Highland Park (Pronounced: HIGHl'nd park)
58°58'20.9604 N, 2°57'13.608 W
1798 (claim) - but more likely 1826
Sources of Cattie Maggie's Pool
2 Wash still, 2 Spirit still
2,500,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Edrington Group & W. Grant & Sons (since 1999)
Holm Road, Kirkwall, Orkney KW15 1SU
Yes - opened as early as 1986
Below, on Whiskyfun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
2006 - The packaging and design
of the Highland Park official bottlings has remained unchanged for a decade, but a new, slightly less bulky bottle is introduced in 2006. This marks the beginning of a period where much more attention is paid to the packaging and promotion of a growing range of official bottlings and limited releases.
2008 - An ultra-premium 40yo official bottling of Highland Park is released.
2010 - Highland Park introduces new make spirit with a price tag of £20 for a 375ml bottle.
That means that it's twice as expensive as the regular 12 years old official bottling - which is a bit insulting...
The people of the Highland Park distillery claim that it was founded in
the year 1798. It's wise to approach claims about historic roots in the
eighteenth century with a fair dose of scepticism. Creative copywriters
have been known to embellish the cold hard facts with their own brand
of half truths in the past. There had been some illicit distillation going
on in the area, but Highland Park didn't obtain a license until 1826.
When I write this, I haven't had the privilege of visiting the distillery on
the Northern island of Orkney yet, but some other malt maniacs have.
They returned with enthusiastic tales, so even though it's a big detour
if you're visiting Edinburgh or Speyside, it seems to be worth the trip.
However, if you can't make it, here's the history of HP in a nutshell...
In 1826 Highland Park receives a license to distill whisky. It's also the year Robert Borwick
the current distillery and assumes control. In 1840 Robert's oldest son George Borwick succeeds
him, but apparently this also marked the beginning of a less successful period for Highland Park.
The history of Highland Park as a family business ends when George's younger brother James
Borwick inherits the distillery. Since James was a priest, his attitude towards the family trade (the
distillation of spirits) was somewhat ambivalent. For a few decades there are frequent changes in
ownership until James Grant (he of Glen Grant distillery) buys Highland Park. Responding to the
'whisky boom' of the late 19th century, James Grant expands the number of stills from two to
four in 1898. Since that time, Highland Park has operated with four stills.
In 1937 Highland Park became part of Highland Distillers, who were themselves gobbled
up by a 50/50 consortium of the Edrington Group and W. Grant & Sons (owners of Balvenie,
Glenfiddich and Kininvie) in 1999. After they re-introduced the new Macallan range in 2004
the Edrington group focused on the upgrade of the Highland Park brand. The high quality
of their regular 12 years old bottling arguably made it a little underpriced in the 1990's, but
by the time they replaced their familiar bulky bottles (depicted below) by new, sleeker
bottles and packaging (depicted at the left), the HP distillery had already dropped off my
top 10 of personal favourite distilleries due to ongoing price increases.
Apart from the 'standard' 12 years old bottling two older expressions
were released in 1997 under the previous ownership; an 18yo and a
25yo. The official range was expanded further by the new owners with
a 30yo bottling in 2005 and a 40yo bottling in 2008. Apart from these
regular expressions there are occasional limited releases like the HP
'Ambassador's Casks'. Some of these were excellent, although there
may have been some ' cask fondling' going on in some cases. That's
the phrase we use to describe an unusual treatment of a cask, for
example splitting a single cask into several 'extra limited releases'.
That's a clever way to make collectors pay twice for the very same whisky, isn't it?
Fortunately, I've excorcised my own collecting demons years ago, so I was free to focus my
attention on alternatives on the 'budget' shelves of my liquorist. That being said, while the
regular 12yo bottling has made a sharp drop in 'quality' over the past decade, it's still a very
decent dram. Some older releases even fall in the 'spectacular' category. The lovely touch of
liquorice I found in some antique bottles seems to have vanished from Highland Park's profile
over the years, but the reward for this trade-off is perhaps an even better balanced dram.
So, if you can still afford an old bottle of Highland Park single malt whisky: go for it.
