I was sitting out on my balcony with my wife, Juliette. We’d been married only a few days. We uncorked the bottle of Highland Park 18 my brother had offered us as a gift and had a dram on a cool early fall evening.
I’d tasted and liked the Highland Park 12 (though Juliette didn’t and still doesn’t care for it), but this was a whole other animal. Where the 12 is, essentially, a basic spirit without much defining character, the 18 has it in spades. That should be obvious: it’s older, more mature – more expensive! But a whisky isn’t “better” due to age alone. Take the aged Bruichladdichs (when they were available here): I loved the 10, absolutely adored the 15, but didn’t care for the 12. The Lagavulin 12 is often considered superior to the 16.
But I digress (I’ve always wanted to digress!).
The thing that struck me about the 18 was the water. More than any other whisky I’d had until then the water awakened and opened it up like no other. I always taste a new whisky without water before trying it with water and then with to see what happens, what changes, how it blooms. And in this case it was night and day.
Another first: the most impressive flavour running through my mouth was the oak of the barrel it had been casked in. It also had a shocking amount of complexity. Not necessarily known for their smoke, there’s a lovely burst of it here to go along with a bit of sweetness and some deep, rich spiciness due to its sherry flavours. It seems to constantly and elegantly change as it flows over the tongue, like butter.
I’ve since had the good fortune to try the 15, 21, 25 and 30 and they really to keep building… until petering out a bit at the top of the heap. That’s not to say the 30 isn’t good – great even! – it’s just that the crescendo tapers off a bit.
But essentially the 18 is where my discovery of everything Highland Park truly is and tastes like began.
Oh, and the design of their bottles is amongst my favourites. They used to have really boring bottles, but now they’re the kind I’d like to keep and reuse, simply for their beauty. Doesn’t add anything to the taste, but it adds to the “spectacle”!