Many will agree that Highland Park 12 is probably one of the whiskies that has the best quality to cost ratio out there. Width and depth for (usually) under £30. It is definitely a staple of many drinks cabinets and can be found in pretty much all hotel bars around the world.
What happens when you start to go up in age from the 12? Prices rise as the expressions get older, but is it worth the extra cost?
Highland Park 12, OB, 40%abv, from my own collection, (available here)
The nose is packed with different elements. Citrus and sandalwood mix with some big honeyed tones. There is a floral and grassy feeling underneath some pleasant smoke.
The mouthfeel is good and quite thick considering the lower abv. Wood and peat mix with some mild malty tones. There is a good spiced arrival amongst the honey and heather elements.
The finish isn’t as short as I expect. Pleasantly drying with some wood smoke mixed with a smooth sweetness and some drying spice.
Highland Park Dark Origins, OB, 46.7%abv, sample swap, (available here)
The nose is dark and much deeper than the rest of this vertical, meaty and mildly peaty. There are bananas, spiced stewed fruits ( a mix of raisins, apples and pears and some cinnamon and brown sugar) There is a slight element of butterscotch and burnt sugar. A slight sulphurous note emerges underneath it all.
The mouthfeel is fine and it has a pleasant viscosity. Its quite nutty and spiced with some chocolate orange tones. The finish is a continuation of the palate but there are additions of heather smoke and perhaps a touch of pepper.
Dark Origins is officially a NAS expression but I have heard rumours that some of the whisky within is into the high teens age wise, hence the inclusion after the 12 in the vertical. If anyone can confirm this (or tell me I’m wrong) then let please me know.
Highland Park 15, OB, 40%abv, from my own collection, (available here)
The nose is a mixture of wood smoke, pineapples, lemon zest and honey. A slightly darker feel than the 12 with some leathery tones underneath.
The palate is most definitely Highland Park. The wood, spice and peat elements overlay some malt tones and a slight touch of sea spray and raspberry jam. Much more coastal than the 12. The mouthfeel however is quite thin and a little disappointing.
The finish is smooth and some sweetness starts to become more prominent before fading to a pleasant dryness. The thin palate lets this down a little. I’m going to say I prefer the 12 to this one, considering you can almost buy 2 bottles for the price of the 15.
Highland Park 21, OB, 47.5%abv, sample swap, (available here)
In comparison to the 15 there is a little more sherry influence here. There is still a lot of citrus however much less smoke. Green apples, redcurrants and hints of melon.
The palate is again less smoky than the others. There is sweetness here in amongst the spice notes. Brown sugar and apples are the stand out elements.
The finish is spiced and yet sweet, smooth and lingering. Raisins and light touches of fruitcake are prominent. The 47.5% abv certainly gives a little more punch and the viscosity is much, much preferable to the 15.
A great way to get a feel for a brand is to structure a tasting vertically. It’s great to be able to not only pick out the distillery character, but look at the effects that subtle nuances like a different finish, maturation period or alcohol level has on the finished expression.