Monday, May 24, 2010

Review: Highland Park 15 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Lately, I have been encountering a number of disappointing blended and single malt scotches.  The suspects:  Glenkinchie 12Auchentoshan 12Dewar's 12 and Whyte & Mackay.  In addition to being disappointing, they were a waste of money.  I gave away most of the bottles to friends who aren't that picky about what they drink.  I guess that's one of the hazards of operating a whisky blog.  You can waste good money on poor whisky or scotch.  With this review, I needed a scotch that would remind me of the romance between drinker and scotch that can take place when great spirits are involved.  So, I picked up a bottle of Highland Park 15 years.  I am familiar with Highland Park 12 and 18 years and was confident that the 15 would be a delight also.  I had tried it at a scotch tasting that featured a range of Highland Park bottlings.

Nose (undiluted)
Vanilla, rich peat, slight heather, sherry, lawn grass clippings, damp leaves. The aromas convey a clear message: A rich, luxuriant treat awaits!

Palate (undiluted)
Starts sweet. I can taste the sherry flavors imparted as a result of the time this spirit spent in sherry casks. It must have been good sherry in those casks because I do not taste the spoiled sherry flavors that I encounter in cheap blends like Whyte & Mackay or Dewar’s 12 years. This is choice/top shelf single malt scotch.

Besides the sherry, I am detecting spiced honey that would make Winnie the Pooh swoon with delight. Velvety smooth, yet with texture and an aromatic flavor profile that goes on and on and on like the Energizer Bunny. There is also a citrus component to the flavor profile that appears on the finish. Mid-palate is very aromatic.

Finish (undiluted)
Some fresh navel oranges and smoked salmon dry on the palate. Ohh! This is good! These smokey flavors last a long time, like an echo at the Grand Canyon.

Add Water?
Yes, please do!  A teaspoon to 1 and a half ounces will cause the scotch to become more sweet, marzipan and baklava like in terms of flavor.  I prefer this single malt with a little water.  Tasted neat there is a little hint of alcohol that disappears with water.

General Impressions

I asked Gerry Tosh of Highland Park Distillery for basic information on the 15.  Here is the email exchange:

From: Jason Debly
Country: Canada (Eastern)
Comment: I operate a scotch whisky review blog
( and I intend to conduct a review of Highland Park 15 year old. Accordingly, I am seeking any information with respect to aging, distillation details and images concerning this bottling. Please note, I am not seeking a sample, as I conduct an independent review of various whiskies that I profile. If you have any information that you could provide, I may use some of it in my review. Certainly, if this is not a request that you wish to entertain, please disregard this email and do not trouble yourself to respond.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Jason Debly

. . .

Here’s the response I received from Highland Park:

Always happy to help a whisky lover.
All you need to know is this.
Youngest whisky is 15 years old
30% of the casks used are first fill sherry cask
70% of the casks used are refill sherry casks
The big flavour difference is that we are using predominantly using
American oak sherry casks in the 15 where the 12,18 we are mainly using
Spanish oak.

Hope this helps.


Gerry Tosh
Head of Brand Education
Highland Park single malt scotch whisky
West Kinfauns Perth Scotland PH2 7XZ
Tel: +44 (0)1738 493611
Fax: +44 (0)1738 493838
. . .

So, first fill sherry casks obviously impart a stronger taste of sherry on the spirit in the casks than say a refill cask. Mr. Tosh also attributes the difference in taste from the 12 and 18 yrs bottlings to the different wood used. American oak!  Here's a link to his video tasting of the 15.

On the web, I have read that the Highland Park 12 and 18 yrs are aged in 90% ex-sherry casks and the remaining 10% in ex-bourbon casks. The Highland Park 15yrs is supposedly aged 50/50 in ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks.  Judging from Mr. Tosh's email the use of ex-bourbon casks would be inaccurate.  So, in order to clarify this point I posed that question to Mr. Tosh.  Here is his prompt reply:

No worries about the extra question.

Highland park use NO bourbon barrels at all, we only use sherry casks.
We use American oak sherry casks to give it the citrus flavour we are looking for.



Well, just goes to show that you cannot believe everything you read on the web!

In any event, the bottom line is that the 15 year old is less sherried than the 12 and 18 year old editions of this great distillery. And guess what? I like it! For my taste preference, I find the 12 and 18 a little more sherried than I would like. The 15 is more balanced and the vanilla flavor is a delight. It should be noted that most critics would disagree with my opinion. In fact, I think most scotch drinkers prefer the 12 and 18 to the 15.

