Monday, August 17, 2009

Highland Park 18 yr old - Single Malt Scotch Review


I like whiskies of all kinds. Scotch, Canadian and American. I like bourbon too. But, of all the whiskies I have tried, Highland Park 18 year old is my all-time favorite. It presents a truly special whisky drinking experience that is best appreciated by someone who has spent plenty of time drinking other whiskies before happening upon this one.

The distillery producing this very fine spirit has been doing so for more than 200 hundred years in Orkney, Scotland. I will not recount the history of the distillery here. Go to the Highland Park website for a full history. After all, the purpose of my review is to describe what this whisky tastes like. So, lets move to the task at hand.

Suggested Serving
This is a fine whisky that should not have ice added to it. Ice will dilute the flavours and the complexity. If you drink all your scotch with ice, then limit the quantity to one or two cubes at the very most. You will still enjoy the complexity of flavors but will naturally be experienced a somewhat watered down version. Mind you, some people need the ice to ease any burn the whisky presents when swallowing. If you are a serious scotch drinker, serve this to yourself with a drop or two of distilled water in order to open up the flavours and scents.

Nose
An awe inspiring bouquet of peat, smoke, and flowers. You can take several sniffs and keep wondering what wonderful dram awaits your palate.

Palate
Rich, luxurious honey/toffee flavors interwoven with nuts, spicy cinnamon, pretzel salt and the perfect hint of peat fill the palate. A chewy dram drying towards the finish. No sharp edges here. No bite, bitterness or burn here. Peat is present but not overwhelming or dominating. It compliments the flavor profile only.

Finish
A big, rounded finish of lingering smoke, spices verging on peppercorns you would associate with a flavored rib eye steak, and more toffee. This lingers for a long time in the mouth long after the dram has been swallowed.

Final Impressions
You know that you are in the presence of greatness when drinking this very fine single malt scotch. It has won countless awards as the best scotch of this year or that. Now, you understand why. Share this with your best friend, your father, your mentor, during a fireside chat about what life means. Not to be served during happy hour or for the Super Bowl.

This is not cheap to purchase. You are looking at paying around $80 a bottle (750ml). But, remember that you are buying a very high end single malt scotch. In that realm, $80 is actually not that expensive. For example The Macallan 18 year old single malt scotch is substantially more and simply not as good. Johnnie Walker Blue (a premium blend) is nearly double in price, but again not as good. Glenfiddich 18yr old single malt is more in price and not better. So, you get the picture. This would be a wonderful gift to the man or woman who loves single malt scotch. If they have never had it before, it will be a treat that they will forever after be grateful. If they have had it before, they will recognize the time and thought you put into choosing this gift for them. Do not buy this for the casual hard liquor consumer. They will not appreciate it.

There is nothing negative to report about this single malt scotch. I would however caution readers that this is 43% alcohol and so drinking this should not be followed by any driving. One can get quickly intoxicated without the intention. It happened to me one night. I kept taking sips and before I knew it, I was certifiably smashed.

Cheers!

© Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.

32 comments:

  1. Jason, I like your blog, down to earth reviews with a personal touch.

    Anyway, on the Highland Park 18 - I see that you and I have slightly different tastes as I absolutely love the super peaty Laphroaig and I'm not a huge fan of the Cragganmore. However, I also think the Highland Park 18 is the best I've ever had.

    Just goes to show you that this is a great scotch that everyone, regardless of their preferences should at least give a try if they can muster up the cash. Keep up the great reviews! Kyle P

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes Sir J-man, Hp is my all-time favorite as well. I like most of the scotches throughout the regions, but Highland Park is the pride of Orkney for a reason. Hp 18 and the Bicentennary 21 are incredible ! Hope to one day have the 30 & 40. A guy can dream can't he? Until then, 'til they box me up, I'll be holding my Glencairin tight by the Park! Take Care, Frank G.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Frank, a great way to try the old age statement Highland Parks is at whisky festivals. The brand ambassadors for HP tend to be very generous and always have plenty of the old stuff. Just a thought.

