Highland Park Magnus Review

Highland Park Magnus

40% abv

Score:  78/100


You don’t come here for justification of the philosophies that support NAS whiskies.  And that’s good.  ‘Cause you wouldn’t find it.  However…if we have to have NAS whiskies, let Highland Park Magnus be an example to all.

Magnus is the latest cutesy HP to hit our shores (nosing out Full Volume by just a short bit).  It arrived with little fanfare, but quickly garnered a bit of a rumbling in the malt spheres.  Not because it was a spectacular dram (it’s not), nor because it was a bad dram (it’s not that either).  But because it was much more than decent and the price point was enough to have us all scratching our heads in bewilderment.  Is this the same brand that nearly doubled the price of the iconic 18 year old over the last few years?  Magnus landed and almost immediately hit LTO, retailing at about $35.  Even at full retail it’s rarely over $45.

While I have trouble getting excited over most young malts like this, I can’t help but be pleasantly surprised at the product’s placement.  It immediately ratcheted up my openmindedness and tolerance for imperfections.  Now this all seems like a case of ‘damning with faint praise’, but trust…at this sort of price it’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed.  It’s young, aggressive and almost certainly recognizable as Highland Park.  Even a modicum of malt experience should be enough to ensure the buyer knows what they’re getting into when the product lacks an age statement and has a sticker price that rubs shoulders with the lower tiers of Johnnie Walker.

A reluctant ‘well done, Highland Park’.  I’m still not on board with NAS (and never will be), but I get what you did here.

At the end of the day, though, if we’re going to call NAS whiskies a necessary evil (which I won’t), then at least this is the way to do it.  Dump it at the bottom of your range at an entry-level price point.

Nose:  Definitely a young’un.  Feisty and bearing all the hallmarks of what our beloved Iain MacArthur (he of Lagavulin fame) often refers to as ‘baby whisky’.  Malty and honeyed.  Not surprisingly, rather floral.  And sorta creamy.  Little bit of pepper.  Little bit of ginger.  Just a faint earthiness that hints at the pedigree.

Palate:  Now here’s where things get a bit rockier.  Some lemon curd.  A touch of rubber.  Some peat.  Drying citrus pith (but not overly citric in terms of flavor).  A tad minerally (like sucking on a pebble.  More ginger and pepper.  Surprisingly oaky back end.  And something akin to dry grape skins.

Thoughts:  All told?  This is too young.  BUT…and it’s a big but (hush up with the bad jokes)…for this price point I’m okay with it.  Outprices many blends, and definitely more interesting than most too.  Definitely needs some time to mellow in the glass.


 – Image and words:  Curt



13 thoughts on “Highland Park Magnus Review

  1. MadSingleMalt

    I’m with you.

    Cheap-ass whisky can be expected to be young, NAS (two separate things), colored, watered down to the maximum extent allowed by law, and bad-to-decent.

    I’m OK with all of that. It’s obviously not what we WANT. It’s not ideal. But it can be what we EXPECT.

  2. David

    I don’t think putting an age statement on it would make it taste any different, (I’m starting to write like someone else, wow).

    The only difference between this and the pole dancer series of its cousin Macallan is that young whisky is priced accordingly here.

    But I’m not ok with the quality as you’ve described it. it’s a no go for me.

    I have never bought into the “it’s good for the price” mentality.

    If it’s not good I won’t buy it. I won’t drink it unless it’s a mini I’ve acquired for reviewing. I won’t waste my liver cells on something that’s not worth it.

    If it IS good I will drink it. If it’s too expensive I won’t buy it. So price does have a bearing on what I buy, and there is a moving line in the sand to some extent. I’ll pay more for a good rare whisky that I may never see again than I will for a good less special whisky that I can come back to anytime.

    The only time quality and price meet in consideration is when I say it’s good but I won’t spend that much for whisky, or I say it’s good and I can’t believe how inexpensive it was (compared to the normal price for good whisky).