At least you'll be sponsoring the Scotch whisky industry - in a way. Well, in this case I guess
you'll be mostly sponsoring Highland park's swanky new PR agency in London; I imagine having
them issue frivolous press releases on an almost daily basis will cost a pretty penny - or two...
However, I'm not quite ready to let those pretty pennies come from MY pockets...
1) The Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae on Orkney is the oldest building in Britain, dating from 3100 BC.
2) Given the fact that Highland Park is a highland whisky (all islands except Islay are considered to be part of the Highlands, even Arran which is right next to Islay and the Campbeltown peninsula), the name is appropriate.
3) Highland Park distillery still malts part of the barley it needs themselves, but around 80% is bought elsewhere.
4) The famous HP Sauce (invented by Frederick Gibson Garton, a grocer from Nottingham) doesn't actually contain any Highland Park whisky. You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered this fact...
5) Highland Park whisky probably doesn't include any HP sauce either...
Highland Park 14yo 1995/2010 (55.8%, Whisky Doris, Bourbon Hogshead, 205 Bts.)
Nose: Malty and spicy. Prickly. It gradually grows a little more expressive. It doesn't really pick sides.
Taste: Ever so slightly peaty? Yes, it is! Quite tannic. Meanwhile, the smoky component grows dominant.
Score: 80 points - it's enjoyable enough, but I couldn't find any memorable traits in this whisky.
Highland Park 15yo 'Saint Magnus' (55%, OB, Distilled 1994 and earlier, Bottled +/- 2010, 11994 Bts.)
Nose: Clean, sherried profile with quite some fruits. A whiff of smoke as well. It sweetens out over time.
Taste: Sweet start. Surprisingly medicinal centre. Some tar and lots of tannins in the finish. Very well balanced.
Score: 87 points - a surprisingly smoky expression from Highland Park. It just loses 1 or 2 points in the finish.
Highland Park 1970/2010 (48%, OB, 37.5cl, 1800 Bts.)
Nose: Dry tea leaves and some spices. Faint mustard? Sweetens out over time. Grows smokier and woodier.
In fact, smoke becomes the dominant fragrance, apart from a fruity undercurrent that's always there.
Taste: Fairly fruity with plenty of wood and tannins. Unfortunately, the smoke completely dominates the finish.
Score: 87 points - a highly enjoyable and recommendable whisky, but the smoke is a tad too dominant for me.
Highland Park 12yo 'Hjärta' (58.1%, OB, Bottled 2009, 3924 Bts.)
Nose: Sweet (honeyed) and malty. A little smoky with a hint of organics now and then. Spices.
Very faint farmy notes in the background. Some meaty notes after five minutes. Growing complexity.
Taste: Sweet and solid start, quickly evolving into a dry, fruity and smoky centre. Potent but drinkable.
Hints of peat (green, organic) and something medicinal. Dry, hot and gritty finish with a flash of sweetness.
The fairly harsh finish keeps it from reaching the upper 80's - perhaps the vatting could have used older wood.
Score: 84 points - recommendable, but even at cask strength it doesn't match the old 12yo from the 1990's.
Highland Park 18yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008)
Nose: Leathery. Starts fairly restrained with subtle notes of shoe polish and Asian spices. Twist of lemon.
Needs a few minutes to open up with more fruits, becoming quite rich. Peatier than earlier batches?
Taste: Fairly weak start. Feels a tad chalky. Fruity centre, not terribly expressive. Touch of smoke in the finish.
Just like the nose, it needs a few minutes to open up. I like the direction of evolution, but it's unrefined.
Still recommendable, though. Especially the finish becomes quite beautiful with a touch of liquorice.
Score: 82 points - quite a drop down from earlier batches of the 'regular' 18yo expression.
That being said, outside the MM Awards competition it earned two more points than I first gave it.
Nevertheless: interesting how the profile deteriorates some six years after the 12yo...
Highland Park 25yo (48.1%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008)
Nose: Polished with subtle fruits and a hint of spices. Settles down after a minute, losing some complexity.
Sandalwood? Something very vaguely fishy in the far background - fish and chips rather than smoked salmon.
I had it at 84 points for a long time, but it crawls into the upper 80's eventually thanks to emerging subtleties.
