In my opinion, single-malt Scotch is the most stimulating yet polarizing spirit being made in the world today. Some people will immediately disregard it, while others obsess over it, quite similar to fine wine. Much of this has to do with that initial whiff at the rim of the glass with all of its power and heat up front. Yet it’s the patient taster who is rewarded, as the heat recedes and what remains are delicate, wondrous aromas. Sometimes the nose is sweet and heathery, and other times smoky and savory. In the end, much of this has to do with the barrel it’s aged in and for how long, but more than anything else, its the producer and process they use from start to finish. What I have searched for is the perfect Scotch, one that treads the fine line between sweet and savory—and at a price which represents a relative value. Great Scotch is not cheap, but it shouldn’t be exorbitant either.
Years ago, while attending a portfolio tasting of one of the top names in Scotch whisky, I had the opportunity to chat with their brand Ambassador. It had been a long evening, and tongues were loosened by a night of incredible food and fine spirits. My question to him, after spending the entire night fascinated by his vivid commentaries and stories about all things whisky, was “All loyalties aside, what’s the insiders Scotch?” His answer, without skipping a beat, “Highland Park 18-year.”
Highland Park isn’t a Scotch you’ll find at your average bar, nor at the corner store, and although it is more widely known today (having won numerous accolades), it still manages to fly securely under the radar. Hailing from the Orkney Islands of Scotland, Highland Park takes great pride in the over-200 years of experience, which the company has garnered since its creation in 1798. Changes here have been small throughout that time, and only in a pursuit of respecting tradition while improving the quality of their Whisky.
Highland Park is one of the few distilleries to use a traditional malting floor, turning each batch of malt by hand, allowing it to slowly germinate before the peating process, which imparts the true character to their whisky. It’s that level—or should I say, depth—obtained through the peat, which sets Highland Park apart from all others. Delicate, sweet and highly aromatic smokiness lingers in the glass yet never overwhelms the senses.
The aging regimen combines both Spanish and American oak, all seasoned with dry Oloroso sherry. The Spanish oak contributes dried fruit and spice, while the American oak adds sweeter vanilla and butterscotch. These lots are then combined for a “harmonization” period to allow all of the aromas and flavors to integrate. Add that perfect hint of peaty smokiness, and Highland Park may be the most “complete” Scotch in the market today.
Highland Park 18-year is a Scotch that every whisky drinker should have in their collection.
Highland Park 18-year — The nose was intense and layered, showing dried apricot, sweet florals, ginger, kiwi, cured meat, and smoke, with contrasting sweetness of butterscotch and honey. On the palate, it was weighty with vivid textures and flavors of dried peach, wood tones, and sweet spice. The finish was long, with lingering smoke, dried apricot, charred meat and hints of olive. A glorious 18-year Scotch. (Morrell)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido