There are tasting invites, and then there are tasting invites that get you running to the nearest mode of transportation. A chance to taste Highland Park’s 54 year old expression — the line’s oldest to date, with 225 bottles released and valued at a cool $54,000 — is one of the latter. Recently, the brand invited me and a handful of other spirits writers to their parent company’s New York City headquarters for an evening of drams and bites, culminating in a pour of the coveted 54 year old Scotch.
The evening’s warm-ups (if it’s fair to call them that) began with Highland Park 18. Things then progressed through Highland Park’s “prestige portfolio,” including Highland Park 25, Highland Park 30, and Highland Park 40. Though today the brand ages new distillate almost exclusively in sherry casks, each of these 25+ year expressions features at least some liquid aged in ex-bourbon or virgin wood. Each pour was paired with various tasting bites, ranging from nutmeg spiced walnuts to mace & ginger-cured duck breast in a gooseberry-vanilla emulsion. Brand reps also set up various bespoke scent stations — honeycomb, oak, and herbs, to name a few — that visitors could in between pours.
The 40 year old expression especially came with an intensely lingering mouthfeel that, at 43.2 percent abv, served flavors of rosewater, light green onion, guava, and papaya for minutes after each sip. The five cask blend of spirit laid down in 1979 set the stage well for the evening’s main event.
And what about that pour (in this case about 1/4 ounce) of Highland Park 54, which came from a 10-cask blend? Let’s get on to the review of this monumentally old whisky, bottled at 46.9 percent abv, which brand reps confirmed is somewhat below cask strength.
On the nose, Highland Park 54 starts with light tropical fruits: guava, mango, toasted coconut, and candied pineapple. Another sniff opens up lingering spice that veers slightly herbal, with a touch of fresh cut grass and shallots.
At first sip, this brought out the boldest tropical fruit of the evening’s expressions, practically bursting with pineapple (in this case fresh) and star fruit. There’s also an undercurrent of cinnamon and cardamom-powered spice that continues through to the finish. It’s not particularly leathery or tannic — which peaked over the evening with Highland Park 30 — though there was a pleasant kiss of peat to complement all that fruit.
The whisky doesn’t have a particularly viscous mouthfeel, but it’s enough for each tiny sip (and I was being judicious) to carry all the way through to a slightly above-proof finish.
That aforementioned spice builds through the mid and back palates, along with lingering rosewater. The transition to the finish is all candied, spiced fruit. At the very end, a touch of salinity comes into play, a small but appropriate reminder of the windswept ocean air that touched these casks for over half a century.
A / $54,000 / highlandparkwhisky.com