    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I tried to like it, after many reviews and readings but I can't get over the tones of oil and burnt brakepad that I'm getting from the HP 12. At first I thought maybe I needed to let it breath, then I went to the HP site and watched the tasting videos to get another 'thought' into my head about the smoke flavor. Alas, I still taste the oil...

    ReplyDelete
  5. D.lama, all I can say is don't rush to judgment. Try it on a couple of different occasions before forming a final opinion. Sometimes the meal an hour or so before interferes with the taste of the whisky.

    Alternatively, HP 12 is just not to your liking. For what it's worth, HP12 is my least favorite of the HP line-up, mind you, I still think it's great!

    Thanks for commenting!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hey Jason let me ask you. I have this belief on how the new bottlings of Highland Park are not just exactly same as the older dumpy bottlings. The older versions to me have a deeper, richer flavor with a better finish as compared to the newer bottlings. Though the difference is not big enough for most occasional HP drinkers to note, if you've spent enough time "at the park" you perhaps know what I mean. This is after much thought and side by side comparisons. Maybe its just me, but I really believe this to be so. I've had others agree on this, by I'd like your opinion or others here. Thx. Frank G

    P.S. The cool thing is that if I look hard enough at times I can find these rare dumpy treasures, but it is getting harder to do so since they are sadly becoming extinct.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Interesting question. I have noticed that the newer bottlings of Highland Park 12 and 18 can sometimes be overly sherried compared to older bottlings. This is especially true of HP 12. But, I will pick up another bottle of HP 12 and it will taste like it did years ago.

    I account for the difference in tasting between bottles to different production batches. No to batches are identical. Certainly bottlings in the 1980's and 70's will taste different than today because of this reason. Are the older bottling better? Maybe.

    I once had an interesting conversation with a world renowned scotch critic on the topic of whether or no old 1970's bottlings were better than what is offered today. This person's said that on the one hand there were certainly bottlings of say The Macallan 18yrs that were stellar in say 1975, much better than today. On the other hand, this person pointed out that quality control was a much bigger issue in the 1960's & 70's. You might buy a great bottle or encounter a really flawed or funky one. In general, the critic said that the overall quality of scotch in general has become much more consistent. It may not necessarily hit the peaks it did years ago, but at the same time it will not drop into the valleys of yesterday.

    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Jason,

    I was lucky enough to get a 50 mL sample of Highland Park 18 packaged with my purchase of HP12 (nice work marketing folks at HP!). This is by far the most expensive whisky I've tasted, and to be honest, I was expecting to think "this is good, but there's no way I'd spend that kind of money on a bottle of whisky." Well, just goes to show we all make mistakes! After a nice dram of this, I was sold. I tasted HP12 alongside as a comparison, and even though I think the 12 is great and well worth its price tag, the 12 tasted almost cheap after you had been sipping the 18 yr. I couldn't believe you could make something already so good that much better. I can see why this is your all-time favorite. Still, I can't imagine spending that much money very often, but if I were going to splurge, I would certainly put HP18 on the short-list of bottles to buy. It's worth it.

    Ryan

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Ryan,

    I think if you search online or if you travel you may be able to pick up Highland Park 18 at great prices. Fortunately, its price is nowhere near Macallan 18.

    Glad you like HP18, just remember that comparing it to the 12 is not comparing apples to apples.

    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Obviously this post is old, but if anyone stumbles upon this I was wondering if you feel that HP18 is still worth the money as per the relatively recent price increases. It seems like only months ago it retailed for $60-80US (MN). Now it's in the $115-120 price range. I'm enjoying the 12 and was thinking about going up the ladder, but when you start pushing $120 you start getting into +20 year stuff from other distilleries....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very good question! It is only in the past year that the price of Highland Park 18 has surged. Don't blame the retailers because it is not them that has caused the price to go up. It is the drinks company that owns the distillery that has raised the price. This is due to the huge demand coming from the Far East.