  3. Brent

    First, I had a good snort at David’s “pole dancer”. Second, yep, if it’s NAS, at least it’s priced accordingly. Not something that will find it’s way to my cupboard but that’s ok. Nice to see something actually below my price range. LOL.

  4. Jeff

    Although I do appreciate the honesty of the review and the scoring, this touches on something I’ve mentioned before: how the 100-point scale is used and which whiskies, by score, are consequently praiseworthy (if only dimly). Given the lowly status of things like the 12s of Glenlivet and Glenfiddich which usually merit 80-83 in a lot of circles, I think it could be that the standard for something “well done” might be slipping.

    “However…if we have to have NAS whiskies” – which is the central point: do we? In fact, did we ever “have” to have NAS whisky, much less today, in these times when we know “so much more” than ever before about how whisky character is created? Well, yes, if people are of the mind that, although they theoretically object to NAS marketing they’ll accept both it and lower quality if the stuff is cheap enough while possibly looking down their nose at people who buy Red Label.

    As NAS isn’t the same as multivintaging, or even just the use of young whisky (which can be oh SO good, yet isn’t here) it’s strange to think why HP couldn’t have parted with the minimum age for Magnus. After all, it’s not as if age is being omitted on younger stuff to overprice it or that that is what happening here – or that making whisky with age undisclosed is part of what helps to justify jacking prices on the age-declared stuff. But, as with Ardbeg, even though it’s really not as good as what’s been made in the past, HP gets a pat on the back here too, even though we’re now living in an era of underclass whisky from premium single malt producers that some saw coming a decade ago. An age statement here, once the stuff is bottled, wouldn’t make things taste any better, but the widespread lack OF age information is a major factor in the composition of a lot of the new products we’re now seeing – “we can make this product this young, and this raw, because we’re not going to ever discuss its age anyway… except maybe in some cutesy way like calling it a baby whisky”.

    I don’t think the issue is so much “if we must have NAS, this is what it should look like” as “if the industry must use young, raw product, then it should be declared as such” because its use, quite obviously, makes a big difference. In the wake of Diageo’s, Macallan’s and others’ nonsense on the topic (and remembering Cardhu Pure Malt), I’ve got very little support for what can supposedly be inferred by price (Ardbeg An Oa, anyone?), because it’s all about rolling product adulteration. Were alcohol content not in law, what would/should price tell me about ABV? “This stuff costs less than $50, so anyone with any experience knows that you really can’t expect more than 35%… promoted by the distillery as ‘a whisky for teetotalers’, this is a surprising little…”.

    But, again, are these all necessary evils? No, which is the pity, but necessity really doesn’t come into it where these things are just accepted as a matter of course anyway. Given that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing, these things will continue apace, not on the basis that they are “necessary” or “justified” in any real sense, but simply because they are tolerated.

    It’s obviously “not what we want” but, it’s just as obviously “what we’ll accept”, and it’s the latter than creates the former.

    Whether any of this nonsense is really market driven in the sense that anyone is really running out of whisky, or numbers, or indeed anything, or just market driven in the sense that the market is being driven (or maybe herded) to accept and acclimatize to it, which I find far more likely, I think it’s quite possible that we’re going to boil the frogs and congratulate the industry enough to put the majority of whisky in the ditch.


  5. Robert

    This is one I almost picked up,’as it was only $35, but decided to wait till next time. Unfortunately, it was all gone the next visit!!! Apparently someone tried it and liked it enough for the price to clean them out. Reading your review this seems to be an okay alternative to blends, which are not that good at this price range. Actually, I’m wondering if adding a bit of HP 18 might improve it dramatically, making it a reasonable buy. I once bought Black Bottle and hated it, but adding just a bit of Ardbeg 10 turned it into something quite decent. Adding a couple ounces of 18 to this might do the same. I’ve never been a fan of HP12, preferring the 15 and 18, so this remedy might work for many of us looking for a reasonably priced good (non-12) HP.

