A while ago I was fortunate to spend a day at the Highland Park distillery on the island of Orkney. At the end of the day I partook in a seven dram Highland Park whisky tasting that included some absolute crackers.
We scaled the stairs to a room decorated with bottles from years past and present, the Valhalla collection in its entirety, all the ‘special’ vintages including the 50 Year Old and a few design awards for the aforementioned bottles’ packaging.
In front of me was a tasting mat adorned with seven glasses perfectly laid out waiting with as much anticipation as I was experiencing.
I casually explained that I had had Highland Park over the years but not explored the range in detail until now… I think that went down well as it made the Highland Park whisky tasting I was about to embark on so much more immersive.
The incredible Amanda, who had spent the day showing me around, discussing all things whisky and Orkney invited me to sit down and the Highland Park whisky tasting began.
Dram one – Highland Park 12 Year Old
There was something familiar here, the honey and nasal sting was interesting and took me back to when I last tried Highland Park. Curiously there was no peat at all on the nose.
The palate started to bring the peat to life, the tip of my tongue began to sting, this was interesting but at this point I would not say it was the greatest whisky I’ve tried.
When a drop of water was added the liquid began to work a lot harder with more smoke on the nose than without. Definitely needed the water to enjoy this one fully.
Dram two – Highland Park 15 Year Old
The nose was mellow, softer than the 12 Year Old, not the same stinging edge to it, more spice and a light smokiness.
The palate was lighter and dryer, very smooth – a great whisky to introduce someone who ‘does not like whisky’ to the category.
When I added one drop of water the whisky roughed up a bit, a lot more interesting.
Then things got real.
Dram three – Highland Park 40 Year Old – 48.3%
Yes. The 40 Year Old. What a treat. The nose was one of the most glorious I have ever nosed. Positively with an underlying peatiness, hints of cigar tobacco and layers that reveal themselves as you hold the liquid in your mouth.
The palate was thicker than I imagined it would have been with a gentle burn. A chewing whisky.
In a word: wow.
Dram four – Highland Park 30 Year Old – 45.7%
Hard to follow the 40 Year Old but the 30 Year Old stands up strong. The nose has virtually no smoke, more understated and zesty. Amanda is getting Terry’s Chocolate Orange and sherbet.
The palate reveals lots of oak, burnt oak I was getting with a delayed smokey sweet finish.
Dram five – Highland Park 25 Year Old – 45.7%
This was the very first and only whisky to score a perfect 100 points at the Spirits Competition and I could tell why.
The nose was all about dark fruit, cinnamon, very spicy, the sweetness develops as you nose a second and third time.
The palate revealed more smoke up front and was harsher on the tongue than the nose led me to think it would be.
When one drop of water was added it was a lot softer, much more enjoyable.
Dram six – Highland Park Dark Origins – 46.8%
Highland Park’s ‘big risk’ a little while ago that seems to have paid off.
The nose had the most smoke I’d experienced so far, very prominent and a touch of toffee. I did not expect the power of that nose (and ended up getting a bottle later on the back of it).
New make shone through on the palate, lots and lots of smoke.
Dram seven – Highland Park 18 Year Old – 43%
Amanda describes the 18 Year Old as “Orkney in a glass” and from my limited time on Orkney I could tell she was not wrong.
Smoke, salt, maritime and heather honey fill the nose, really enjoyable with a well rounded palate that made me long for more…
With that the Highland Park whisky tasting concluded.
I would like to thanks Amanda and all the Highland Park team for their warm hospitality (in the cold weather) and insightful day of roaming the distillery.