      Anyway, back to your question. Is Highland Park 18 worth $120? Yes, I think so. The reason I say this is because in that price vicinity, it still holds its own against other competitors.

      While you may be able to buy single malts with older age statements at $120, I would caution you that age statements are not necessarily commensurate with quality. There are many single malts at say 15 years out perform their older siblings. A great example is Glenfiddich 15yrs Solera is superior to the 18 and 21 years.

      By they way, I prefer Highland Park 15 over the 18, and the former is significantly cheaper. Worth a try.

      I will have to update my review in light of your question. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Cheers!

      Delete
    2. I just happened to find a bottle of HP18 at a liquor store that I would not associate with good scotch selection for US$100 (MN) and I bit. Having spent one night with it I must say that yes it is worth it. The amazing thing about the HP range is that the richness of flavor matches or exceeds most of the cask-strength stuff I've been drinking lately.
      Funny that you brought up Glenfiddich as I personally got "burned" by "upgrading" from the 15 to the 18.

      Delete
  11. Hello Jason again and thank you very much for another nice post on HP 18. Couple of things I would like to bring on a table. My whiskey buddy and I recently had two tastings. One was heavy on Highland Parks. Out of distillery bottles, we compared 12 years old expressions bottled in 1974 and 2010, 15 yo bottled in 1974 and in 2000s, 18 yo, 25 yo, 30 yo, and HP Thor 16 yo. If we will not discuss 25 and 30 yo, which are belongs to completely different class, indeed I like better older bottling of 12 and 15 yo. And yes, Highland Park 18 yo along with Lagavulin 16 yo and Lagavulin distiller edition were the best single malts in 10 yo - 18 yo category until last Monday, when we compared long list of Springbank whiskeys with Highland Park 18 yo. It is amusing to see how similar Highland Park 18 yo and Springbank 18 yo are! After several drums, we both agreed that Springbank 18 yo is at least two points better in quality than Highland Park 18 yo. It has stronger and more complex nose and better palate... The downside of Springbank 18 is a price. I got a bottle from San Francisco trading company on sale for $119 plus shipping, while Highland Park 18 yo is still available at Chicago Lake store in Minneapolis for ~$92... Overall, Highland Park 18 yo is indeed excellent whiskey for the price, but everything is relative :-)
    Sorry again for English - not a native speaker.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Friend, your written English is excellent!

      You list several very excellent whiskies, but with regard to a show down between Highland Park 18 and Springbank 18, you are comparing a BMW X5 to a Mercedes GL450. They are both excellent! I probably would give Springbank the edge too, but Highland Park is probably more consistent year to year.

      Cheers!

      Delete
  12. Jason, We made a theme last night to touch base again with a few bottlings that have proven disappointing or somewhat flawed of late. We purchased and opened fresh examples of Ledaig 10, HP 18, and Johnnie Walker Gold. Tthe Gold proved to be sound and fine and a little gentle for the price, and the Ledaig - well, still all warts and scabs from the barn floor again. But there was a standard bearer of high quality in the $100 bottle from Orkney. So pleasing, so nicely complex this time, with a much reduced aspect of the Orkney floral peat aroma (Granny's dusting powder, lilac and Fragrant Abelia) and no stale barrel notes. Superb. Is it persistence on our part that paid off, or did we catch a seasonal production variance ? Who knows ! JK

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I find that some HP 18s are more sherried than others. Other years the 'heather' component is more fragrant and floral than other years.

      I think this is not a problem with quality assurance on part of the distillery, but rather a reminder that whisky is ultimately an organic compound that is a sum of its parts (peat, oak barrels, quality of water supply, all subject to variability).

      When I find a year of great HP18 I tend to buy several bottles, to carry me over years where it's slight variance is not totally to my liking.

