OLD & ROUND vs. YOUNG & FLAT 18, 21, 25 and 30

If you change the looks of the packaging does the product in the packaging change?  Being on the wrong side of midlife, I firmly believe that all things older are better, but hey, that’s just me and I can’t remember the last time I was wrong…except for the time I thought Jim Murray was qualified to pick the whisky of the year.  We, the gang of four, all have our opinions on this smoldering whisky question of which version of the Highland Park is better.  So rather than debate this uncertainty we decided that we should just have a tasting to define the answer.

For the benefit of the Great Unwashed, the Highland Park distillery and its brother from a different mother, the Scapa distillery, are located on Mainland, the largest Island in the remote northern Islands of Orkney.  Highland Park is considered by regional experts to be a Highland Malt, which would make it a Highland-Mainland-Island-Highland whisky but not on the Mainland, not a Park and not part of Highlands.  Highland Park first started producing single malt with a license in 1826 but it is said that the smarter locals were cooking whisky there long before that date.  The distillery is currently owned by the upscale Edrington group which also owns the Macallan and the Glenturret distilleries.

On August 18, 2012, we, the gang of four, gathered to celebrate Denis Leary’s (Sarcastic Irish genius) Birthday and to bring to light the truth behind the bottle change.  We collectively pulled from our vast storehouse of liquid salvation to come up with a selection to accomplish this momentous task.  After much discussion we ended up going with two 18, two 25 and two 30 year old, round & newer flat standard bottle range expressions, the original 21 year old from duty free in a flat bottle and the new standard release 21 year old again in a flat bottle.  We didn’t include the 21 year old at 40 % ABV which was released between these two. We voted for best malt between the same aged contenders and also for our two favorite overall malts of the night.


Barry HP RVF18

18 Year Old, Round Bottle 43% abv   (AGE WINNER 18 YEAR OLD)   (#2 FAVORITE DRAM OF THE NIGHT)

NOSE:  Uber fruit, oranges, pineapple, banana.  Floral and honey sweet.

TASTE:  Creamy caramel, milk chocolate, touch of peat and little tart at the end.

FINISH:  Long, very warm throughout and drying.

ASSESSMENT:  Wow what a great start, does drinking whisky get any more enjoyable, I think not?  The character of this whisky is very, very complex as well as being very well rounded (This whisky is so old that when it was made Captain Crunch was still a private).


18 Year Old, Flat Bottle 43% abv

NOSE:  Cotton candy, mint.  Dark ripe cherries and melon and apricots.

TASTE:  Liquorice, oily, some peat smoke.  Pears and tart green apples.

FINISH:  Short to medium.  Disappears so quickly.

ASSESSMENT:  The character of this whisky is not of the same makeup of the older 18 (This whisky is so young that it needs to be drunk from a sippy cup).


SCORING THE 18 YEAR OLD:  The old 18 round bottle was the clear winner between the two contenders.  It was also the clear winner of “2nd FAVORITE DRAM OF THE NIGHT” with the most number one votes of the evening.


Barry HP RVF21

21 Year Old, Flat Bottle First Release Duty Free 2008 47.5% abv

NOSE:  Big floral notes and vanilla.  Earthy, honey and citrus fruit.

TASTE:  Spicy with cloves, floral with a bit of lemon.  Oaky and lite peat notes

FINISH:  Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT:  Always find this version of the 21 the most floral HP I’ve ever tried (This whisky is so old the candles on its birthday cake raised earth’s temperature by 3 degrees).


21 Year Old, Flat Bottle Standard Release 2012 47.5% abv   (AGE WINNER 21 YEAR OLD)

NOSE:  Oranges, grassy and waxy.  Some floral notes

TASTE:  Rich spices including pepper and cinnamon.  Fruity, oranges, nutty and a hint of peat

FINISH:  Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT:  The fruit reappears nicely on this newer version of the 21.  (This whisky is so young that the casks in the warehouse sleep with a night light).


SCORING THE 21 YEAR OLD:  The winner between the 21 year olds was the newer standard release edging out the first release.  Also the new 21 got one 2nd place vote for the overall favorite dram of the night.


Barry HP RVF25

25 Year Old, Round Bottle 50.7% abv   (AGE WINNER 25 YEAR OLD)

NOSE:  Lots-o fruit.  Old sherry with oranges.

TASTE:  Dark roast coffee, rich jammy fruitiness.  Dry tannins, liquorice, and some peat.

FINISH:  Long and keeps going.

ASSESSMENT:  Interesting in a nice way, very balanced (This whisky is so old its birth certificate has expired).


25 Year Old, Flat Bottle 48.1% abv

NOSE:  Honey, bananas, melons and dates.

TASTE:  Mocha cappuccino, bananas both on the nose and taste, rich tannins and some lite smoke.

FINISH:  Long and dry.

ASSESSMENT:  Really, really different, falls outside most HP I’ve tried. (This whisky is so young that the bartender serves it with a coloring book and crayons).


SCORING THE 25 YEAR OLD:  The old 25 routed its challenger but failed to be the 1st or 2nd overall choice of the night with honorable mention of a single number one vote for the overall favorite dram of the night.


