Highland Park Tasting – May 5, 2010

Highland Park comes from a land full of mystery and rich in history and heritage.

 Established in 1798 on Orkney, Highland Park is the most Northerly Scotch whisky distillery in the world.  With its windswept moors, craggy outcrops and ancient religious sites, Orkney is a land rich in anecdote.  This, combined with the wind, rain, lightning, freezing ice, crushing waves and hail provide the perfect setting for home of one of the world’s best malt whiskies.

(from the HP leaflet available on tasting night)

Wow.  What a night.  Though Willow Park always puts together quite a do for these tasting events, this was a night of exceptional aesthetics, entertainment and of course, whisky.  We’ll get to that momentarily. 

Upon arriving early Pat and I wandered through the groaning shelves of whisky and rum.  (Should note…everyone’s flavor favorite in rum is back in stock – EH5 at $29)  After needling David a bit, he was able to get in the last laugh.  I made the mistake of asking him what was new in store.  As we wondered around, him pointing out exciting new product, my eyes hit a rich green tube on the top shelf.  I’m sure Pat will attest, I nearly leapt for it.  Laphroaig 18 year old (48%).  Dear gawd.   Without hesitation, David reached up and scooped the other two bottles for himself.  And just like that…gone!  As I debated spending the $102 for this gem, a few eyes followed me and a gentlemen came up to ask where I’d found it.  I knew if I set it down I’d never see it again.  I put it on hold at the service desk until after the tasting.  More momentarily…

At this point we headed down to the ‘ballroom’ below.  J. Wheelock, of Highland Park, our host for the evening, outdid himself.  The room was nicely done up in blacks, slates and greys.  Large visuals and a solid powerpoint iced the cake.  J. was an engaging speaker with a soft voice and a quick wit, prone to self-deprecation and humility.  Humor was splashed over much of his presentation.  The presentation itself focused largely on history and tradition.  Indeed Highland Park are a very traditional distillery. 

For those that have tried Highland Park, you should have an idea as to just how bold and beautiful a dram it is.  Believe me when I say that nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to taste.  Highland Park 12 has, of late, become my go-to bottle.  Beautifully balanced with just the right complexity.  It seems to please almost all of my moods and cravings.  After making our way through the six whiskies we tried this evening, I was blown away with how meager the 12 seemed in comparison to some of its big brothers.

What we tried:

Highland Park 12 y.o. – Balanced, bold and full of character.  Honey, fruit and smoke.  A little sherry and a bit of tobacco.

Highland Park 15 y.o. – More flowery than the 12.  Peat, hay, sherry, and orange.  Seems quite fresh for a 15 year old whisky. 

Highland Park 18 y.o. – Fantastic.  Peat and smoke (though not too much), creamy and sherried.  Fairly mellow.  Both Pat and I got a hint of Dill Pickle chips on this one.  Odd, but delicious.

Highland Park 25 y.o. – Stunning.  Truly Stunning.  Caramel and chocolate, smoke and fruit, toffee and salt.  Lots of sherry…and a hint of rich unlit cigar.  A favorite, for sure.  48.1%

Highland Park 30 y.o. – Again…amazing.  Peat and smoke, caramel and rich chocolate.  A bit of spice and wood.  Arguably the best nose of the night.

and as a special treat (from Jay’s personal stash)…

Highland Park Earl Magnus – Wow.  Bloody brilliant.  Buttery…rich in caramel/toffee/butterscotch.  Warm and smoky .  Some fruit and nut and hay.  A hint of sesame on the nose.  52.6%…but what a beautifully balanced whisky.  J. said it well…this one “has some personality”.  Only 5,976 bottles of this.  I don’t imagine it will go cheap, but worth every penny.  A true collector’s item.

As another class act on the part of Highland Park, we were told to take home our water glass from the evening.  This was in fact a nicely etched HP glass, perfectly shaped for whisky.  As a few guests opted not to take their gift home, Pat and I each ended up with a set.  As yet another bonus, in a room full of people, there just happened to be a couple empty seats next to us.  We were able to lift a couple extra drams of our favorites from the evening. 

I can say, in all honesty, this was the best tasting I’ve been to. 

Now…back to that Laphroaig…

When I returned to the counter to pick up this bottle (with wife’s permission…happy Father’s Day to me) I actually had to show ID before they would release it to me.  I was told it is the hottest thing they’ve had in store and has sold out everywhere.  As you know, tickets to the tasting are good for $5 off every $20 spent.  I managed to end up with four tickets, thus knocking $20 off this prize. 

This little gem is now at home, awaiting a day when (if?) I break down and open it.  This one will be beautiful.

A great end to a great evening.

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