...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Full Volume Highland Park Rant, also a Highland Park Full Volume Review

Highland Park distillery makes very good whisky, but they've undergone such an aggressive rebranding that I've lost interest in their official single malts. Over a period of ten years they went from giving the customer what he or she wants to telling the customer what he or she wants. Or to be more specific, they went from: perfecting their standard range while also turning out many single casks, to focusing just on their regular range, to something quite close to chaos.

In six years they have released at least 30 separate new bottlings. Some are named after "warriors" (real-ish), kings (real), Valhalla deities (totally real), ships, monsters, "keystones", voyages, valkyries (for you Wagner fans out there), distillery founders, dark things, light things, hot things, cold things and loud things.


Do some of them taste good? Probably. Do I care? It is difficult to do so.

I'm not sure why they went this direction. Perhaps the managers of their sibling distillery, Macallan, whispered to HP's upper management, "You won't believe what people will pay for this shit." But that doesn't explain some of the cheap releases. Nor the unfocused branding. Perhaps the marketing staff have been snorting new make. Which would explain a lot.

From this disarray comes "Full Volume". It has an double-digit age statement, a good ABV and has been aged completely in ex-bourbon barrels, all good things. It has bizarre packaging — apparently a requirement for the current regime — a fake amp complete with a Spinal Tap reference (hint: it goes to 11). But the "Full Volume" name makes no sense. Despite having a burlier alcohol content of 47.2%, that ain't cask strength, nor is it new make strength, nor barreling strength. I guess "A Smidgen Higher Volume" would have been a crappy whisky name. But so is Dragon Legend.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels and hogsheads (481 of them)
Age: 17 years (1999-2017)
Alcohol by Volume: 47.2%
Chillfilltered? Yes, because Odin told them to
Colorant added? Unknown
(Thanks to My Annoying Opinions for the sample!)

The nose reveals soft earthy smoke, dried barley, green grapes, plum wine, green apple Jolly Ranchers, actual green apples and a hint of steel wool dust. The palate leads with brisket, charred vegetables, oregano and grapefruity IPA. Later, there are notes of lemon and black pepper. It finishes with dry smoke, ash, dried herbs and a nice bitterness.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv
The nose is somehow both dirtier and fruitier. More smoke and metal. More candy. A little bit o' barley. The palate is similar to the neat version. Maybe a little sweeter with more pepper and a menthol-like zing. The finish picks up some sweet citrus and mint. Cigarette ash.

Not a ton of complexity, but otherwise it's great stuff. Full Volume gave the distillery a chance to show off the great characteristics often found only in bourbon cask independent bottlings of their malt, and they succeeded. There's even a happy lack of vanilla!

So there's no reason why it needed to be drowned in marketing and packaging diarrhea. I mean, it's a 17 year old Highland Park with an actual vintage and good strength. Geeks geek about this geekery.

If you're a fan of indie bourbon cask HP, and you're willing to set aside your cynicism, and you're willing to pay three figures, this whisky might just be playing your tune.  👀

Availability - Europe and US retailers
Pricing - $90-$120
Rating - 87


  1. I'll admit this one is fairly tempting, despite the packaging, because the price is right and it's locally available. What's extra confusing is why The Dark, which is the same age but all from sherry casks, is 3X the price. I'm not sure how this one slipped out under $200 given what all the bizarro Viking and elemental ones were going for.

    1. Yeah, I'm having a difficult time understanding their prices overall. Something else to note: 481 casks would turn out 80,000 to 120,000 bottles. So Edrington just spent a grip on this unnecessary packaging.

  2. Total Wine has this for $77 (at least in the Bay Area) which I think is eminently reasonable. Dunno why all the other older HP expressions are so pricey.

    1. It's not often that the OBs so clearly undercut the IBs.

  3. Is this a rant or a petition (where do I sign?) he-he, I totally agree. Very well put: "they went from giving the customer what he or she wants to telling the customer what he or she wants." Frankly, I hate the whole concept of "naming" a whisky expression. A single malt whisky has a certain age, a provenance, casks that were used and perhaps some details about fermentation, distillation, warehouse and marrying of casks. Someone decided that it's all too boring.

    I'd also point out: it takes someone who actually likes the HP juice to rant like that. I certainly like it and stashed a couple of pre-viking bottles :) I just don't see myself buying the new flannel, even if it tastes good, maybe on sale.