Barry HP RVF30

30 Year Old, Round Bottle 48.1% abv

NOSE:  Floral and honey.  Mint, caramel and oranges.

TASTE:  Creamy milk chocolate, spices like nutmeg and pepper.

FINISH:  Medium and little drying at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Not overly complex (This whisky is so old the distiller that made this babysat for Jesus).


30 Year Old, Flat Bottle 48.1% abv   (AGE WINNER 30 YEAR OLD)   (#1 FAVORITE DRAM OF THE NIGHT)

NOSE:  Beautiful nose, tropical fruits, pineapple and coconut.

TASTE:  Very fruity lots of oranges, spices with pepper and some liquorice & mint.  Blueberry tea.  Chocolate.

FINISH:  Long, rich and complex.

ASSESSMENT:  Tastes like 40%, it’s so easy to drink.  Dark sherry colour with lovely fruity sherry notes (This whisky is so young that the distiller that made this still had a bell, basket and training wheels on his bicycle).


SCORING THE 30 YEAR OLD:  Well…the newer 30 kicked ass in both dispatching its older competitor but also winning the number one position of the “FAVORITE DRAM OF THE NIGHT” with one number one vote and three number two votes.


Personally, I’ve always considered Highland Park 18 as one of top single malts in the world but also found it guilty of some big batch variation regardless of round or flat bottles design.  I also consider the standard release 18 as one of the best buys in the range and should be a must try/buy for all serious malt fans. But………………..should you happen upon an older round bottle 18 sitting on the shelve of your favorite retailer, make like a hockey player and get the puck out of there with it.


– Your humble Drudge, Maltmonster


PS – It’s ok to swirl your glass and not chew your whisky if you choose so, in fact after (well during) a GIT* tasting a few years back, I now make it a habit to swirl my glass just a little.

PPS – Dear HP please don’t kick me out of the Inner Circle for the GIT comment, after all I never mentioned anything about the overpriced Magnus series and the surprise that purchasers got as they ** reduced the amount of bottles for the final release making it almost impossible to find and purchase this last overpriced bottle of a very rare 18 year old.


* Gerry Intense Tosh

** ‘They’ refers to the marketing assholes at HP


  1. Jeff

    Wow, MM, but how do you REALLY feel about the HP marketing people? Entertaining as always, but the mention of crayons made me nervous that it might give “them” the idea to come out with an Unmellow Yellow/Mango Tango/Jazzberry Jam/Fuzzy Wuzzy 1798 Series (colour, after all, is everything).


  2. Gary "a novice scotch drinker"

    After reading your article, I remembered seeing a Highland Park 18yr, in square boxes with the standing Orkney stones, at a local liquor store. I jumped in my car and raced down to the store. There on the top shelf behind the cash register was a bottle of Highland Park 18yr in the square box. I asked the store clerk to take it down so I could look at it. Good thing he was tall or he would have needed a ladder or chair. He placed the box on the counter and I asked him to open it so I can make sure it contained the treasure I was hoping for. He pulled out the bottle, and it was exactly the same round, straight shouldered bottle as the picture in your article. Wow it was a really special moment, sort of like winning your first slot machine jackpot in Las Vegas when you turned 21 years old. I returned the bottle to the box and softly asked him the price. He check the price tag on the bottom of the box and said $69.99 plus tax. I immediately said that I would take it. As I was handing him my credit card, he asked me if I would be interested in the two other HP18 bottles that he had in the back storeroom. It took me around 5 seconds to add up the price of three bottles then I said I’ll take them. Yes, they were also the round bottles, just like the first one.
    After I took my 3 treasures home, I carefully checked each bottle, and noted that all three had liquid about halfway up the neck. A good sign that the corks were in good condition.
    Now comes the really interesting part of my story. I was looking at the price tag on one of the boxes and thought I saw two price tags, one on top of the other. I carefully pulled off the top tag, with the $69.99 price, and found that the
    bottom tag said $75.00. I am guessing that the liquor store owner lowered the price, year ago, when he found that no one wanted to pay $75.00 for a bottle of Highland Park 18 year old scotch Whisky.
    Anyway I did open one of the bottles at a friend’s house and it was everything you guys were saying about it… I tasted it against my friend’s Lagavulin 16, Clynelish 14, Highland Park 12, and Glenfiddich 12. My HP18 came in at the top in a taste test, just edging out the Lagavulin 16. Oh, I forgot to mention that I had given the bottle to him as a birthday present, so we were actually enjoying his HP18, LOL.

    Sorry for such a long story, but I had to tell someone, since my friend probably thought I had to sell a kidney for the bottle I gave him… Maybe one day I will tell him this story… Until then I can’t wait to see what he gets me for my birthday….

      1. Gary "a novice scotch drinker"

        I’m glad you enjoyed my tale of the Highland Park 18yr olds. I do have a question for you. Do you have any idea what a bottle would bring on the open market, or in an auction?