Value for Money?
I think so. Some may disagree. This is by no means cheap in terms of price. For me, I have no problem paying a steep price if I am getting good quality. I believe that the price is commensurate with the high quality single malt scotch whisky I will taste.

One Problem

I have encountered one ‘problem’ with this single malt scotch. It is incredibly drinkable, so easy to sip that the bottle is disappearing too fast! We all have our crosses to bear, and so I will just steel myself in regards to overcoming this seemingly insurmountable problem!

Bottom Line
Highland Park 15 years is a high quality single malt.  The price is high but reasonable in light of the quality.  This scotch would make an excellent gift for the serious scotch fan.

Jason Debly

Photo credits:  Close up of Highland Park Label by Let Ideas Compete;
Photo of Highland Park Distillery entrance by J_
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved.


  1. I quite rate Glenmorangie but I haven't been able to get any in NB and isn't listed on ABNL.
    Be interested in your evaluation if you ever come across it.

    F. Bradshaw

  2. There is one bottle left in the province of New Brunswick. It is Glenmorangie Lasanta and has a price of $62.79 and is located in Perth Andover. However, ABNL will deliver it to your nearest liquor store for your purchase. No charge for the delivery between stores.

  3. I found the Highland Park 15 after trying Lagavulin 16 and Laphroaig 15 as my first and second single malts ever. I agree wholeheartedly with your review and find the Highland Park 15 to be outstanding. It brings all of the boldness I appreciate while tempering it with a poise and maturity that actually adds (rather than detracts) from this extraordinary expression.


    Jerry Curtis

  4. Jerry! Glad you like this fantastic single malt! I am glad you agree!

  5. My Highland Park is vanishing also. A recent night out in Edinburgh I was fortunate to find a pub with a decent selection of malts including the 18yr Highland Park at £4.50 a nip. It was well worth every penny! Even colleagues who have poor memories of whisky (mainly their father's cheap blends) thought it was drinkable.

  6. I do agree about the Highland Park. Had it about three weeks ago and thought it was great. Not as rich and intense as Laphroaig or Lagavulin in my opinion, but certainly more accessible. It is worth a buy, especially if you are looking for a solid well-rounded drink.

    I also reccommend Dalwhinnie if you are looking for a lighter and fruiter type of Scotch, it is certainly better than Glenkinchie while being quite similar in profile.

  7. Vincent, Dalwhinnie is very nice too.

    Highland Park 15 is a real dark horse I think. Because there is a difference of roughly $5 between it and the 18yrs, most people buy the latter. This is a mistake. Age statements are over emphasized by consumers.

    Anyway, thanks for posting.

  8. Jason,

    Picked up a bottle of the Highland Park 15 today and cracked it open as soon as I got home (late afternoon, lest some think I went shopping early in the morning.)

    Your review is spot on. This is tasty stuff! I drank half my pour neat, then added a couple drops of water to the remainder. Like it better neat. The only advantage to adding water is that it might make the bottle last a little longer.

    Paid $65 US. The HP 18 was a hefty $100! Guess I need to find a cheaper liquor store. I will definitely buy the 15 again.

  9. Hello Dryheat! With a price differential of $35, I think the 15yrs is the better choice. Moreover, I prefer the 15 to the 18, unlike most reviewers. Many people assume the greater the age statement, the better the whisky. Not true as evidenced here.

    HP 18 is a fine scotch, but not better than the 15, just different. I am glad you enjoyed the 15.

    I always have multiple bottles on hand, so that I don't run out. You know you are a whisky nut when you start thinking like me.



  10. Hi Jason - just polished off my first bottle of HP-15 and have fell in love .... So I did a retrospective search on your blog to see if you agreed .... Happy to see that we share similar tastes .... Perhaps we enjoy a drink in between hands of Xmas. Keep up the great writing !!! Take care, H

  11. Glad you like it! Pretty much anything by Highland Park is excellent. Hope all is well!

  12. I just purchased a bottle of HP15 and based on your review, I'm certainly looking forward to opening it. I am just finishing up a bottle of Bowmore 15, so the HP should get tasted later this week.

    Thanks for your great review.

  13. As I just mentioned on the HP12 review page, I was finally introduced to HP via the HP12 recently at a local pub. I was floored. I'm an Ardbeg nut but HP seems eminently more versatile. My regular shop had HP15 so I grabbed one yesterday. Today I tracked down another local shop that had the 12 and just got back with it. I can't wait to try them!

