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Highland Park

No: 4
Producer: Highland Distilleries
Region: Highlands(Island)
District: Orkney  -   Multimap view
OS Sheet 6 ; Map reference HY 451 095 ; Latitude 58 59° N, Longitude 2 55° W
Founded 1790s ; Operating Status (1999): operating

The greatest all-rounder in the world of malt whisky and definitely in an island style. The distillery is set on a hillside near Kirkwall, capital of the Orkneys and at 58.6 deg North is the northernmost distillery in the world.
© Michael Jackson 1994

It is said to have been founded in the 1790s by Magnus Eunson of Gallowhill and in its early years operated entirely illegally, hiding its output in numerous places including the church pulpit. In 1888, son of the manager of The Glenlivet became managing partner and later owner until Highland Distilleries acquired it in 1937. The distillery has its own floor maltings and malts and kilns about 20% of the barley it uses and imports the other 80%. A well-peated malt is used. The peat is dug locally, from shallow beds that provide a "young" rooty heathery character. Some maltsters traditionally tried to achieve this character by throwing heather onto the fire. The smokiness in Highland Park does seem to vary slightly. The distillery has 12 washbacks and two pairs of stills. It matures about 10% of the whisky in sherry casks and the rest in Bourbon. The ratios differ depending on the destination of the malt and the 12-year old single will contain a much higher proportion of the sherry casks.

Distillery rating: 5*

Tel: 01856-874619 or 01856-873107


SMWS bottling 4.17, 17yo, 111 proof, distilled 3/76
I avoided reading the smws write-up on this, but I managed to come up with a very similar list of metaphors: smoke, heather, honey. On the other hand, the smws write-up makes what I consider to be an error, although a very common one -- conflating "peat" and "smoke". To me the two are different characteristics even if they often occur together. This bottle seems to me to be a good example of light peat and heavy smoke (cf Laphroaig, which is the converse). The smoke is not only the strongest initial flavor, it's also the one that lasts longest. I find it very appealing in this low-peat context, especially as it's nicely balanced by the honey that comes in later (and hangs around awhile). The brief taste of heather is an extra bonus: it isn't dominant here the way it is in, say, Cragganmore but it works nicely in a subtle way.

One note about color: it's *very* light. Diluted, it's hardly any darker than some Chardonnays I've had. Somewhat surprising considering how long it's been in sherry wood. The 12-year distillery HP is definitely darker than this. Do they use coloring in that one?

The proof of this whisky is fairly low, so I don't dilute much -- something like 4:1 or even 5:1 (whisky:water). The result is a bit heavier and also a tad edgier than the familiar distillery bottling of Highland Park. The latter is an exceptionally drinkable whisky, very good for making converts out of cognac drinkers. Maybe it's a slightly more "sophisticated" drink than this smws bottle. But I have no problem at all recommending 4.17 anyway. [macrshap]

Cadenhead 14 (11/78 - 10/93), 64.8%
I've tasted this on numerous occasions. It was disappointing at first, but I eventually came to terms with it. It's a nice whisky, but only after one discards the preconception of Highland Park as a relatively full whisky. Somewhat light, spicy, long finish.

I have to add one thing: it smells almost like turpentine -- very striking in the nose, but not at all present in the taste. In general, this whisky struck me as shallower than the smws but nonetheless similar in a family-resemblance kind of way. [macrshap]

Cadenhead 12 (4/79 - 3/92), 64.8%
Very similar to the other Cadenhead.

No turpentine nose in this one, though. Also shorter in the finish, imho. [rs]

the following two notes are reproduced from the newsletter of the Tindogs Tasting Group in Chicago, Illinois. Please note the copyright conditions if reproducing this material, thanks.

Highland Park 8 yo, 86 proof, 0, Whyte & Whyte bottling.
Medium yellow color. Smokey on the nose with butter crackers. Obviously a good but young spirit. This one has a mild and easy entry and some brad-like maltiness in the mouth. It has good wood but is a bit sharp on the tongue, however it finishes rather nicely. The group placed this second. Group score: 15.96, My score: 15.5 [tindogs]

Highland Park 12 yo, 86 proof, 0, distillery bottling.
Light yellow to deep straw color. The medium light, flowery nose has lots to offer with vanilla and violets in abundance. It is very pleasant, with low peat but would function well as aperitif. In the mouth the entry is easy, balanced and fruity. It has medium wood, some chocolate and malty flavors that come together into a nice package. The group placed this fourth. Group score: 15.59, My score: 16.5 [tindogs]

Highland Park 21 yo, 113 proof, 0, Cadenhead bottling.
Amber to light mahogany color. This is big. Sweet, dense, smokey nose projects age. It is very rich with honey and some flowery overtones. In the mouth it is full but not heavy. It is not sweet, has a find dose of wood and is surprisingly clean. This one leaves the mouth with a feeling that is intense and very long. Yet for the strength it displays, it is well balanced. The group placed this first as I did. Group score: 16.43, My score: 18.0 [tindogs]

Highland Park 12 yo
Another peaty, smoky whisky, not too disimilar to Talisker but very different from its near-neighbour in the Orkneys, Scapa. Highland Park's distillery bottlings tend to be quite rounded with hints of vanilla showing through from the usual salty, iodine island character. Another personal favourite. [tr]

Hear "Highland Park" pronounced in AU or WAV format
Read an article about Highland Park distillery
Search Dr. Do'g's index for the history of Highland Park
There just might be some news about Highland Park in The "Scotsman" newspaper