      By the way, the variation I am talking about from year to year is very slight and readers should not regard this as a problem of the distillery. Matter of fact, I think most consumers will not notice the variance except for the small percentage that are like me (truly obsessed).

      Delete
  13. Hi Jason,

    On a road trip to California back in April, I picked up a bottle of HP 18 in Dallas, Texas. They have some pretty good prices on whisky in Texas.I got it for $80. Back in my home state of SC, it's usually $110. Sadly, it's about $120 now ...

    I waited a while before opening it, and when I did, I was totally floored. HP 18 is an incredibly delicious whisky. That toffee sweetness and wonderful smokey finish just blew me away. In fact, I didn't find this bottle too-sherried. If any of the HP bottlings were (too) sherried, it was the 12 year old. And still, I really like the 12 year old!

    My only complaint about this whisky is that that after about 3 or 4 weeks, it lost its magical finish. Something from it was missing that was there before. I'm not sure if I can put my finger on it without having a fresh bottle (anyone want to get one for me? ;) ) Nonetheless, it was still a good whisky, even though I could tell something was missing.

    I do have an idea about what happened though. I think that the climate in California is very dry, and perhaps, even in the bottle, whiskies get dried out more quickly and lose a bit of their profile than they would in more humid climates like in the East. Just a thought. I mean, there was a notable difference in flavor profiles of HP 18, Glenlivet 12, and Laphroaig 10 after just a month ...

    All of that to say, HP 18 is a wonderful dram and totally worth $120 (if you're unfortunate enough to have shell out that kind of money where you are). However, for readers that find that a bit pricey, the HP 15 is just as good for different reasons and considerably less expensive.

    Also Jason, thought you'd like to know I won a new convert to the world of scotch this evening. I gave him some of my Laphroaig Cask Strength from this year, and he was totally in love with it.

    Cheers!
    Bryan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Bryan!

      I meant to reply to your comment sooner, but I have been busy with life outside the blog.

      Anyhow, I have also found HP18 can knock your socks off when first opened but week later or so it fades and that is in my opinion due to oxidation. Once air gets in the bottle it does soften the flavor profile and complexity somewhat. I don't live in California, but rather a very humid maritime climate. So, it is not the California dry weather that is the cause.

      HP 15 is obviously bourbon influenced, more softer but nevertheless a delight that frankly I prefer to the 18.

      Glad to hear you converted another to the scotch world, and doing it with Laphroaig. Wow! I usually start people off with a gentle Speyside number.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Delete
  14. Hi Jason- The HP18 is by far my favorite. What other bottles do you recommend that are most similar to HP18? Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Similar to HP 18? That's a tough one. However, my immediate thought is Highland Park 12 yrs. It has less of the intensity, but is still smokey, sherried and laced with the signature taste of heather and honey of this distillery.

      Moving outside this distillery, try GlenDronach 15, intense, sherried and smoked. I think you would like it.

      Delete
  15. HI Jason,
    Well... I took your advice... And as luck would have it, just before my holidays,I copped a big call out ... a nice big pay... My lovely wife actually told me... "why not get that whiskey you spoke of..." Today I did ! Now, $160 (aus) is massive for me to shell out on something that will be gone in a few months. i've only just pulled the cork on it ...Had a sniff .......It's hard to relay the feeling of joy i felt at that moment. I had to have a very small taste. It carried on ... It was all there.
    No other whiskey has let me smell & taste that soon from opening the bottle... Peat, smoke, spices. Tomorrow night I'm going to sit by myself for an hour in the cold garage...Hard to get peace and quiet at present. It will be a looong time before I'll be able to get another so I will enjoy this !! Forgive me Jason but it craps all over the Yamazaki !
    Thanks Mate!!
    AL (from OZ)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Al! Glad you are enjoying Highland Park 18. It is spectacular neat, but also worth experimenting with a little water, and by little, I am talking a couple of drops. Water can make interesting flavors and aromas emerge.

