Highland Park is one of my favourite distilleries, and I love their line of products. They’re famous for their use of Orcadian peat to smoke their barley before it is distilled – this offers aromas and flavours of heather. Peat is made from compressed and decomposed vegetation over many years, and Orcadian peat is largely composed of heather because, frankly, the island is too windy for trees. Heather is quite a distinct, unique smell which any walker in Scottish or English meadows and fells will be acquainted to. I myself loved family vacations in the lake district of England where some of my relatives dwell – and Highland Park whiskies take me back to those times.
Highland Park has followed the trend of many distillers to supply increasingly large demand , bottling a whisky with a lower age. Sometimes this results in good, new whiskies, and sometimes you just wish they would keep up with their older whiskies. I believe this Highland Park 10 Year Old showed up in Ontario last summer – and I was intrigued, bottled at 40%. It’s not a “core expression” of theirs, so I don’t know much of its availability in other whisky markets other than Ontario.
Nose: The sherry casks definitely come through on this one, offering slightly sour raisin notes, orange peel, cloves (but, the spicy note of cloves more than the floral note), and green cardamom. There is light smoke and vanilla in the background, along with some butterscotch pudding, honey, light oak, and some interesting notes of guava. Some of the smoke seems a bit too harsh and a touch bitter, and come into the aroma with a bit too much force at times, throwing it a bit out of balance. The vanilla evolves as the whisky sits, and the nose opens up and is less dense with time in the glass. 25.5/30 (85%)
Taste: A sweet, light entry, before smoke like that of burning leaves sits atop a slightly sweet, rich, vanilla backdrop with heather, light honey, and black pepper until the smoke once again controls the finish. Though I mentioned smoke heavily in the last sentence, it’s not a strong peaty whisky – it has a medium level of smokiness but the smoke is quite integral to the flavour. The sweetness is just about perfect to balance this one, I find – this is delicious. 27.5/30 (92%)
Finish: The mouth dries out slightly as the sweetness fades, with smoke and a bit of ash playing the major role in the finish – with some heather, caramel, light honey, vanilla, clove, and cinnamon eventually fading until there remains only light smoke and heather. And, interestingly, there are peppery vegetal notes reminiscent of tequila and the guava is back. 17.5/20 (88%)
Conclusion: This is good whisky, but it’s still a step behind the 12 Year Old, in my opinion, and I’d pay the extra for the 12. Nonetheless, this is very well worth drinking, for sure, and I am certainly enjoying it. The honey, smoke, and heather so characteristic of the distillery is just so brilliant, and this is a decent introduction to the fantastic range coming out of Highland Park. 18/20 (90%)