To stay on track with our promise to provide you with a look at some of the more common core range expressions of Scotch, I’m going to take a wee step back toward Orkney. I recently wrote about Highland Park 18; today I will look at three bottles that I would call Highland Park’s “core” range… well here in the UK, anyway, but more on that below.
Highland Park is a whisky that for a long time was not always available readily on supermarket shelves, perhaps giving it a bit of a more premium style branding. However, in the last few years it has started to appear much more frequently on aisles of our more common, large named stores. I could easily walk to TESCO or Sainsburys and pick up a bottle of Highland Park (when I say walk, I actually mean drive).
This has made the brand more readily available to the casual drinker as opposed to the more knowledgeable aficionado. Perhaps this is aligned with the whisky’s more commercially-styled Viking branding, which makes it appealing and accessible to more than just the golden liquid connoisseurs? For whatever reason, it’s now on the shelf.
So what three bottles am I talking about? Well, they’re the Highland Park 10 year old “Viking Scars,” the 12 year old “Viking Honour,” and the NAS “Dragon Legend.” I would consider these three the “real” basis of the core range. There is the 18 year old we’ve previously covered, and such bottles as the 15 year old “ceramic” bottle, or the 14 and 16 year old travel/duty free exclusives, and of course there are 21, 25, and 30 year old expressions. The availability of these can be sporadic to say the least, and the cost can be prohibitive to many, with the current 21 year old rolling in around £240 ($275) for 750ml. Another bottle that I would like to share with you (but can’t) is the NAS “Magnus.” For many this is seen as an “entry level” Highland Park, but although made here in Scotland, its only available in the USA… I just can’t get a bottle!
So, the three selected drams are the ones that I can walk up to today and purchase in store for less that £50 ($57)
Highland Park is a peated whisky, but for many it’s a more accepted peat, perhaps lighter and easier on the palate. Tt can push the boat out on some expressions but – being honest – if you’re a peat fan there are many other drams to explore away from Highland Park to satisfy your fix. Even my friend Mark who admits to “not enjoying peat” actually enjoys Highland Park… go figure.
Highland Park 10 Year Old “Viking Scars” – Review
Colour: Light gold
On the nose: A subtle sherry influence, and again a subtle smoke lingering, slightly spirity, but not spicy.
In the mouth: A Spicier taste than on the nose, perhaps some ginger cookies, waxy citrus peel. Perhaps sweeter that citrus sour, there is that Highland Park earthy style peat (it’s my key tasting note in Highland Park) and as with the nose there is a gentle sweetness of the sherry cask maturation. Salty, smoky, slight pepper, medium finish.
Well it’s most definitely not a bad dram. It’s almost refreshing to my taste; it has a malty and light mouthfeel. It’s one of those drams that I don’t think could ever be called complex, its more one of those that you could pour and sip and enjoy, but without really distracting you from you task at hand. Reading a book or watching a movie, you want a wee dram but really you don’t want to lose the concentration you have. At around £35 on a bad day, £25 on offer, it may be worth a visit
Highland Park 12 Year Old “Viking Honour” – Review
Colour: Light golden bronze.
On the nose: Fresh, aromatic. Creamy, notes of honey come through; it’s sweet yet smoky.
In the mouth: It’s quite a deep dram, in that there is a slight intensity initially, perhaps thoughtful on the initial sip. Fruity, juicy, perhaps an herbal tea, and that compost heather style of a peaty smoke, coated in a wee sweet case. On the finish: pepper, spice, herbs, smoke… longish.
Well, one thing is for me it’s not the same as above; it’s not the same dram just left for two more years! Whereas in theory the casks used in maturation are the same, I think the blending done to finish this 12 year old produces a different liquid. More thought to the drinker in this dram, but in some respects I think I prefer its younger sibling above. It in no way is undesirable, and I suspect on a different day I’d enjoy this more than the 10. I guess if the price is right I’d think this better? Again, this rocks in around £35 on a bad day, £25 when on offer.
Highland Park “Dragon Legend” – Review
Colour: Light bronze.
On the nose: Dried cut grass, or a walk through a freshly baled field, maybe stopping of for a glass of sherry or red wine on the way. Some slight candy sweetness.
In the mouth: Peat! This hits heavier on the peated side than you will find in the two previous drams. It’s there from the first sip; it does give way to that sherry… perhaps sherry-soaked dark fruits, Christmas fruit cake springs to mind, healthy and lip smacking. On the finish, the Christmas spice is there, perhaps with some citrus; it’s long and moreish.
This is more akin to something a peated dram drinker would enjoy. It isn’t pretending to have peat in it; it’s there, unhidden, but like the other two it has still got and air of being clean and fresh about it. This one, perhaps more than the other two, is accepting of its earthy peaty-ness, rather enjoyable. The price on this can shoot to the dizzy heights of £45, but can be found dropping to around £32.
Highland Park, has, for some, become a more trendy persons spirit than the aficionado’s dram. I’m not against that; I’m one of those people whom wants everybody to enjoy Scotch whisky. If making it more attractive to a certain age group or customer base means some rebranding every now and again then, yeah, why not? The purists out there will probably shake heads, tell me it’s all gimmicks etc. But at the end of the day whisky producers – in all truth – are not there to cater to the aficionado; they are there to provide to everyone. No mater our personal preference, whisky is for everyone, enjoy it how you want. As a Viking might say: Skål.