Monday, 17 November 2014

Reacquainting - Highland Park 12

If you read my recent Canadian Adventure posts, you will already be familiar with the story of how I came into possession of another bottle of the Highland Park 12, a personal favourite and one that I have bought numerous times previously as presents for friends. On this occasion, it is as a failed gift attempt that I am able to revisit and see if another couple of years’ drinking experience has affected my opinion. It turns out my father-in-law doesn’t like peated whiskies at all – even this one which, being familiar with Islay’s heavily peated fare, I consider  to be mild.

Highland Park is still one of the coolest bottles around, with it’s chunky shape and oversized cork – not classy in a traditional sense exactly, just invitingly robust (just how I like my women…), treading that fine line between modern and classy with consummate ease.

I can’t help noticing the peaty aroma that escapes from the bottle on opening every time, but in the glass, the smoky nose is more subdued, and you forget there’s any peat in there at all. On first tasting, I’m thinking it’s not exactly a fine spirit, but it is so damn tasty. The body is a little light, but the profile is all class.

On first taste this time around, I was actually worried for a moment that Jim Murray was right in his 2013 Whisky Bible about the HP12 losing some of its quality, but I remembered I hadn’t appreciated my first bottle to its full extent immediately, and resolved to reserve final  judgement until a full appraisal could take place.

He doesn’t specifically say what’s wrong with this bottling, but puts it down to the cask and hopes it’s an anomaly. Consequently he scores it a mere 78. I have to say, I do believe I may have detected the slightest hint of a bum note in there, that it would seem was a logical effect of a cask issue, but even this note appeared only fleetingly and was quickly eclipsed by the mouthwatering flavours that are evident elsewhere within the spirit. So even with what I am going to accept as a possible slight flaw, HP12 is still significantly tastier than many a malt - especially at this price point.

I thought for a while that I might be loath to buy this as a gift until I could be certain the high standard was restored (or unless I needed to buy a gift, but couldn’t afford anything else at that particular time…), but as a dram for evening enjoyment, it clearly still has a lot to give.

By the end of my second tasting, I was convinced I’d been right all along, but to confuse matters further, other tastings proceeded to prove disconcerting; it isn’t quite right, is it? I thought, Or is it?

One night after band practice (and a beer), I settled in for another glass, and the flavours were delightful as they were dallying around on my tongue. I picked up a bit of bacon on the nose, along with the usual vanilla tones, and the spirit itself was soft, sweet and light. Probably the most I’d enjoyed a dram in many a week.

What is going on with this bottle?

I wondered maybe if this was a whisky to drink late at night (it was almost 11 when I poured it) but then, I usually drink it later on, having prepared myself with a blend first. Maybe that’s what I’m doing wrong, maybe it follows pilsner best…

Reviews on have alluded to the way the whisky can taste different from one day to the next. This is something I’ve noticed before but, perhaps this time, that effect is more pronounced than previously noted. Many of those reviews mention that this bottle has become a trusty backup, one to keep in the cabinet at all times, and I think that tendency to  transform further supports that practice.

So far I’ve found my second bottle of this more puzzling than the first though, by turns, no less satisfying or intriguing. It seems to me now, that if I don’t get another bottle in and on the go soon after this one, the whole quandary could begin over again – so why not keep it on standby and enjoy the rollercoaster consistently, repeatedly, in perpetuity…?

It is that good. And because of that, I am elevating this malt from where it stood at number 6 in my all time single malt rankings to number 2, behind only Caol Ila 12 and ahead of such luminaries as Ardbeg 10, Bladnoch 10 and Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition 2012. High praise indeed. I want another glass tonight, but it’s Thursday… sadly not a drinking night. Ah, but tomorrow…


  1. Interesting, perhaps some air exposure is needed before a whisky is at its best. I've always worried about oxidation imparting 'staleness' to an open whisky, even though I can't say I've ever detected any off notes after several months.

    Thinking about it the barrels can't be fully airtight, so surely the whisky is already fully oxidised after spending 8+ years sitting in one? Could be I'm worrying over nothing.

    I know that some people advocate leaving 10-15 minutes between pouring and drinking a glass of whisky in order to let it 'open up' but not having tried this I don't know whether it makes any difference; maybe something similar happens in the bottle when enough air has been let in? Congratulations you've piqued my curiosity!

  2. Thanks David. Yes, I have often wondered about those things. It has certainly been my experience that whisky tends to improve for several months after opening - sometimes up to 6 or 7 months, though I can't comment beyond that as I've never had a bottle last longer than 7 months. Everything I read previously made me think I should be concerned about the effects of oxidisation, but my current thinking is more that it should be embraced.

    I do tend to leave a glass after pouring for a duration of 1 minute per year of ageing and, like you, can't really say for sure whether it has any effect. At the very least, it ramps up the anticipation and makes that first sip even more enjoyable - if only psychologically.

    What you say about the barrels is interesting too. Some distillers will say the air will affect the quality of their product, for example imparting a salty flavour when aged somewhere by the sea. It seems no one knows for sure whether this is true - Islay malt Caol Ila is famously aged on the mainland, yet still has a distinct Islay profile. However, if the air can have such an effect, then surely the whisky is being oxidised as it ages...

    Whatever it is, it's an interesting thing to think about.

    Thanks for visiting, and enjoy yer whisky!