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Friday, August 20, 2021

Highland Park 28 year old 1988 Cadenhead Small Batch

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

Welcome to the 1980s, the decade that never ever goes away! I'm going to duck in and out of the '80s over the rest of the cluster. I'm hoping that's a good thing when it comes to Highland Park single malts.

The 1988 Highland Park vintage releases have been well received by the much-read and much-supplied online reviewers. A few of these '88 HPs made it to The States, though all I know about them is that their color was dark and their prices high, and often the latter is linked to the former. I won't deny that I dreamed of someday trying one. And now look at me living my dreams! This whisky was sold in the US, is of a color that would tickle the fancy of many, and was priced somewhere between $300 and $400. As if I could restrain my expectations...

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead
Range: Small Batch (as in one cask)
Age: 28 years old (1988 - 2016)
Maturation: sherry butt
Outturn: 480 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 55.5%
(from a bottle split)


Yeah, it does what it says on the label. The nose starts off with salty peated toffee pudding, then chocolate melting in the double boiler. Then there's the white fungus growing all over Cadenhead's dunnages, followed by a bit of meat, and a hint of burlap. The peat stands up to the hefty cask throughout. Reducing it to 46%abv brings out plenty of new characteristics. There's whole cloves, fruity cinnamon, barbecue smoke, toasted seaweed, and cherry pie (filling and crust!). There's even a hint of watermelon Jolly Rancher in the background.

This whisky reminds me that I have not had many 25+ year old sherried whiskies recently. Nuts, briny peat and mild cigar start off the palate. Fresh berries and black cherry soda (essences, not the sugar) arrive later, followed by fresh in-season black plums. At 46%abv the big smoke stands up to the big sherry cask, and they align nicely. Oranges, serrano chiles and yellow nectarines fill out the background.

The peat continues to build into the finish. A charcoal barbecue at the park. Machine shop. Plums and sea salt. At 46%abv the finish holds onto that mix of chiles, sweet fruit and muscular smoke.


Now if Highland Park's contemporary single casks were like this......they'd be $1000. But this is great. The cask is loud, but it's a honey. And the smoke is impressively fierce at this age. This style would probably appeal to Glendronach "single cask" and old Macallan fans, if they're not afraid of smoke. I don't foresee ever spending this sort of cash on a bottle (don't look at what the 1988s go for on The Secondary), but if I did it would have to meet this standard at minimum. If you picked up a bottle when it first came out, please enjoy your indulgence and spread the love.

Availability - Not in the primary market
Pricing - It's not real money, right?
Rating - 90

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