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Friday, August 6, 2021

Highland Park 20 year old 1999 Duncan Taylor, cask 501101

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

My lone dip into the '90s during the first half of the Highland Park cluster was a successful one, my favorite single cask of the cluster so far, an 18yo bourbon barrel from G&M. Now I'm going back to that decade for the next six reviews, four of which are for the same vintage: 1999.

I had thought this Duncan Taylor was from a hoggie, but the bottle count tells otherwise. 708 750mL bottles is quite an outturn for one vessel. That's 531 liters of liquid, after 20 years of maturation. So that's bigger than a butt. Perhaps it was a puncheon. Duncan Taylor's usual "Aged in Oak Casks", remains deeply unhelpful, so let's go with "Giant Sherry Cask", unless they seasoned a gorda with bourbon.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: Duncan Taylor
Range: Dimensions
Age: 20 years old (June 1999 - August 2019)
Maturation: ???
Cask number: 501101
Outturn: 708 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 53%
(from a bottle split)


The nose shows more oak than sherry, specifically a layer of toasted oak right on the top. Yuzu candy and ocean/brine float through the midground, with hints of roses and pilsner in the back. It leans more towards earth and stones than smoke. It develops notes of brown sugar and walnuts with time. Once reduced to 46%abv it takes on a lovelier funkier fruit note, like that of stone fruits getting overripe on the kitchen counter in summer. The brine, yuzu and earth notes remain, while a malty note shows up later on.

The palate begins with smoke, sugar, almonds, pecans and tart oranges. After 30 minutes, it takes an almost dire turn towards an aggressive woody bitterness. Woody smoke and tart berries in the background. It improves when diluted to 46%abv, picking up more tangy citrus and Juicy Fruit gum. The bitterness and smoke calm down.

It finishes tart, bitter, peppery and smoky. It gets tangier and saltier at 46%abv, and much less bitter.


This Highland Park puzzled when neat. The nose was great, the palate/finish was not. Something seemed to have gone awkward with the (likely very) refill cask and its very pale whisky. Dropping it to 46%abv fixed many of the issues. It still nosed much better than it tasted, but at least it was a solid drink when diluted. It's not an HP I'd hustle after, but I can see how (at 43%abv) it could fit into a batch of the official 18 year old.

Availability - Possibly still available
Pricing - $170-$200
Rating - 84 (diluted only, probably in the 70s when neat)