Thursday, February 10, 2011

Review: Highland Park 25 years Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Ever see the 1969 classic western, True Grit?  A trusting man is murdered by his drunk and degenerate gambler, hired hand.  The trusting man's daughter, Mattie Ross, a plucky fourteen year old farm girl, goes to the town of her father's murder seeking justice.  Justice is elusive.  The murderer has fled to lawless territory and the law seems to be ineffectual.  Mattie hires an aging, boozing US marshal, Rooster Cogburn (portrayed by John Wayne) because he has "true grit."  Great movie and brilliantly re-made in 2010 by Joel and Ethan Coen.  Pictured above and below is actress, Hailee Steinfeld, as Mattie Ross in the 2010 remake. 

Both films got me thinking about 'true grit' and how elusive it really is in the world we live in.  How many people do you know display such depth of character?  I can name two people in my entire life and one of them has passed away.  It seems today, especially in the workplace, that integrity, justice and fairness are jingoisms touted, but rarely present.

So, what does this have to do with Highland Park 25 year old single malt scotch whisky?  Simple.  In my crazy mind, I think it displays true grit.  How is that for a ridiculous segue into a whisky review?

Great single malt has character of a rare quality like great people you may encounter in your lifetime.  Age statements are unimportant.  It is character.  Talisker 10 is a mere 10 years old, but has a depth of character far beyond its years, much like the young Mattie Ross.  Other single malts are very old, and so we assume great character when it may not be there, much like elderly people we know who are frankly not good people.  So, just because Highland Park 25 years is a very aged single malt, we have no guarantees.  We have only the hope that with all that time, it evolved into something worthy of admiration.

Nose (undiluted)
Damp Fall leaves, exotic kitchen spices that hint of India and Thailand, and cold sea air mixed with peat.  Restrained but undoubtedly powerful.

Palate (undiluted)
Explodes upon the palate!  Very intense, concentrated, aromatic flavors of this heavy bodied single malt rain down upon you like the vengeance of God.  Fear and trembling.  This is very powerful.  While a heavy mouthfeel is present, the flavors are, nevertheless, well defined.  You can easily pick out chewy butterscotch, spiced pineapple, dried apricot, fine oak, spicy Cohiba cigar, and marmalade as they fill your palate.  The dominant flavor towards the end is a Florida orange.

Finish (undiluted)
Long!  Wood smoke and malty cinnamon becomes a poweful orange rind and ancient oak that demands your complete attention.  An awe inspiring example of an extremely masterful single malt.

Add Water?
Highly recommended!  Highland Park 25 is 48.1% abv.  It needs water!  It is just too pure, too powerful.  Kinda like trying to look at the sun or the face of God.

How much water?  Pour a double (1.5 oz) and add a teaspoon of distilled water.  Adding this amount of water, however small you may consider it, truly reminds me of what makes scotch magical.  It's ability to change so much with so little.

Nose (diluted)
More peat and sea air is released.  However, the damp leaves are still present and pleasing your nose.

Palate (diluted)
Initially becomes sweeter, gentler, more loving.  Much less explosive upon tasting.  Nevertheless, still powerful.  Mid-palate presents much more wood smoke and a rich, malty taste that is quite mesmerizing.  Waxed heather, hazelnut and black ground pepper too.

Finish (diluted)
Super long finish that delivers flavors of lime, freshly chopped mint and cardamon.

General Impressions
First of all, this is not a whisky for a scotch newbie!  Stay away.  It will turn you off to scotch, and that is something I don't want to happen.

It is so powerful, that upon your first sip, you will begin to uncontrollably salivate.  A huge mistake with this scotch would be committed by taking a big slug.  Take only the tiniest of sips.  I mean really tiny.  There is such kick to this whisky.  Hence, the need for water.  Water is important for another reason.  It brings out more interesting flavors.  I definitely prefer this scotch with a teaspoon of water.  Makes all the difference.

Yes, most definitely!  A great gift for someone who knows scotch whisky and therefore can appreciate it. 

Price Point
Price varies depending upon where you are.  In any event, it is always expensive, but worth it.  A truly special gift for the scotch connoisseur.  Highly recommended!

In the 20 plus year single malt category the question will come up as to how this malt ranks against others.  Highland Park 25 ranks very high.  Always popular at scotch tastings.  Is it the best?  Well, now it is a question of whether or not BMW is better than Mercedes.  While I think it is great, I think the Balvenie 21 year old Portwood has a bit more complexity and a flavor profile that I find more nuanced.  In any case, Highland Park 25 beats the hell out of Glenfiddich 21 and a host of others.  In conclusion, it exhibits undeniable "True Grit!"

Alternative Opinion
Don't trust me?  Try Chip Dykstra of  The Rum Howler who has agreed to review this single malt and post his astute impressions. 


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved except for images of True Grit (2010) which are posted for the purposes of nostalgia, entertainment and education.  Those images belong to Paramount Pictures.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. After the last two reviews you put yourself through you definitely deserved this one :)

  3. A superb review. Thanks Jason!

    J. Wheelock
    (Brand Ambassador - Highland Park)

  4. Thanks Mr. Wheelock. It was a pleasure to review a truly great single malt.

  5. I love Highland Park 12, 15 & 18 but haven't made it to the 25 yet. You make a persuasive push.

    I reviewed Highland Park 15 last week on my blog:

    I hope you have as much fun writing the reviews as I do.

    Keep up the great writing,

  6. Just wanted to add that I found your review format inspiring so I added a shout out to your blog on my site!

  7. Jason - great blog !!!! Your reviews are not only ridiculously well written but very inspiring for this "newbie" with a love for peat. I am a huge fan of Talisker 10 year and will now run out and try Highland Park 25 ...

  8. Anything from this distillery is worth experiencing. Up there with Balblair.