle and were looking forward to opening it on a special occasion. No-one wants their bubble burst and I hope I haven’t ruined it for them but I can’t pretend this whisky is something now which it just isn’t.