Saturday, 19 September 2009
Highland Park 12-year-old 40% Dram #26
Despite the differences
This is no stranger.
How bizarre that the 25-year-old should have preceded this into my notebook. I first sipped/ was speechless with wonder due to the 12-year-old in a hotel. I had it in a pub next, but I was unable to conduct a proper thorough tasting until I unwrapped a bottle last Christmas.
On the two previous occassions I had nevertheless noticed and liked its semi-rich biscuity maltiness and the peat character which is so entirely different to that found on Islay. From the beginning, I understood that it was no mean dram distilled in this area that stretches the rules governing regional frontiers - and even those of Scotland - to the limits of relevance.
Highland Park is a case study of why I adore the single malt industry. Orkney is a smudge of rock, sand and grass whose northward vista is comprised of a few more similarly improbable scatterings of land and the beginnings of the Arctic Circle, yet it produces a whisky every malt lover spares singular affection for and which is moving in on the most prolific shifters of premium single malt. Logic tumbled out of the St Margaret's Hope ferry and drowned.
ORIGINAL TASTING NOTE, TASTED 11/1/09: COLOUR - Pale gold. NOSE - WoW - Pillowy-soft peat. Full and green. An underlying smouldering sharpness. The sea salt of handmade crisps added to the malt. Thick spongecake sweetness. WW - Peat becomes harder and hotter. Fruit does the same: boiling raspberries and blackcurrants. Beautiful spicy malt. BODY - Medium to almost full. PALATE - Charred wood, white grape tang. Chocolate digestives. Creme brulee topping. FINISH - Sea and seaweed. Long and smoky. Excellent, but just the end of the palate.
The revamped packaging shows off the product particularly well. The flat bottle with the ornate calligraphy (that Celtic/ Viking "h") hints at a very authoritative, no-nonsense spirit, an impression not contradicted by pouring a little into the glass and inspecting the hue: a smooth, beaten gold.
Indeed, there are no shrinking violets or superfluous flavours in the nose, either. The malt and the peat mount a combined attack: the former eager, semi-aggressive and fruity; the latter medium-dry, rich and delicious. That biscuity quality that put me in mind of a certain manufacturer's granola bars which I'm rather fond of I modified to ginger biscuits. There is an extremely fresh sea breeze note, together with some delicate honey. There is the sharp pungency of new wood as well as a "quiff" of dark, supercharged Oloroso. It is a complete and complex canvas marvellously presented.
With water it becomes softer, lighter and develops the sweetness of boiling mash. The peat is transformed and has acquired a liqueur chocolate nature. This supports the round zesty malt. Toast and honey in addition to a vague impression of hard rocks concludes the outstanding aroma.
The medium and firm palate presents a unique architecture: the peat acting as the sconce for the powerful sherried malt. It grows beer-y and almost froths with the skins of nectarines.
I recommend all things cosy and warm with the exemplary finish. It is long and dissipates with epic control. Lime and almost chocolatey maltiness are flavours of note.
There is nothing like Highland Park. It just has everything, but in the proportions you would want. I am deeply keen on getting hold of the 18YO and the 30YO courtesy of miniatures which the Edrington Group are jolly good sports for releasing.