A window of splendid weather descends on South East London and the mood is extremely chipper over at caskstrength... I'm listening to Royksopp's new record 'Junior' on Spotify which only seems to add to the good cheer.
My lunchtime plan was to visit the Dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park (yes... they still exist in SE London) and possibly take a picnic. Better still, why not take along the equivalent of a warm sunny day in a bottle to enjoy and relax with. So you find me freeloading on someone else's wifi, whilst sitting cross legged on a lovely grassy spot in front of some huge carved stone prehistoric beasts, with 7 samples of Highland Park to get to grips with.
As with most distillery core ranges, everyone has their particular favourite- with Highland Park, ours has long been the wonderfully rich 18 year old, which has never failed to impress with its smooth honey notes and fresh, fruity aromas. We reviewed the 40 year old back in November last year, so it was high time to give the rest a good going over...This is the first of a two-part tasting, so enjoy and see you in the next installment!
Highland Park - 12 Year Old- 40% vol - 70cl
Nose: Immediate wafts of brown sugar, lavender, parma violets, some waxy, cloudy honey and pencil shavings. Depth beyond its relatively young 12 years.
Palate: Something earthy and very woody- definite influence of sherry casks with a slight charcoal note coming through. Next, hints of sweet malty cereal make themselves apparent, and a richer creamy note similar to malted milk biscuits. Something quite moreish about this flavour, that's for sure.
Finish: Back to the wood and some dark lingering bitter coffee notes on the death. quite lengthy, with a hint of dryness.
Overall: The 12 year old represents a fine standard as the entry level HP on the block. It has enough refinement to stand up to some of it's older contemporaries and demonstrates just where the range is heading. Superb.
Highland Park - 15 Year Old - 40% vol - 70 cl
Nose: The sherry influence leads on from the 12 year old, with a much richer, fresher nose developing. Red berries, marzipan, brandy snaps and something all the more floral comes through, with a hint of toffee apple on the back beat.
Palate: Drying, but immediately followed by a luscious apple'y sweetness, golden syrup and spiced ginger cake (cinnamon, nutmeg and a light dusting of pepper are all present)
Finish: The apple dominates the relatively lengthy finish which is altogether, sweeter than the 12 year old.
Overall: Clearly, this is 3 years older than the 12, but seems to taste all the younger for it- an interesting and well developed dram!
Highland Park 16 Year Old- exclusive to duty free shoppers- 40% vol - 1L
I have often seen this on my travels to far flung places (well, Glasgow airport...) and wondered what the score is. Can it really be that different to the 15?
Nose: Lots of apple (green apple peelings), candle wax, and some charming perfumed notes. Very fresh and fragrant. Some creamy smelling vanilla fudge is in there too, if you dig deep enough.
Palate: Slightly bitter and biting oaky notes make this an unusual departure from the previous two. Richer orange notes come through but it feels a little thinner in the mouth with more oily, gritty notes emerging.
Finish: Some lighter rosewater aspects are noticeable, as the palate dries out and more of the drier, sherry influences come to the fore. Not as lengthy as the 15.
Overall: The nose really gives this a slightly skewed impression- it has some lovely fresh fruity notes, but the palate doesn't follow through as you might hope. Not a dull whisky, but slightly less exciting than the other expressions.
On to our favourite from old- the delectable 18 year old. Will this be as excellent, when placed next to its other family members?
Highland Park - 18 Year Old - 40% vol- 70cl
Nose: Oh, now we're talking. Loads of heather honey, fresh red fruits (strawberries and raspberries), something nutty, some old leather and a smothering of the very lightest peat money could buy. It's all so well rounded, I wondered whether this aroma could be piped around the air conditioning of most high street shops. they'd be a much more pleasant place to visit then!!
Palate: Again, loads of that lingering heather honey, with brown sugar, some sweet dessert wine character and a back bone of malty cereal. The mouth feel is luxurious and rich tasting.
Finish: Longer peppery notes start to emerge (like mild cracked black pepper), but the finish is still sweet and developed, with no real over oakiness to report. Sensational.
Overall: In the 18 year old, Highland Park have created a true classic which sits firmly at the centre of their fine range. It's hard for me to find fault with this whisky and I doubt you will find any either. A superb dram.
Stay tuned to find out how we rated the older 21, 25 and 30 year old expressions. Were they more refined and worldly wise than their playful and fresh faced younger siblings, or just grumpy, dry and cynical like most older brothers and sisters!!