  6. Jeff

    While I get salvaging an unintentional bad purchase, I’ve never understood the idea of intentionally seeking out a substandard whisky on the basis that it’s a “bargain” in order to make it drinkable with a better one. Where I shop, HP 18 is $199.95 (CAD), so I don’t see the point of wasting it to boost Magnus onto the plus side of 80/100 when the people at the distillery couldn’t be bothered to do that and they don’t pay retail for their HP 18. Maybe a lot of people did, and will, buy Magnus, but maybe not as many after this review.

    That, with all the progress we’ve supposedly made in terms of whisky knowledge and wisdom, HP is finally ready to use Viking motifs to take on blends at their own game shouldn’t be much cause for celebration but, if it is, people can look forward to more of the same, although most of it probably won’t be as cheap. Anyway, cheap, fast, good: which two were picked here? With Ardbeg An Oa? With Laphroaig Lore? With Glenlivet Founders Reserve? Were two even picked or does it even matter if it comes from this distillery as opposed to that one? I don’t even really object to the individual points on the graph as much as the picture they want to show me.

    Although it could be both, I think it’s a little generous to look at this as a good blend(ing) alternative instead of a sub-par single malt and the junk any single malt producer makes comes at the cost of product that could eventually be used to make something at least as good as Glenlivet 12… and maybe distillers, and consumers, should be aiming at least that high.


  7. Ben

    I enjoyed this review. Sometimes I want to read about cheaper whiskies too. This is a decent malt, and affordable. Obviously not targeting the same audience as their more expensive stuff. Also, as ridiculous as it is, I enjoy the whole Viking thing.

    1. MadSingleMalt

      Yeah—it’s fun to hate on the over-branding, but those stamped-glass bottles are pretty slick.

  8. Robert

    I decided recently to try out some lower priced whiskies as a change. Found I liked the Evan Williams BIB, but the EW Green was just below my taste level. Also bought the recent Shackelton blended malt and the Famous Grouse Smokey Black. The Shackelton was pretty smooth and pleasant (reminds me of Glenrothes), but has a very short finish and is a bit bland. The FGSB was a pleasant surprise as it wasn’t too grainy and has a decent peat component. Then made a 50-50 mix and it really picked up. Any grainy note disappeared and the peat added some excitement and a better finish. Plan to pull out one of my decanters and pour them in it. Shack was $30 and FGSB was $22, so I’ll have a really decent whisky for an average of $26/bottle. Not too shabby (I rate 83ish,which is much higher than each individually), even though a NAS.

  9. Robert

    Thanks for the tip, but I’ve had a bottle of OGD 114 before and it was below my taste cutoff. EW BIB is above my cutoff. I’m definitely a bit picky on bourbons, but the ones I like, I really like. Except for Booker’s, I don’t like Beam’s bourbon products, preferring Wild Turkey or Heaven Hill products. Not a fan of most scotch blends either, but wanted to find something to “go slumming with”. This mix, which I decided to call “Smoky Shack”, makes the mark. It gives me a change from my typical malts. And it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than Buchanan’s SR 18 ($72) which is my favorite blend.

    1. Jeff

      As MAO could probably tell you, I’m on the same page as Jason about the Viking nonsense, but I like how Jason links the distraction it provides with the overall direction in which HP is heading – do not talk about the whisky or things that are integral to actual performance, regardless of what labels people choose to apply to that performance in terms of quality or what they like. Calling a whisky “good” or, more importantly, eventually changing what people believe to be good might be good enough for the marketing folks, and they’ll move on to greener pastures anyway if all the nonsense backfires – but changing what goes into whisky changes whisky.

      Making a classic whisky, like making a classic movie, is now more a matter of declaration than craft. Was it really always such? Maybe it was always a combination, but it’s easy to see where the emphasis is now.



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