There is a reason this one sits in so many ‘Top 5′ or ‘Top 10′ lists. This is unmistakably Highland Park and uncontestably smooth and sophisticated. If you weren’t a believer based on Highland Park’s younger vintages, I dare you to not be moved by this one. If ever there were a gateway malt, this would be it.
Age in whisky in a contentious subject. And well it should be. Too many years in a ‘live’ cask can easily lead to the oak dominating the whisky. Conversely, the natural mellowing that occurs can round out jagged edges as if the cask were a rock tumbler working a precious stone. There is a fine line here, and this line is the one we expect the distiller to walk.
Though 18 years is much like the bare threshold of maturity in Western thought, it is already approaching old age when it comes to whisky. The finished product becomes much more delicate at this point. Highland Park has time and again flaunted its rich and beautifully aged whiskies in the face of this idiom. The 25 year old is gorgeous. The 30 year old is awe-inspiring.
And the 18? Quite simply one of the best standard expressions on the market. It is unconventional in how its stark simplicity is actually a deep complexity. Spend some time wrapping your head around that one, but do so with a glass of this in hand.
The senses, both nose and taste, are seduced with creamy honey and rich peat smoke, before being led into the depths of this whisky. Dusty, spicy vanilla…mild cigar…rich sweet butter…a bouquet of soft fruit and barely seen floral notes. I even get a tiny hint of dill somewhere. Quirky and unique. The delivery is unbelievably smooth and calculated. Rich wood smoke teases, then mellows out with sweet caramel notes (and yes…this is a good thing).
What I wouldn’t give to have this at cask strength. Stunning and majestic.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt
Good review and I’d agree it’s one of the best readily available standard offerings out there. I like the 12 equally well and the 15 almost as much, but the 18 is a great essay in depth of finish. Ralfy recently reviewed the 18 and gave it a 91, but he mentioned that consistency has been a problem with this expression. Has anyone else run into this?
I have, the variance is in the smoke. The nose and “flavors” are pretty consistent, but I have had tastes at some bars/restaurants, and a friend has a bottle, and the level of smoke on the palate differs. I love this bottle and think its one of the best for the money other than Aberlour.
Thanks for the reply, Parker! I can believe that there’s variance in the smoke because it was always kind of a “phantom” quality for me with HP, not nearly as consistent as, say, Lagavulin. Ralfy does move over his reservations with some batches of this expression quickly and not in detail (starting at about 10:52), but it sounds as if he might be talking about major batch flaws (an 84(!) vs. the 91 he gave his “good” batch) or even quality control issues. Any thoughts?
I know that only he can explain what he’s talking about, but he also makes an interesting note about the trend toward making HP bottles collectible, which saves their quality from being examined at all (as per the astronomical Dalmores or the scandalous Macallan Replica bottles). Good food for thought and his nerve is to be admired.
P.S.: I recently tried the Glenfarclas 12 and liked it a lot (89), but I’m really looking forward to the Aberlour 12, non-chilled filtered at 48% ABV. Sláinte!
I have always wanted to try Glenfarclas…the 105 especially. 40 Year is supposed to be one of the best values. Don’t know much about Lagavulin…sorry.
My buddy, the Scotch Guru, and I just took a shot at reviewing the 105. It took from last November to now to cool down enough to really be palatable neat, but I think it’s really good (93). The sherry’s on the dry side, maybe not quite Macallan territory, but more so than GlenDronach or Aberlour.
I can’t recommend the Lagavulin 16 (a dry, smoky sherry finish) or the Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength (a monster off the cork) too highly, both 90-class whiskies. Sláinte!
I purchased a bottle (oval) of the HP 18 in December 2011 and it was the most disappointing single malt I have purchased. I heard the raves and had an incredible experience with the round bottle 18 maybe 8 years ago. The HP 12 is ok and, at first instance, I could not detect any difference between my oval 12 and oval 18 in color, nose, or taste. With little more experience, I noticed a hint more sherry and smoke.
No doubt I purchased a low end of the “inconsistency”.
Thanks for the post, Joe, and it’s certainly more evidence that HP has a problem here. I have another HP18 which I haven’t opened yet but, by the time I finish it, current price trending will probably mean I won’t buy a replacement because it isn’t worth the risk. All that said, and without doubting other people’s less than great experiences with this whisky, it is a problem I haven’t yet seen myself.
Will try to revisit in the very near future and share a few thoughts.
Hp18 is my “desert island” whisky. Not my highest rated (Lag 12), but one I could drink every day. I haven’t had a problem yet with it, but would be p*ssed if I did at the price. HP15 is another goodun.
Jeff-Any comments on the Bowmore 18. I finished off mine a while back and I’m missing it’s unusual profile.
Glad to hear from you, Robert! I finished off my mini (from the 12/15/18 set) a little while ago and, with other bottles I’m trying to finish, it’s been some time since I had Bowmore (because I’m putting off opening my latest 15 Darkest). Wait a minute…. that’s better – now I’ve got some Laimrig on the go – I do like cask strengths, but this one is still a tad over-the-top, though improving. Back to the 18: really good (91), within profile, but deep (sort of like the HP18) and has to be waited out, with good chocolate. I’ll probably get one when the Laimrig is done, but neither of these expressions has the readily go-to drinkability of the 12, so a bottle of 18 would probably last me some time. I recently tried the BenRiach 12 Sherrywood, which is scary good for young whisky (also 91) – the sherry like a very dry cross between Macallan and Glenfarclas – but the arrival on the palate seems just a bit rushed – at 15 and cask strength…. it would be heaven.
Good reading over on the L.A. Whiskey Society webpage – the dispute with Bonhams and LAWS over misidentified bottles is heating up – with Whisky Advocate taking Bonhams’ side. Check out “Bonhams Responds to “Conspiracy” Accusations” at the bottom of the main page.