Taste: Powerful, solid, woody. Very pleasant, although it grows a tad harsh in the finish. Feels quite hot.
A little bit like dark toffee. Smoky too - but not peaty. The sweetness is just a little cloying. Feels very solid.
Hey, wait - now I get a touch of something medicinal, earning it another point. The tannins grew on me.
Score: 87 points - there's a very slight astringency in the finish that keeps it from climbing any further.
Highland Park 40yo (48.3%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008)
Nose: Wow, this is different… Wood, fruits and loads of subtle complexities. Emerging medicinal notes.
Lovely. I enthusiastically gave it 90 points during my first try, but it drops to 88 points on closer inspection.
Taste: Fairly weak start, followed by an austere medicinal development. Hint of pine, perhaps?
No peat monster, but a great interplay with the wood and tannins. Chloride? Very long finish.
Score: 88 points - but I should mention that some other malt maniacs felt it deserves a score in the 90's.
Highland Park 19yo 1988/2007 (55.7%, The Whisky Fair, Bourbon hogshead)
Nose: Big, rich and sweet. Echo's of the organics and farmy notes in the 16yo TWE bottling, but more complex.
Sweeter too, with lovely bakery aroma's. Faintest hint of rubber and something oily, but not disturbing.
Taste: Quite a bit of power, just like the 16yo from TWE. Perfectly drinkable at cask strength. Touch of peat.
An excellent mouth feel; a solid sweet start evolves into a rougher, smokier centre and a long finish.
Score: 89 points - it really touches the 90's ceiling, but is just a smidgen too 'natural' for that.
That 89 points is really an average; over the course of half an hour it swung between 87 and 91 points.
Highland Park 183/5yo 'Lunar Bottling' (45.1%, OB, Bottled 2006)
Nose: Sharpish for a second, then quieting down. Smooth and sweet with woody overtones.
It doesn't seem very expressive, but there are a lot of subtleties to enjoy. Smells older than 18 years.
This one really needs time! After fifteen minutes fruits, spices and organics jumped to the foreground.
Taste: A bit confused for a few seconds, then taking a sweet and fruity direction. Great mouth feel.
Well, at least at first - after a smoky centre it became a tad harsh in the finish for my tastes.
Score: 88 points - Serge, Olivier and Konstantin all scored it in the 90's, but I wouldn't go quite that far.
Highland 1993/2006 'Doubled Matured Monbazillac Finish' (46%, Celtic Connexion, 365 Bts.)
Nose: Heavy wood, touch of smoke. Subtle fruits, very rich and distinguished. Polished oak. Beautiful.
Lovely organics appear after some ten minutes. A nose to get lost in - pretty brilliant...
Taste: On the palate wood is the dominant factor as well at first, but a mellow sweetness soon joins the party.
Score: 91 points - this Highland Park may be too woody and extreme for some, but I love it…
Highland Park 18yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2005)
Nose: Raw rhubarb. More fruits after a minute. Sweet tangerines. Almost like 'Southern Comfort Light'.
Only after tasting it on the palate did I detect (or imagine) the faintest hint of peat in the background.
Seems maltier in the nose during round two - and hardly a trace of the 'Islay' traits I found earlier.
Taste: Sweet and smooth start, with a suprising peaty kick after a few seconds. Wow, I didn't expect that...
Lovely long finish; excellent mouth feel. Quite hot, so I imagine this is an overproof malt. Medicinal finish.
Score: 86 points - given the medicinal finish I imagined this could be a Laphroaig or Ardbeg when tried blind.
Highland Park 13yo 1992/2005 (65.2%, Adelphi, Cask #20361)
Nose: Whiff of glue in the start - Velpon. Light and grainy. Quite sweet. Sweet apples. Quite pleasant.
The nose seems sweeter and fruitier during round two. Sweet spices like in christmas cake. Hint of rum.
Taste: Sweet and solid. Apples. Dry finish, growing winey and a little bitter. It loses a few points here.
I saw my intended score dropping from 82/83 to 79, when a surprising touch of liquorice brought it up again.
Very pleasant in the start; very sweet with lots of late fruits. Strawberry jam. Big, hot and solid.
Score: 83 points - despite the slightly disappointing turn of events on the palate.