  14. Enjoyed your review. I has always liked the HP 12; picked up the 15 in Oklahoma City a few weeks ago returning from Dallas to Kansas. Paid $45 for a 750, excellent value for a fine whisky.

  15. $45 for HP 15 is outstanding value! Wow!

  16. Jason, I suspect you might enjoy hearing Ralfy's recent vlog review of the HP-18. Hint: He highly lauds the specific bottle under review, though he also suggests there is significant variability in recent batches of the product. He says he got a hold of a "good one". JK

  17. Was at my local store this weekend where I purchased a 15yo. While there the proprietor told me that he didn't know how many more bottles he could get because it was being dicontinued. Is this true? I can't find anything about through searches.

    1. It may be true. I have understood that sales were less than stellar in the past because it was priced so close to the 18yr old, causing consumers to pay $5 or so more for the latter.

      I will try and contact Gerry Tosh at Highland Park and find out.

      It would be a pity if it was discontinued.

    2. I asked Gerry Tosh at Highland Park and he advises that it is not being discontinued. However, it is no longer being supplied to certain countries. He did not elaborate as to which ones.

      I have heard from others that Highland Park has enjoyed a dramatic increase in sales (demand) in Asia at higher prices than in the UK, US and Canada. Hence, they are targeting the more lucrative markets.

      So, if you can lay your hands on a bottle, best to do it now.

  18. Jason, Our tasting group has stumbled upon a variability issue across several recent bottles of the usually very reliable Highland Park 12Y. These four bottles (all purchased in 2012) are carrying an unpleasant and stale aromatic component (cigarette ashtray to be kind). It is compressing the usual sweetness of the Orkney heather-peat and honey. Any similar experience ?

    1. Hi JK,

      I have not had any 2012 Highland Park 12. So, not much help on that point.

      In past years, I have noticed some variability. A few years ago it was its usual excellent, but other years it seemed overwhelmingly sherried and oxidation was a big factor within weeks of opening.

      You should consider emailing Gerry Tosh of the distillery directly and I am sure he would like to hear of your experience. Email me privately and I will provide you with his email address.

      In general, this is one of the vagaries of scotch whisky. It is ultimately an organic substance and so lacks the consistency of other endeavours like making widgets to certain dimensions in a factory.

      Bottom line: When I discover a stellar year for a favorite like HP 12, Oban 14 or whatever, I tend to buy multiple bottles!

  19. Just bought this. Wow is it complex. Complex to the point of almost being challenging. Challenging to the point of me craving it when I'm here at work, and not like you crave a simple pleasure like greasy food or sweets, or a blended scotch on the rocks, but craving it the way I crave a serious film, or a good workout, or a really long book. Thanks also for confirming that HP12 IS in fact sherried as I had read a few places that only the 15 and 18 was, and so many reviews of the stuff don't mention the incredibly sherry heavy flavor. A really great introduction for anyone curious to understand what a sherries scotch tastes like. I also love the salted caramel flavor I get throughout.

    1. I am always happy read a comment like yours.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Maybe your words will encourage other readers to try Highland Park 15 too!

  20. Jason, thank you for your wonderful HP15 review. How could I resist "lawn grass clippings" and "damp leaves." LOL!!
    I have picked up a bottle of HP15 as a wedding gift (Chardonney for her, whisky for him). This blend is one of several "recommended" whiskies I could have chosen, but your review tipped it in favor of HP15.
    I haven't had the pleasure of sampling the blend myself but hope to be invited to do so in the company of the bride and groom -- so thank you for helping me make my choice.

    1. Happy to oblige!

      I am sure it will be well received!

  21. Dear Jason,
    I'm a new but already enthusiastic reader. Are you familiar with Highland Park 1998 Vintage edition for travel retail?
    I'm a big fan of standard HP12 and I came upon a good offer for the 1998, but I'm not sure it'll live up to my expectations.

    1. Hello Davide!

      Yes, I am familiar with the Highland Park 1998 release and it is excellent, especially if you can get it at a great price. Highly recommended!


    2. Thank you very much Jason!

  22. I also love this 15yo from Highland Park. Pity that its so hard to find in NZ.

  23. I forgot how much I love HP12, it was pushed to the back behind my Islay whiskies. Decided to reorganize my cabinet and saw it at less than a quarter of a bottle and wondered is it that good. Going to see if Bevmo has the HP 15 or Laphroaig QC or CS.

    1. If you can find Highland Park 15, you should grab it because I believe the distribution is becoming more sparse in the US. Only a handful of states are going to get it now. It has been pulled entirely from the Canadian market.