Moving on with yet another sherried whisky, only this time we’re headed back up to the island of Orkney and the most northern distillery in Scotland, one of my personal favorites, Highland Park. I actually have two Highland Park’s on the tasting block this weekend; the 18-year-old and the 47.5 percent 21-year-old. This is going to be a good day.
Comprised of approximately 45 percent first-fill, ex-Sherry casks and aged in mostly European oak, Highland Park 18-year-old is one of those malts you can’t help but love. Even if you’re not a fan of peated whiskies, I recommend you give it a try. The peat in this whisky is so restricted yet it still brings about wonderful complexity, which is why I consider it to be one the best entry-level peated malts to help train your palate. I’ve been a fan of this whisky for quite some time now and luckily for me I’ve been able to get my hands on it for a very reasonable price. If you live in the Boston area I can let you know the best place to pick up a bottle.
It’s not that Highland Park’s malt is peated to a very low PPM level, because the malt that is peated is around 20-40 PPM. What makes it so light is the fact that only 20 percent of the malt being used in the production of Highland Park is actually peated – this is the portion that is floor malted at the Highland Park distillery. The other 80 percent or so is unpeated malt sourced from the mainland.
Being that they process their own malt with Orkney peat is also why Highland Park typically has those classic floral/heather qualities to it. Orkney is a harsh environment where it’s very windswept, sea-sprayed and almost treeless. However, heather is plentiful on the island and is dense within the ground. The floral “Orcadian” peat permeates the malt and carries along to the bottle – part of what helps differentiate Highland Park. For me, the younger Highland Parks tend to be reminiscent of one of my favorite brands of heather honey that I can get my hands on.
Like The Macallan, Highland Park is part of the Edrington Group, and a decent portion of the distillery’s younger stocks goes into the Famous Grouse, another member of the portfolio. Unlike these other brands, however, Highland Park has no inclusion of caramel coloring, does not finish their whiskies, and since 2004, there has been no routine use of ex-Bourbon American barrels – ex-Sherry casks are used for maturation.
Price: Approx $110/750ml
Color: Light Amber / Bronze
Nose: Kicks off with a wonderful toffee sweetness that also brings along roasted malt, baked apples, mixed berries, roasted almonds, a slight hint of cocoa, heather honey, soil, citrusy herbs and a very subdued hint of smoke mixed throughout. There’s a bit of spice in there as well, but nothing that really showed its face all that much. It’s a little woody, too.
Palate: A sort of “dirty sweetness” on approach, which very much reminds me of the toffee and soil found in the nose. That “dirtiness” builds into a gentle sweet peat smoke and faint ash around mid-palate that falls right into the finish. With it there’s candied pineapple, vanilla, some of those citrusy herbs and a bit of roasted nuts.
Finish: Moderate to long with dark toffee and a bit of ash.
There’s nothing bold about this whisky at all. It’s quite mellow all around but you can’t help but love its gentleness. The nose does offer a little more depth than the palate, but it’s also very nicely balanced. This is a malt to relax with indeed. Had a long day? Pour yourself a glass of Highland Park 18-year-old and thank me later.