      Thanks for commenting, always great to read viewer feedback.

      Delete
  16. Let me ask you this... is there a period of time once it hits the glass before tasting ?... same after adding water... do I let it sit for a couple or .... 10 minutes before sampling ? Always been curious...
    thanks again,

    AL (from OZ)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As you probably know, some wines need to be exposed to the air in a carafe for a bit before serving. When they come out of the bottle the first time the wine can taste rather tight. Some wines take longer to breathe than others.

      Whisky on the other hand doesn't work the same way. The aeration period happens in the weeks following first opening the bottle. You may notice a difference in taste from the first opening taste to the flavors weeks later. In the case of HP 18, I think it will taste softer in subsequent weeks in month. But, to answer your question no, I think upon first opening there is no discernible taste in waiting a few minutes. Following the addition of water, again I dont think you need to wait a certain amount of time.

      Delete
  17. Coolaroo Jason,
    Thanks,
    Haven't tasted yet... Got a rotten head cold and so cannot taste anything. Not going near it for a few more days... damn !!
    OO ROO
    AL (from OZ)

    ReplyDelete
  18. Had 2 go's on Saturday night .... the 2nd even better than the 1st.....beautiful. I'll try with some water later this week

    AL

    ReplyDelete
  19. Jason,

    Interesting discussion. I would have liked a brief summary of the maturation process, i.e. woods/ages, etc.

    BTW - recommend Ralfy's discussion re: inconsistency in HP offerings. I was very disappointed with my HP18 purchased in the last couple years. In contrast to my original HP purchased maybe 15 years ago and given to me by my dad. I sipped down about 5 years and was compelled to buy a bottle to see the magic. Yuck! The HP 12 was worse.

    I am intrigued by the comment re HP15 being better than HP18. My initial experience with an HP15 was quite positive. I will try a bottle at the right price.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Patrick, Highland Park 15 is getting hard to locate because the corporate owners have decided to really limit distribution.

      For example, it has been pulled entirely from the Canadian market and now appears only in certain US states. Not sure about distribution internationally.

      The reason for pulling back HP 15 is probably due to poor sales. It was priced $5 less than the 18yrs for a long time, and so the consumer typically reached for the 18 every time.

      I highly recommend the 15.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Delete
  20. hi Jason
    i realize this is an old post but i have really enjoyed reading your reviews and have bought and enjoyed some of the whiskeys you have recommended (Johnnie walker black is one I have really enjoyed), in your review here of Highland Park 18 you price it out as $80, but i priced it out on Manitoba liquor mart website and they have it priced as $200. that seems very high to me but would you still recommend it at that very high price or do you have another recommendation that would be better and slightly lower in price?
    Thank you very much for such great reviews
    and i hope you will do more reviews on youtube as well!
    thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unfortunately, since I wrote this post, Highland Park 18 and for that matter all offerings by this distillery have gone from the best kept secret to the latest trendy distillery with flashy marketing about norse stories linked to their latest product launch.

      With the increased awareness, China and other Far East countries have become a huge consumer of Highland Park, which in turn has driven up prices because the distillery naturally charges as much as it can, or more specifically the company that owns the distillery.

      So, is Highland Park 18 worth $200 a bottle?

      No.

      I would not pay it.

      It retails for $149 where i live and that is too much! The most I would pay is $110.

      $200 is crazy and symptomatic of a major problem for the Scotch industry. Because prices have soared in the past couple of years, demand is softening and consumers are switching to more affordable spirits like bourbon and Canadian whisky. No surprise those two categories are experiencing record sales.

      Thanks for commenting and have a Happy New Year in Manitoba!

      Delete
  21. Guess I'm blessed that my local liqour store has it at 104.99 a bottle. I'm going to stock up, just incase they read this.

    ReplyDelete