When Highland Park revealed its next concept in the form of the Light, I couldn’t help but strike up a tune inside my cavernous imagination… come on baby, light my fire complete with a Blackpool Wurlitzer organ. For regulars here at Malt, you’ll know my criticism of Highland Park as a brand and its whiskies has left no Viking prisoners, and rightly so.
Quality has been sacrificed for sales and profit. Figures are up and production has been increased, so clearly someone out there is enjoying this new wave of Highland Park’s and their Viking branding. You can now, as a member of the Inner Circle, purchase a share of a Highland Park cask – 58% strength, 12 year old – finished in a traditional Firkin or Quarter cask. The price tag is £5,250 for 50 bottles, a Quarter cask haul of 125 bottles fetching £15,000. I’d be extremely interested in seeing how this offer fares in what is becoming a very competitive market for the cask ownership experience.
Stepping into The Light, it’d be easy enough to execute this offering blood eagle style without much thought, or simply kiss ass. Neither appeal to me or the team here at Malt, as we remain transparent and honest. A good whisky is scored accordingly, as is a terrible or simply brilliant effort. The inclusion of bonus bling such as a 15-minute glass timer matters little, not even if Sif delivered the sample herself.
Needless to say it came as a complete surprise when Highland Park reached out to me via Instagram. My disapproving comments had been noticed and they’d like to showcase what the distillery had planned next – could they send on future samples? I’m sure this a wonderful opportunity to some out there. Truthfully, I tend not to deal with distilleries directly whenever I can, with only a handful offering a means of communication. We don’t pursue samples or PR contacts on Malt, as we’re content with things as they stand. Also for you the reader, it guarantees more than just the latest release. Variety is key to what we offer here and the unexpected ability to entertain.
However, it was an admirable approach and a brave one, which I did not accept immediately pointing out that I may have a little more knowledge than the flock of Instagramers swarming around the brand itself. Easily brand led, distracted and ill-informed. Still, undeterred and seemingly confident of their next whisky, the Light berthed at my remote abode.
I’m sure you’ve noticed amidst the whisky realm its a 1960’s hippie love-in. There is a calm friendliest friends network evident and any criticism or negativity – note these are 2 separate things – are strictly taboo. I accept that a whisky may appeal to someone else and their palate might be somewhat different. I cannot accept poor whiskies being given shining or positive reviews when we all know that they are substandard. Price is rarely discussed either. As I’ve said on numerous occasions we need more transparency and honest critiquing of whisky. Otherwise lets put all the numbers from 80-95 on a dartboard and randomly assign scores with each throw.
The Light offers a comparison against The Dark release, which is still available at retail and is matured in sherry casks. The price is far from light at a suggested £190, bottled at 52.9% strength with an outturn of 28,000 bottles. The contents comprise of a minimum 17 years in age, matured exclusively in refill American oak casks. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Highland Park The Light – review
Colour: apple peelings
On the nose: punchy with a syrup flapjack being most prominent. A touch of watermelon, a dusting of cinnamon, mashed banana, Chamomile tea and a clutch of custard creams. A light honey is assisted by a layer of beeswax, ginger ale, red apples and on the cusp some heather. Adding water reveals apricots, lemon peel, green olives and a drying flour note.
In the mouth: sharp, sweet and prolonged, but at the same time rather two dimensional. There’s a lightness and airy nature on the palate. Drop scones, marzipan, waxed apples and raisins. Then lemon peel, butter and vanilla custard. Water I felt is a little disruptive revealing the taut nature of this light-whisky. Used sparingly it reveals more of a sugar theme with honey, sweetcorn, shortbread and cream.
This is a good whisky from Highland Park, although I feel this cask type is more suited towards maturation into the 2nd decade. In recent times thanks to the abundance of Orkney bottlings from the independents – including one from the Dornoch Distillery – have confirmed just how good and characterful the distillery can be. Recently, during a Cadenhead’s warehouse tour in Campbeltown, a 24 year old Highland Park was poured from a bourbon cask and it was delicious. Price wise this was just £115, meaning there’s very little to argue with overall.
Normally I’m a fan of vatting casks at a low level, maybe 2-4 barrels to give a more measured presentation of the distillery character. Here the outturn of 28,000 bottles means a more industrial scale of vatting. If anything, upon much reflection, I find that the Light versus Dark format calls for a final experiment. The combination of these whiskies to create what we associate with Highland Park today. The older vintages in the core range lean more towards a sherry influence as you rise through the years. Set apart, they’re good, but combined it reaches another level altogether. Stronger together – now where have I heard that before?
Scoring wise for those of you that have skipped all of the above its time for the reveal. If this was priced under £100 it’d be more strongly recommended and awarded a 7/10 mark. Instead, it’s difficult to heap praise upon this release when its retailing at £190 even with the wooden packaging and Viking apparel. For this, it loses a mark and some of its appeal.
Image kindly from The Whisky Exchange where our commission links also point towards. All pennies to the good ship Malt ensure smooth sailing.