...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, July 5, 2021

The Highland Park Cluster


Highland Park distillery was (probably) founded in 1798 by David Robertson, but didn't go legal until obtaining its license 28 years later. James Grant, formerly of Glenlivet fame, modernized it by expanding the facilities and adding stills in the late 19th century. Highland Distillers purchased the distillery outright in 1937, and began marketing Highland Park single malt in the 1970s. Thanks to The Whisky Loch and solid warehouse management, HP debuted their 18yo and 25yo in 1997. The current owners, The Edrington Group, bought the distillery two years later. The brand then went Full Viking in 2017.

Though Orkney is culturally distinct from the rest of Scotland, and was under Norse rule longer than it's been part of Scotland, I'll let Highland Park's marketing squad sell its Viking story. And I've already disgorged a rant about their chaotic branding, so I won't waste any further space acknowledging the brand's unintentional comedy. 


Highland Park does ~30% of their own malt onsite, peating the barley to 30-40ppm using Orkney decayed vegetation, which results in a different peated-style than Islay malts. The other ~70% of the malt arrives unpeated from Simpson's. Combining these two malt types, as well as different fermentation times (from 50 to 80 hours), can result in different styles even before the spirit starts maturing. 


I like Highland Park single malt.


28 Highland Parks comin' up, distilled from the 1970s to the 2010s. There are a few contemporary official bottlings, but no Norse stuff. Sorry not sorry. There will be at least one week of the now-ubiquitous "Orkney" indie single malts.

The Port Charlotte cluster stretched out over 76 days, so you'll be relieved to know that this one will be over only 74 days from now. Unlike Port Charlotte, Highland Park tends to not be bottled at murderous strengths and tends not to be a palate killer, so I won't space out the reviews in the same fashion. Instead it'll be 2.5 months of nonstop HP, aside from two very special weeks near the end.

I'm looking forward to exploring so many of HP's permutations, but I'm even more excited about drinking some good whisky.


1. Highland Park 2010 New Make Spirit Drink - "I dare say it may even be too peaty, with the smoke (possibly) hiding some fruitier elements."
2. Highland Park 18 year old, bottled 2010 - "It's a work of art."
3. Highland Park 18 year old, bottled 2011 - "Gone are most of the 2010's fruits, replaced by some very good edgy tart and bitter qualities."
4. Highland Park 18 year old, bottled 2013 - "...very well made and a pleasure to drink (too quickly)......but not that much better than that era's 12yo."
5. Highland Park 18 year old, bottled 2014 - "...the only one of the four where the oak became aggressive."
6. Highland Park 12 year old 2004, single cask 6737 for BevMo - "Highland Park puts out great whisky consistently, like few brands do. This is not great whisky."
7. Highland Park 12 year old 2006, single cask 5036 for K&L - "...a cleaner and more reliable cask than [#6737]."
8. Highland Park 16 year old 2003, single cask 1885 for The Whisky Exchange - "Big and rich, it fills the senses like few sherry cask whiskies have lately."
9. Highland Park 10 year old 2001 Gordon & MacPhail, cask 2998 - "Rustic and lean with just a touch of oak, it shows HP youth in all the right ways."
10. Highland Park 17 year old 2001 Gordon & MacPhail, cask 3004 - "...heftier than the 10yo from the start......bitterer and smokier overall..."
11. Highland Park 18 year old 1999 Gordon & MacPhail, cask 4256 - "...this is precise, graceful whisky selected and bottled at the perfect strength."
12. Highland Park 13 year old 2004 SMWS 4.249 - "...Late-Imperialist Whisky; it tries to conquer through nothing but lumbering violence."
13. Orkney Islands 15 year old 2002 Berry Brothers & Rudd, cask 3 for The Whisky Barrel - "...fresh fruit, moderate oak, and a reasonable strength......one of the most drinkable members of the cluster so far."
14. An Orkney Distillery 15 year old 2002 Archives - "This one hit the spot......mix[ing] the seasons with ease."
15. Highland Park The Dark 17 year old - "...strange and messy enough to be of interest. A bit extreme and never boring......it's a silly thing."

16. Highland Park 20 year old 1999 Duncan Taylor, cask 501101 - "Something seemed to have gone awkward with the (likely very) refill cask and its very pale whisky."
17. Stones of Stenness 18 year old 1999 Single Cask Nation, cask 453 - "...(I can't believe I'm saying this), I don't think a secondary maturation would have hurt it."
18. Undisclosed Orkney Distillery 20 year old 1999 Infrequent Flyers, cask A324-4 - "...felt like Talisker's cousin with its coastal peppery style."
19. Undisclosed Orkney Distillery 21 year old 1999 Infrequent Flyers, cask 5743 - "It was savory and gamey rather than grape jammy, if you'll allow the words."
20. Highland Park 21 year old 1992 Gordon & MacPhail - "This is fabulous......It's exactly what I hope for when trying a non-sherried Highland Park."
21. Highland Park 22 year old 1990 AD Rattray, cask 577 - "It reads like......something that could have gone into a batch of Famous Grouse."
22. Highland Park 28 year old 1988 Cadenhead Small Batch - "...this is great. The cask is loud, but it's a honey. And the smoke is impressively fierce at this age."
23. Highland Park 18 year old 1978 Hart Brothers - "It's all very friendly and the whisky disappears quickly. But...[one] wonders what this whisky would have been like at 46%abv or higher."
24. Highland Park 33 year old 1978 - "This is 90% cask, but I like it, especially the nose, which treads close to old sherry cask Yamazaki."
25. Highland Park 25 year old, 48.1%abv edition - "A nexus of dirty stones, ocean air and mild smoke..."
26. Highland Park 16 year old 1984 Old Malt Cask - "The palate is dramatically flawed with its soap, cardboard and heavy oaky bitterness."
27. Highland Park 27 year old 1984 The Whisky Agency - " If 25+ year old bourbon cask HPs were in my price range, this style is exactly what I'd seek out."
28. Highland Park 26 year old 1977 Hart Brothers - "It's a good whisky, not tremendous, but a well made drink I'd be happy to pour at any time."

Concluding the cluster