The barest mention of “Highland Park 18” does… something, to whisky drinkers all over the world. There’s a small moment – a spark of recognition in the eye, a nod of the head, a raising of the eyebrows – that seems to say: “I’m with you, brother.” Or sister.
While the malt snobs will still reject it (it’s far too mainstream for them to admit they love it), there nevertheless seems to be some sort of shared awareness that Highland Park 18 is something special.
I finally got my hands on a bottle. From what I understand, the higher up the Highland Park ladder you go the more first-fill sherry casks they throw into the mix. Highland Park 18 steps it up to around 45% first-fill sherry, with the remainder refill casks of various proportions.
(Side note: Very few distilleries release a line of age-stated whiskies where the only difference between them is age. I can’t actually think of one. As you climb the maturation ladder, you’re inevitably also getting differences in cask selection, finishing, ABV, filtration/colouring, grain origin etc. I’m a bit of an age skeptic, and would love to find an opportunity to compare two identical whiskies where the only difference is age. Until then, the cynic in me is tempted to assume that age itself matters very little… and that the distilleries have to throw in better, more tasty casks in order to make the comparison between the old, expensive stuff and the young, cheap stuff more obvious.)
I’m a massive fan of Highland Park 12, so it goes without saying this review has been a long time coming. Cheers!
Dark – a deep orange/ruby.
Boom – one whiff and you know it’s gonna be a goodie. Tons of layers here, starting with the best: wood smoke, like a summer braai. Cooking meat, bacon. The sherry is up-front, but tightly integrated. Salt, pepper. Nuts. Grapefruit. Bordering on The Spice Tree levels of “woah-ho-ho!” – but sweeter (maple syrup), fruitier and “softer”.
Bingo – uncontrolled smile! This is dangerously drinkable, even more-so than the 12. A subtle peat, dark chocolate, barbeque at first. And chewy – it makes you salivate. Butter, dark chocolate, red fruits, orange zest and mossy bark. Floral. It finishes with Heavy citrus, cream and a light aniseed. And like the nose, surprisingly delicate – I’m already afraid to add water to this. 43% honestly feels like the perfect strength here – any stronger and all these great flavours would be hidden, any less and the light flavours will collapse.
Collapse! As predicted, HP 18 doesn’t like water. Drink it the way God intended!
The hype is absolutely warranted – Highland Park 18 is one of the best. Complex, smooth and captivating. At the same time, incredibly easy to drink. Most whiskies I would consider “the best” are ones I can nurse all evening, but HP 18 makes you want to go back for seconds, possibly thirds. Like sushi, or pizza, it just scratches a certain flavour itch like no other.
Unfortunately, this moreish quality comes head to head with the high price – it’s not easy to justify glugging glass after glass of 18-year-old Scotch. That being said, this is still an absolute must-have. Nice!