Malt Nuts: Highland Park Tasting

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Recently the Malt Nuts gathered once again for a sensory tour of another distillery and this time we’ve turned our attention to the venerable Highland Park. A stalwart in the industry Highland Park has long enjoyed a position of fame and adoration among whisky fans and for good reason. Their subtly smoky spirit paired with the dark chewy fruits and spices delivered by the sherry casks often used to age their whisky has created a profile that’s been highly sought after by several generations of whisky nerds.

Highland Park Timeline (via Malt Madness)

  • 1826 – Founded
  • 1898 – New owner James Grant expands stills from 2 to 4
  • 1937 – Became part of the Highland Distillers company
  • 1997 – HP 25 and HP 18 make their debut
  • 1999 – Edrington took control
  • 2006 – Eddington began updating and modernizing the HP brand
  • 2005 – HP 30 enters the fray
  • 2008 – HP 40 shows up on the market
  • 2010 – HP releases its new make for sale

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As usual it was all done blind and for this tasting the whisky ended up being broken up into the following groups.

  1. Cut ex-Bourbon Casks Highland Park
  2. Cut Double Matured Casks Highland Park
  3. Cask Strength Highland Park

Now on to the results of the Malt Nuts Highland Park Tasting!

Cut ex-Bourbon Casks Highland Park

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1A: The Whisky Peddler Highland Park 15 years (94-09): 46% – ex-Bourbon Cask

  • Nose: Pears, apples, honey, heavy malty sweetness, graham, butterscotch, minerality and a touch of soap.
  • Palate: Smoke, caramel, dried apricot, malt, saline, cinnamon, clove and a touch of banana.
  • Finish: Long -> Char, apricot, malt and cinnamon.
  • Overall: B+ (87-89) Pretty good. Malt heavy and fruity with a decent sense of balance. Tasty stuff, but interesting how there isn’t a whiff of smoke on the aroma but it’s so powerful on the palate.

1B: Signatory Highland Park 15 years (99-14): 46% – ex-Bourbon Cask

  • Nose: Jammy raisiny dark fruit, cocoa Necco, Twizzlers, caramel, malt, toasted grains and orchard fruit.
  • Palate: Sauternes, tropical and orchard fruit, oily peat, cocoa, toasted malt, citrus peels and cinnamon oil.
  • Finish: Long -> Peat, pears, malt and apricot.
  • Overall: B+ (87-89) Solid layers of malty sweetness and a bit of peat on the palate give it a nice essence that comes across as rather wine-like. It’s obviously a sherried cask, but it doesn’t read as sherry.


Cut Double Matured Casks Highland Park

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2A: Highland Park 18 years (old): 43% – ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry Cask

  • Nose: Juicy dark fruit, caramel, toasted malt, cocoa, red licorice, oily and a bit sugary.
  • Palate: Complex fruit (dark, tropical and orchard), malt, caramel, banana bread and a sweet peaty character that reads like a peated candy.
  • Finish: Long -> Oil, fruit, caramel, toasted malt, sugar, sulfur and smoke.
  • Overall: B+ (87-89) This round starts off like the previous round with no signs of smoke on the aroma but plenty on the palate. Like the first two it’s also a solid whisky all around.

2B: Highland Park 18 years (current): 43% – ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry Cask

  • Nose: Banana, caramel, hay, honey, sugar, red fruit, cocoa and dried strawberries.
  • Palate: Sulfur, dark fruit, banana bread, caramel, honey, dried fruit and peat.
  • Finish: Long -> Fruit, smoke, banana bread, honey and cocoa.
  • Overall: B+ (87-89) Some interesting dark notes paired with fruity undertones and a bit of smoke make for a complex and interesting whisky. So far there’s not a stinker in the bunch.