        I have seen the new bottlings go for $109.00 at BevMo, so I figured $69.99 for one in the older round bottle was a steal, especially after I read MM’s advise to grab the bottle and get the puck out of there with it…

        Last December I was cruising the local liquor stores for some “Xmas Spirits”, to give as gifts, and came across a bottle of
        Laphroaig 10 yr old Original Cask Strength Red Stripe bottled at 57.3%, in pristine condition with round cardboard and tin container.

        Ralfy Mitchell, on Youtube, really liked this one, so I ended up keeping the bottle for myself to try after I have sampled a number of less peaty scotch whiskies.

        Again, I think I bought it for a decent price, and was wondering what a bottle would sell on the open market, or in an auction?

        1. ATW Post author

          Sorry, Gary. The open market/auction is not something I’m overly familiar with. We have such ridiculously rigid customs regulations that shipping liquor in Canada is almost a complete non-starter.

          Personally…I buy what I plan to drink, and occasionally trade/give bottles to friends. Nothing resale.

          Best of luck in your endeavours, friend. I envy you the HP18s. Good score.

  3. cato

    Nice comparisons. I think either 18YO is a magnificent work of whisky art. The hve a bottle of 25 YO open for autumn tastings because it just tastes like autumn. I also have a 30 YO in the cupboard for very special celebrations drams. I’d say HP, Ardbeg, Clynelish, Mortlach, and Longmorn are my top five favorite Scottish distilleries.

  4. Peter Benkoczki

    I’m looking for a really great Highland Park, maybe one with a same quality as Talisker 18.
    Could be a recent HP 21 a good choice? It’ around 138 pounds here in Hungary. The 18 yo is out of stock at the moment (well, from the cheapest place, i could buy one for roughly the same amount of money, but that’s not worth it).
    So, any ideas of this 21?


  5. Founder

    I just found one of the round bottles of 18yr from a small town liquor store!!! I’m wondering what period of time was the round bottle as displayed in your photos were used in production.

    I’m just a novice at scotch but love it so much. Been at it for just a year now and when I saw this bottle I knew it was something special. But nothing on the internet would tell me how old the round bottles actually are. I’m guessing from the 90’s.

  6. 5StarBar

    I’ve been a Highland Park 12 fan for about 1 1/2 years, ever since I got into “dusty hunting” (searching for old bottles gathering dust on liquor store shelves) and found a cache of the round tall HP12 at a local liquor store. My research indicates that the round, tall bottle design was used from circa 2003-2007. That store even had 1 bottle of the previous generation of HP 12 (squat “dumpy” bottle design with the same Orkney Sunset graphic at the bottom of the label). Probably circa early 2000’s.

    Price: $45 each.

    After that score I unearthed a few more treasures. 3 bottles of an even older generation of HP12 (squat dumpy bottle with a plain label – no “Orkney Sunset” graphic. Circa Late 1990’s.

    Price – $56.99

    Then, perhaps after reading this article, came the big score. I went in to dusty hunt a store in an old school but pretty high end neighborhood. I looked around for a while trying to be as nonchalant as possible. After scanning the shelves and making mental notes of anything of interest, I finally turned my attention to the top shelf above the counter, and that’s when I saw it. I could hardly believe my eyes. A single slightly faded box of the elusive and highly prized Highland Park 18 with the tall round bottle inside (circa 2003-2007). I casually asked to see it along with a Johnnie Walker Black Label Centenary Edition from 2009. I looked around for the price tag and again could barely believe what I saw. I told the night clerk I would take them both but he must have sensed something unusual because before he would sell them to me he decided he had better call the store’s owner and check with him first. My heart immediately sank! My highly prized treasure was now suddenly at risk of being astronomically re-priced. Even worse, what if the owner would say that it wasn’t for sale? One key word search of the internet and my dreams might be completely dashed!

    Imagine my relief then, when, after a brief conversation in Arabic (although in reality it was only around 2-3 minutes to me it seemed almost like an eternity) the store clerk hangs up the phone and reverts to me in English – “Okay…” he says. I just about jumped in the air for joy! I immediately did what your article recommends, I paid the tab to buy them both and got the PUCK out of there prontito. Still haven’t opened it yet, though it’s been almost a year. Waiting for just the right special occasion, and now here’s the best part…

    Price $59.99

  7. 5StarBar

    By the way, there ARE bottle codes printed on bottles of Highland Park but they’re very stealthy and difficult to locate if you don’t know where to look. They’re printed ON THE INSIDE of the FRONT LABEL. They can be a bit difficult to decipher but I’ve read that the alphabetical distillery code reverted to the letter A in either 2000 or 2001 (I think it was 2001 but can’t recall precisely which) so if your tall round bottle has a code that begins with the letter E like my HP 12 Tall Round bottles do then the likely year of bottling is 2005. Assuming that:

    A = 2001
    B = 2002
    C = 2003
    D = 2004
    E = 2005

    These codes are very hard to read when the bottle is full of dark brown HP whisky so I recommend using a flashlight and a magnifying glass to see and read them clearly. Hope this helps. Good Luck and Happy Highland Park Hunting!


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