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Sunday, 22 March 2009

Another Walk in the 'Park

Continuing on from our last post of 4 Highland Park expressions, we bring you tasting notes for their 3 older brothers and sisters. As you will have read, Caskstrength were enjoying the sunshine and good cheer of Crystal Palace Park and in particular, the company of several stone Dinosaurs, present in the park since 1852.

The 18 year old was our clear favourite so far and it will be interesting to see how it fares next to the older and supposedly richer 21, 25 and 30 year olds. For our detailed notes on the amazing 40 year old which we reviewed last year - and made our Best in Glass shortlist, click here!

Right... to business - and first up, let's pour a dram of the 21 year old...

Highland Park - 21 Year Old - 47.5% vol - 70cl - created exclusively for travel retail

Musty mushrooms and lots of damp, dark dunnage warehouses are the first thing that strikes the nostrils. The influence of the sherry casks is perhaps more evident here than any of the other expressions tried so far. Some interesting peppery and spiced tomato soup notes also become evident, as well as fresh mint and the faintest whiff of peat. This really reminds me of some of the recent Karuizawa single casks from around the same age!

Palate: The higher strength of this bottling really adds a sharpness as a very citrus and sherbet'y bite hits the palate, followed by something a little medicinal. Then comes some salted licorice, or perhaps even a spicy Pernod-like aromatic note. A drying earthiness appears further in, followed by some sweeter cereals.

Finish: Dry and lengthy, with more anise notes coming through as the finish develops.

Overall: This shows a much more sherried influence than expected and whilst it certainly has a quality about it, it is hard to fall totally in love with it. The finish is excellent and refined, but I still think the 18 year old shows it who's boss in the all-round pound-for-pound enjoyment stakes. It's not often that we can't get a complete handle on a dram, but this one I feel, needs a lot more investigation to totally understand the full picture.

Next up.... the 25 year old. A good friend of mine swears by this as his 'desert island dram'... will it make us fancy getting washed up on a beach somewhere, with only 1 whisky for company?

Highland Park - 25 Year Old - 48.1% vol - 70cl

Very fragrant marzipan and chopped nuts meet you on the first sniff. There is a sherry influence present, but only in the background. The main note which really works is a wonderful rich, zesty chocolate orange sweetness. Very refined and noticeably more developed than the 21 year old.

Palate: A lovely sweet fruitiness coats the palate on the first taste with a spicy undertone developing quickly, with notes of nutmeg and cinnamon leading into a grapefruit like sharpness then back to the richer more oily sweetness. The flavour of elegance in a glass.

Finish: More big bold oiliness leading into a warm, sweet richness which lasts for a very long time indeed.

Overall: The 25 year old takes a real step up and does not disappoint. Very impressive stuff, though whether it would be out 'desert island dram' is another question entirely!!

Our final dram of the evening, as the sun sets over a hugely pleasant day in SE London. The dinosaurs are shrouded in imposing shadows and I feel it's time to jump on the 'old Shopper' (Caskstrength's preferred mode of transport on sunny days) and head home. With any luck, the 30 year old will be a perfect parting cheer to the great stone beasts which have entertained and delighted the young and old for the best part of 150 years!

Highland Park - 30 Year Old - 48.1 % vol - 70cl

A familiar mustiness of old sherry casks kicks in immediately, which is shared with the 21 year old. It is drier, slightly sour and there are some hidden floral notes trying to escape. intriguing, but a little frustrating to be honest, especially given the openness of the 25 year old.

Palate: Nutty, (chopped hazelnuts) and more of that licorice and warm spiced notes that the older expressions have exhibited. This really does develop - and the end notes of rich cream, and dried vine fruits are wonderfully balanced.

Finish: The richness continues and the licorice and spice mellows over a hint of pipe tobacco.

Overall: If I had only been able to nose this whisky, I don't think it would have faired well at all, but thankfully, the depth of flavour it gives you on the palate and finish makes up for any early disappointment.

It's been a hugely enjoyable day and on my arrival home, i'm still thinking about the journey across all the expressions. In all honesty, I would have to plump for the 18 year old as my top pick from the 7. Not only does it offer sensational value for money, but has a dizzying array of flavour to excite and delight.