You can’t get Highland Park 15 in South Africa. At least I’ve never seen it on the shelves. This may have to do with the fact that my beloved country won’t import any spirit bottled at less than 43% (best law ever), so the original release of Highland Park 15 (at a paltry 40%) meant it never gained any traction here after it escaped the dirty clutches of Duty Free.
While getting extra ABV and extra whisky for generally less money is awesome, it does occasionally mean missing out on an expression that the distilleries or corporate megalords didn’t release in anything other than a pipsqueak 40% or 700ml bottle. Which brings us back to Highland Park 15:
I managed to wangle a Highland Park vertical tasting set from the UK (thanks Dad!) and finally got my greasy paws on the 15. In a sickeningly cute 50ml bottle, at a fairly novel (and worrying) 40% ABV. Here goes!
Highland Park! Put “Natural Colour” on the bottle!!! Anyway this one is light – lighter even than the 12, which at an older age suggests fewer sherry / more refill casks. Interesting.
Grass! A light background smokiness, but not at the levels of the 12, and with none of the spice. Certainly sherried, but erring on the side of green fruits and bananas rather than Christmas cake. A gentle saltiness, some citrus, and caramel sweet. Somewhat disappointing, to be honest – they’ve done something… different here.
Okay, redeemed in terms of taste! The HP 15 reminds me of an older and richer Speyside/Highland malt, with strong apples and mossy notes. Smells line up – that grass, salt and ultra-mild peat (somewhat reminiscent of Johnnie Black). Some honey, oak and a faint liquorice. It’s actually quite punchy at 40%, but I’d kill to try it at 43%.
A moderate, menthol finish… quite bitter. Reminds me a lot of Glenfiddich 12.
So, slightly awkward. HP 15 is a very solid, capable whisky. But it’s simply not even in the same league as its younger and older brothers, or even its creepy NAS uncle (the Dark Origins). Quite frankly, it’s not even as iconically Highland Park as the plethora of shitty NAS Duty Free releases either.
The lighter, more Speysidey style is really pleasant – better than an entry-level GlenSomething, for instance. But this is (probably) not the Highland Park you’re looking for. I have no idea what they’ve done to the signature style, but from the colour and taste I’d bet anything that the reliable HP formula wasn’t followed here, at least not in the traditional proportions.
And of course, that measly 40% didn’t help my experience either. Willing to revise if I ever get my hands on a bottle at 43%, but I doubt I’m way off the mark.