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Monday, February 8, 2021

Highland Park Cask Strength, Release 1

Highland Park entered the NAS burly sherried Cask Strength marketplace — one that includes distilleries such as Aberlour, Glendronach, Glengoyne, Tomatin, Tamdhu and (occasionally) Macallan — with a thunderous first release weighing in at 63.3%abv. Though I do not tend to enjoy ultra-high abv scotch whisky, Highland Park's single malts are often very good, so I'm willing to take a little punishment. In an attempt to get a fuller appreciation of Release 1, I've elected to try it at three different strengths, in this order: 43%abv, 50%abv and 63.3%abv.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Kirkwall, Orkney
Age: ???
Maturation: sherry-seasoned American oak casks
Release #: 1
Release year: 2020
Alcohol by Volume: 63.3%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? Possibly not

Diluted to 43%abv, using water and maths

The nose starts out with barbecue potato chip powder and an alcoholic nip. But after 10 minutes it takes a quick turn toward sugarier territory: milk chocolate, caramel and peach gummy candies. It starts fading out after 20 minutes.

Lots of candy on the palate, too: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. Black pepper and a touch of good bitterness give it some needed angles, and it has a nice mouthfeel as well.

It finishes with peanut butter and golden raisins on the first two sips. Subsequent tries bring out metal and earth notes.

It's a comfy, easy whisky at this strength. The peat is either shy or absent here, and the nose peters out way too quickly.

Diluted to 50%abv, using water and a sundial

The nose is fruitier, prettier at this strength, with red plum skins, jasmine and lilac. Smaller notes of burlap and Frosted Flakes float in the background. An ashy note appears after 30 minutes.

Mildly peaty and floral, the palate holds onto the peanut butter note while gaining orange gummy slices and fresh ginger. The bitter bite now trends towards oak.

Some vegetal peat and tangy berries comprise the finish during the first few sips. It gets hotter, bitterer and more peppery with time.

Great nose! The palate starts out pretty well too until the bitter oak creeps in. It remains very drinkable at this strength.

63.3%abv naked, I mean I'm naked, the whisky is in a glass 

The nose reads closed for quite a while. Maybe 20 minutes? Almost one-by-one, each element peeks out then ascends. Manure, Hampden funk, charred beef, gummy bears, flowers and tangerines.

The sweeter and (obviously) hotter palate leads with blood oranges, dried cherries and a dose of soot. Those oranges get tangier and sweeter with time, and are joined by toasted almonds and a touch of barbecue sauce.

Not as hot as expected, the finish holds an orange-y custard, honey, jalapeños and a subtle sootiness.


It's not the most complex thing, but it's quite good. I'm not sure which abv level to recommend. The palate is best at full power, the nose is gorgeous at 50%abv and the mouthfeel is silkiest at 43%abv. So perhaps one may get a lot of whisky out of this whisky. At a similar price point, the Full Volume would still get my pick over this whisky. And since I'm done with getting my ass kicked in general, I might even roll with the 12yo instead. But that's me. Enjoy, you masochists.

Availability - USA and Europe
Pricing - $80-$120
Rating - 86