It’s been a while since there’s been a review of Highland Park (HP) on Malt. I can understand my co-contributors’ lack of trying, as Edrington has made most (if not all) of their original bottlings dubious for the well-informed drinker. In fact, the five most recent HP reviews have all been from Jason. What a brave soul.
I’m one of those who believe that fancy packaging usually means the producer is trying to make the customer pay more attention to the packaging than to the product itself. The “bigger the car the smaller the penis” comes to mind. A lot of brands, especially liquor brands, often employ this technique, though exceptions exist like Compass Box. A more learned drinker who chooses quality over prestige will see through these charades. Sadly, this tactic works most of the time. A lot of us, regardless of how often we drink, want to have bottles to show off on our shelves or when we are out drinking.
As one who is cynical towards the big boys, one brand I find extremely guilty of this is HP, with their Viking rebranding. I’m quite surprised they haven’t hired Kathryn Winnick and/or Travis Fimmel to help with the marketing.
Michael Jackson once claimed this single malt to be the greatest all-rounder in the world of malt whisky. The previous iteration of the HP 12 was one of my favorite single malts when I was very new to getting serious with whisky. Based on memory, I thought this showed a great balance of peat, sherry and highland-ish flavors. I quite loved the HP 18, too, so I used to agree with MJ’s statement. If he were alive today and saw what Edrington has done with the brand, though, I bet he would take back his praise. Edrington broke and sold HP’s soul.
I’m not going to waste anymore time on this. Viking Honour (VH)? I don’t see the honour in parading the diluted and chopped-up corpse of this formerly quality single malt, so I’m going to compare the previous iteration of Highland Park 12 with the Highland Park 12 Viking Honour. It isn’t a perfect comparison, though, as the previous iteration has a higher ABV.
Highland Park 12 – review
This old style distillery bottling is available from SharedPour for $79.99.
On the nose: Hot and peppery. I get weak scents of toffee, mocha and chocolate with a very quick appearance of sulfur. Slightly stronger scents of honey, orange peel, orange jelly, vanilla and cinnamon come through next. The bitter scents like cloves and burnt caramel appear at the end.
In the mouth: I get a quick taste of sulfur followed by lingering pepperiness, orange peels, cloves and cinnamon. Amidst the bitter notes are patiently alternating undertones of toffee, butterscotch, mocha and chocolate. Bits of sulfur appear again, followed by undertones of sultanas and burnt caramel.
Highland Park 12 Viking Honour – review
On the nose: I get a weak scent of peat and something leathery, dry and floral. Would this be heather? They’re followed by mild scents of apples, sandpapered wood, starfruit, pears and dried apricots. There are mild scents of sulfur; next, undertones of cloves, toffee, honey and banana syrup. After that, everything suddenly falls off.
In the mouth: Unlike on the nose, I instantly get sulfur. It is mild and lasts the whole time but tones down throughout the tasting. There’s a mix: mild notes of sultanas, banana syrup, apple juice, honey and muscovado syrup. This combination lasts until the end, where it suddenly gets peppery. After those come undertones of cloves, toffee, milk chocolate, butterscotch and mocha.
For a spirit with sherry influence in it, I’m happy that the sulfur notes are negligible in both versions, for me at least. Even so, the VH is more sulphury. The VH has also retained some of the all-roundedness from its previous iteration. Still, the flavors, layers and coherence are all more pronounced in the old version, though this difference can be chalked up to the difference in proofs.
I find the peat flavors in the new version stronger, while there are sherry flavors in the HP 12. I guess this is due to the lesser availability of quality sherry casks. As a result, the recipe of the blend has most likely changed. I think the bitter caramel notes in the old version are the remnants of the smoke and peat flavor after years of being open. It could also be that my senses, being more used to higher ABV and more full-bodied spirits, just can’t pick up these weak flavors anymore.
Is it still worth paying for the contemporary HPs? I’m 50/50 on this. On one hand, it’s good for new drinkers to try, as it offers a different style, and it’s not outrageously priced. On the other hand, there are other whiskeys or spirits in the same or with a similar price point to try.
Overall, I think, contemporary HPs would get a better rep if they were all bottled at 46%. Being bottled at 40% mutes the different layers and all-roundedness HP has. I do wish more drinkers would call out Edrington so they’d improve the quality of their new releases.
The new Highland Park 12 VH currently sells for £32.95 on The Whisky Exchange, £29.95 at Master of Malt but I acquired samples of the whisky via sample swap. I bought the HP 12 from HiTime Wines for somewhere between $35 and $40 a few years ago.
Lead image kindly provided by Oak Liquors. Viking Honour picture provided by Aids Tecson (the person I swapped the sample with). There are commission links in this article – these help keep Malt looking sweet and moving swiftly if you decide to use one.