I have been waiting patiently nearly a full month to try this bottle of Highland Park 18 that I purchased in New Hampshire. My patience has finally waned as the bottle’s calling became too loud for my already weak will to resist.
The Highland Park 12 was reviewed previously and proved to be quite a good whisky. To further my discussion of this distillery’s background, Highland Park claims it was established in 1798 on the Orkney Islands town of Kirkwall. This is one of the few distilleries that actually uses a stone floor on which to malt its barley. The barley is hand-turned and smoked on local peat, aromatic in its own way and reputed to have a different character when scrutinized against the peat from Islay. The casks used in the aging are Spanish sherry oak casks. Once aged 18 years, the distiller claims that the best batches are chosen and left to “harmonize” for a short time.
The colour is a nice gold under the light, the legs running slow and thick after swirling it briefly. This 43% abv whisky is three points stronger than most products from Highland Park.
On the nose, sweet toffee and almonds. The bottle suggests marzipan. I won’t argue. Faint hints of cherry. Some spice and light smoke round it out. The expression from the pear is definitely more sweet than other peated whiskies I have tried.
On the palate, woody at first. The nuts come through after a short while, suggesting almond at first but concentrate some and you’ll note that it is more cashew than anything. Explore further and the spices and fruity sweetness will come through, with a drop of honey to hold everything together. This whisky is surprisingly rich but not strong. The flavours shift constantly during the tasting, dancing from one impression to the next and held together by a fruity sweet undercurrent until the finish.
The finish is long and woody. Smoke builds into the wood, reminding me of starting a fire on a cold winter’s night using the wood freshly brought in from outside causing bits of snow to melt and steam off into the air.
A very small addition of water opens up the nose to more smoke, but still the sweetness of the peat dominates.
On the palate, the wood is even stronger and warmer. The flavours still compex, still mingling but generating more warmth, satisfying the senses.
The finish is bigger on wood, the kind of sensation not unlike a new house under construction or a big renovation project.
Overall, this is a fantastic, well rounded whisky for occasional drinking. The SAQ in Quebec charges an arm for this one, Ontario charges roughly $10 less…but New Hampshire is stocking it at 1/3 less than in Quebec at a full $50 less (do the math). You will not regret paying good money for this bottle wherever you get it, the only regret you may have will be that you did not try it sooner…and that you won’t be able to experience it again for the first time once you do. I’ll look for something in this range for an eventual whisky showdown.