Lately, I have been encountering a number of disappointing blended and single malt scotches. The suspects: Glenkinchie 12, Auchentoshan 12, Dewar'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.
Vanilla, rich peat, slight heather, sherry, lawn grass clippings, damp leaves. The aromas convey a clear message: A rich, luxuriant treat awaits!
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.
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.
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.
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
(http://jason-scotchreviews.blogspot.com/) 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.
. . .
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
Hope this helps.
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.
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.
Photo credits: Close up of Highland Park Label by Let Ideas Compete;
Photo of Highland Park Distillery entrance by J_
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