Highland Park 19yo 1985/2005 (54%, Signatory, Cask #2911, Hogshead, 296 bottles)
Nose: Sweet, heavy and a little grainy. Clay? I couldn't delve too deep into this malt today. Bad nose day?
During round 2 I also found some fruits in the nose. Then clay and peculiar organics. Definite improvement.
Taste: Sweet - maybe with the faintest hint of peat in the background. Yes - almost medicinal. Hot and dry.
Light and sweet on the palate - with a medicinal twist at the end. Highly enjoyable, in fact. I love this stuff.
Score: 87 points - and this is a fairly conservative score. I had a feeling there was more than I could detect.
Highland Park 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2004)
Nose: Big, malty and nutty in the nose at first. Hint of oil? Sweeter over time.
A little more organics over time. No, wait - now it flattens out again. Some apple?
Taste: Smooth and slightly oily on the palate as well. Sweetish, malty. Very nice!
It grows sweeter quickly. Only grows bitter (and very much so) after 15 minutes.
This batch reminds me a bit of Longmorn 15yo. I like the sweet, smooth taste.
Score: 79 points - it becomes quite nice over time, but I can't really recommend this batch.
Mind you: later batches of the Highland Park twelve years old scored in the 80's again.
Highland Park 18yo (43%, OB, Bottled 2004)
Nose: Wow! Very rich! A little fruitier with more sherry notes. Spices. Just a very good whisky.
I like it, although this one can't be accused of extremism either. An excellent piece of work; not too extreme.
Taste: More sherry than the last one on the palate as well. Big, sweet, fruity and woody.
And after a few minutes I seem to get some smoke as well; as well as some more tannins.
Score: 87 points - this starts out at a recommendable level and grows ever more complex.
Interesting... In the 1990's the difference between the 12yo and 18yo was really minimal.
They've certainly fixed that 'problem'! Unfortunately, they did it by dumbing down the Highland Park 12.
Highland Park 25yo (50.7%, OB, Bottled +/- 2004)
Nose: Wow!!! Very big and sherried with lots of furniture polish. Sweet and a tad nutty.
Oh boy, this is an extremely pleasant nose. Very rich. Salty salmiak and liquorice root.
Taste: Hmmm. Here the wood plays the first violin as well, at least at... erm... first.
Then sweeter and fruitier with more tannins towards the finish. Peat? Doesn't last long.
Big, sherried, fruity and woody. It just loses a few points because of the short finish.
Score: 89 points - a highly recommendable Highland Park bottling, but it lacks the 'x-factor' for the 90's.
Highland Park 20yo 1984 (57.9%, OB, C#45, 528 Bts., Germany)
Nose: Old tea. Subtle smoke. Deviant organics and some sourish balsamico overtones. Quite unique.
What an excellent malt; the base tone keeps shifting slowly and the various organics keep it interesting.
Taste: Chewy start; perfect mouth feel at cask strength. Smoky finish. Then an aged fruits interlude.
Perfect tannins in the finish. What a miracle on the palate; showcases the blessings of a good sherry cask.
Score: 90 points - those lucky German buggers! One of the last HP OB's for a reasonable price?
This Highland Park dropped off a bit at the end (sulphur?), but until then it's a major thrill ride...
Highland Park 36yo 1967 (49.7%, OB for The Whisky Exchange, Cask #10252, 138 bottles)
Nose: Light and sweet. Bakery aroma's. It quickly grows bigger and more complex. Organics. Odd peaty notes.
Oooh, this is quite lovely! Hint of antiquity. Quite a spectacular nose. Ladies & gentemen, we have a winner!
Round two: Oh yes, this is a beauty! Peat and fruits. All the good stuff is still there - and more, it seems.
Taste: Lovely mouth feel. Old peat, a bit like the OMC Ardbegs from the early 1970's. Smoky drought. Lovely!
Maybe just a tad thin in the centre. Brillaint tannins in the peaty finish - this is extremely chewable. Excellent!
Score: 94 points - but it needs some time to get there. A sure-fire candidate for a gold medal in the MM Awards.
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Highland Park Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Highland Park page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Highland park expressions that were released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
Is the distillery or