As Orkney-based Highland Park continues to reshuffle its lineup, two new whiskies, both limited releases for 2018, have arrived on the scene. Let’s take a look at both in turn.
Highland Park The Dark 17 Years Old – This limited release bottling is a rarity, Highland Park aged for 17 years in first fill sherry casks. That’s a lot of time with sherry, and The Dark earns its name from the color alone: intensely amber, full of promise. The first time I encountered The Dark (at a whisky show), I found the sherry character overwhelming to the point of being off-putting. On deeper exploration, it’s still a monster, but on this go-round I’m finding it more approachable. Densely nutty, with hints of orange peel and spice, the nose is a pure sherry bomb, all but overwhelming the underlying grain, wood, and smoke character, at least aromatically. There’s more to dig into on the palate, which offers plenty of pungent, almost raw sherry notes — but complements it with notes of toasted marshmallow, wet leather, and tobacco leaf, evoking some of the denser flavors that Highland Park is best known for. The finish is still a bit overly winey, leaving some gumminess on the palate, but fans of heavily-sherried whiskies won’t likely mind the sharpness of the conclusion. 4500 bottles released in the U.S. To be succeeded, of course, by The Light later this year. 105.8 proof. B+ / $260 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
Highland Park Full Volume 1999 18 Years Old – While the bottle doesn’t carry an age statement per se, it was distilled in 1999, aged entirely in bourbon casks, and bottled in 2017, making it 18 years old. This whiskey — meant to celebrate blending — is named also in honor of music, and the distillery even commissioned a heavy metal tune to go with the whiskey. So: How metal is Full Volume? Well, despite the age, this is simple stuff, really, a victim of an unfortunately boring barrel regimen. The nose is loaded with grains — which I wasn’t expecting in an 18 year old whisky — but it also shows some more overtly savory notes, including chimney soot, gunpowder, barrel char, and burning hay, all evoking that light smokiness that is the signature of Highland Park. The flipside of that is that there’s not a lot of sweetness evident, and the palate continues the savory theme, taking things into a distinctly meaty realm, with notes of well-smoked pork and toasty wood dominating. There’s more of a fresh-cut, green wood character on the finish, with some chewy licorice notes enduring on the drying, almost astringent conclusion. Whatever the case, it doesn’t make me think about music. 94.4 proof. B / $100 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]