...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Single Malt Report: Highland Park 1986-2007 (Scott's Selection)

And now for something slightly different...

A simultaneous review!

At this very moment a review of this same whisky is posted at My Annoying Opinions.  A couple weeks ago, I split a bottle of this Highland Park 1986 Scott's Selection three ways with M.A.O. and his friend.  It gave us the ability to dig into a somewhat older single malt without risking $200ish on a blind purchase.  M.A.O.'s opinions have indeed annoyed a number of folks in the whisky blogging community, which is a good thing because our "community" was/is in definite need of some challenges.  I have yet to step into the discussion he has started (ignited?), but I do intend to address it in the new year -- because it's going to be difficult to continue writing about whisky unless I do so.  No matter my opinion about his blogging opinions, I respect his reviews.  I've also found his palate preferences are often similar to mine.  I recommend hopping over to his review of this whisky because as I write this, I have no idea what he thinks of this Highland Park.

(UPDATE: Here's the link to MAO's review.  And his notes are quite a bit different than mine...)

Scott's Selection is a fascinating independent bottler.  I've found semi-dusty Scott's bottles in random corner liquor stores in California, New York, and Arizona.  So they're not that difficult to find, for now.  And their prices are often much lower than other indies.  And the quality of their output tends to be decent, occasionally very good.  If I had an issue with them it would be the total lack of disclosure on their labels.  There's no mention of cask type, amount of casks, amount of bottles, or actual age.  I've seen two bottles labelled "Sherry Wood", but I'm pretty sure I've had a couple other Scott'ses that were aged in sherry casks while the label said nothing about it.  So what you'll get is: Highland Park 1986-2007, 54.1% ABV.  No more, no less.  So you'll have to pardon some of my data below.

Distillery: Highland Park
Bottler: Scott's Selection
Age: 21-ish years (1986 - 2007)
Maturation: probably an ex-bourbon cask (if it's an ex-sherry cask it's an eighth-fill)
Region: Islands, or Northern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 54.1%

The color is at just between light gold and amber.  See MAO's pic above.  The nose has a surprising youthful spirity nip to it, sort of suggesting old school paint (as in, not the safer low-VOC paints for sale now).  It's not too strong, but it shows the oak hasn't been aggressive over the 20+ years, which is fine by me.  But black licorice, vanilla, and tapioca pudding push that tougher note to the background.  Give it some time......peach taffy, fresh plums, clove, jasmine flowers, and yeast notes arise.  I've also been finding cardamom notes in many Highland malts recently; maybe it's my nose.  This whisky is no exception, considerable cardamom.  Not much peat, unless maybe a vague grassy veg peat?  In the palate, hot cereal (think oatmeal or cream of wheat) arrives early.  Then fresh apricots and a soft custardy note -- vanilla + brown sugar + caramel.  With some time in the glass, the whisky delivers an expressive rich citrus liqueur.  Like the nose shows, there's still quite a bite to this stuff.  The citrus liqueur notes continues into the finish along with a cayenne peppery heat.  It sweetens up here and brings with it a wisp of wood smoke.

My first impression of it neat was, per my notes, "Take a cask strength version of the 18yo, remove the sherry and 75% of the peat."  Yet it still feels a bit brasher than an 18 year old whisky.

WITH WATER (low 40s ABV)
More oak and fruit in the nose.  Fresh cut uncharred wood.  Peaches and orange zest.  Caramel sauce.  Just a hint of the licorice, cardamom, and vanilla remains.  An orange soda note builds up after some time.  The palate gets "more pleasurable!"  Mild vanilla, orange zest, burnt wood, more sugars, and a slight bitterness.  Even at this lower strength, a lot of texture remains.  It's softer now, though very drinkable at this spot.  The finish is much briefer.  It's sweet and lightly tart.  The citrus and pepper become milder.  The jasmine note makes a curious return.  And there's that hint of smoke again.

Rarely do I prefer a whisky with water added, but this one really grew on me once it was hydrated.  I don't mind some sharpness in my whisky, but this HP cozies up to the nose and tongue better when its ABV is reduced a little.

The near lack of phenolics was somewhat expected.  Having had some older whiskies made from highly peated malt, I've come to realize that lengthy maturations mellow out the PPMs.  This is no exception.  Highland Park's malt doesn't start with much peating, so as it gets older that which was there is no longer.

I've actually been on a search for non-sherried Highland Parks.  When MAO mentioned this bottle, my ears (or eyes) perked up.  I didn't know what the sherry situation was going to be like, but thought it was worth a try.  And it is.  While I don't think this whisky will WOW anyone, I also don't think it's going to offend.  It does offer an alternate look at Highland Park -- removing the sherry element and most of the peat -- if you're in search of that experience.

Availability - A few liquor shops in the US still have it
Pricing - $150-$200
Rating - 86  (approx. 86/100; it picks up the 1/2 star, or 5 points, with added water)

STAY TUNED!  On Thursday, you may just find another simultaneous review here......