Cask Strength Highland Park

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3A: SMWS Highland Park 19 years (95-14): 54.6% – ex-Bourbon Cask & Refill Hogshead

  • Nose: Peat, fruit, waxy citrus, malt, toasted grain, orchard fruit and cocoa.
  • Palate: Peat, fruit, waxy citrus, malt, toasted grain, orchard fruit, cocoa and cinnamon.
  • Finish: Long -> Peat, oily fruit, nuts and malt.
  • Overall: B (83-86) A decent drinker, but not exceptional. This one ended up being my least favorite of the evening and I wasn’t shocked at all to see that it was a SMWS bottling. Once of the major insights I’ve pulled from all of the Malt Nuts tastings we’ve done is that me and the lads at SMWS have different tastes.

3B: Scott’s Highland Park 21 years (86-07): 54.1%

  • Nose: Fruit, peat, raisins, waxy citrus, malt and nuts.
  • Palate: Peat, oily nuts, malt, sauternes, astringency and a bit of plastic.
  • Finish: Long -> Peat, plastic, nuts, waxy citrus and sauternes.
  • Overall: B (83-86) I like it just a smidgen better than 3A, but like 3A it’s missing a true sense of depth and complexity.

3C: Duncan Taylor Highland Park 21 years (87-08): 50.4%

  • Nose: Tropical fruit, malt, honey, orchard fruit, graham, nuts, waxy citrus and an oily character.
  • Palate: Caramel, fruit, malt, nuts, waxy cocoa, citrus oil and a touch of char.
  • Finish: Med -> Fruit, malt, nuts and waxy citrus.
  • Overall: B+ (87-89) I’d put this on the low end of the B+ bordering on a B, but it’s a decent dram with an improved complexity over the first two of the round.

3D: Highland Park 21 years (current): 47.5% – ex-Bourbon & ex-Sherry Cask

  • Nose: Sulfur, char, dark fruit, toffee, orange oil, wax, malt and a bit of an earthy oaky character.
  • Palate: Sulfur, peat, sherry, toffee, earthy malt, wine sweetness, spice and dried citrus peels.
  • Finish: Long -> Peat, sherry, earthy, spicy and dried orange peels.
  • Overall: B+ (87-89) Bit meaty and oily with a lovely citrus backbone paired with some peat and some sweet.

3E: Gordon & Macphail Highland Park 21 years (92-13): 56.1%

  • Nose: Buttercream frosting, fruit, nuts, vanilla, malt and citrus oil.
  • Palate: Peat, fruit, vanilla, toffee, graham, malt and some Necco Wafers.
  • Finish: Long -> Peat, Necco, fruit, and malt.
  • Overall: B (83-86) Not super deep or complex but still quite nice. This one sat at the higher end of the B range.

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And there it is, another Malt Nuts whisky event in the can and nine more whiskies under the belt. Big thanks to our host for the fantastic evening, tasty food and the group as a whole for always being great company. I’d also like to thank you for reading.

Till next time, cheers!

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Josh Peters

Josh Peters

I read about, think about, write about, and drink whisk(e)y. In short, it's my passion.
Josh Peters

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5 Responses to Malt Nuts: Highland Park Tasting

  1. Thanks so much for this, Josh. I think it’s worth taking a second to note that, at least in the range you’ve got here, not one single IB was able to surpass any of the distillery’s official bottlings. I can’t imagine this happens often, and is perhaps a testament to HP’s in-house blenders. Cheers!

    • This is true and I agree that HP is one of the few that seem to keep their best casks in house. Unlike Bowmore who seem to let them roll right out the door.


  2. Hi Josh, HP 12 was my first single malt…sampled at Heathrow in 1984. I was immediately smitten. But the recent versions don’t seem to live up to the originals. I’m pretty sure HP was one of the first distilleries to decide to market single malt internationally and not just use it for blends and keep the good stuff at home. Over the years I have had some great distiliery bottlings and independents…probably the best was a Cadenhead 21 from sherry casks my wife got me for a birthday about 20 years ago. Usually the IB’s aren’t better than the labels. The 21 year in the travel retail I used to buy returning from Canada was also excellent. Sweet and nutty. Don’t forget to get back to me about the 1979 distilled (as near as I can figure) 12 and 7 year Bowmore samples I am saiving for you.

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