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Highland Park 25 Year Old Whisky

Whisky Review: Highland Park 25 Year Old Single Malt Whisky  94/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on February 10, 2011

A whisky sample for this review was provided to me from the personal collection of J. L. Wheelock, who is part of the Beam Global team here in Alberta. The sample was smaller than my normal 200 ml minimum sample size, and I augmented his sample by opening my own bottle of Highland Park 25-year-old Whisky such that I could complete my normal rigorous tasting regimen. However, I did not attempt to further explore the spirit with cocktail explorations, as I plan to save the rest of my bottle for special occasions.

The Highland Park Distillery is located in the Highlands of Scotland on the Island of Orkney which is famous for its heather rich meadows and its unique organic Orcadian peat. At this distillery, all of the Highland Park Whisky is matured in two styles of oak barrels which are stored in warehouses with earthen floors and stone walls. Some of the whisky is matured in Spanish (Sherry) oak, and some of the whisky is matured in American (Bourbon) oak. Maturing the whisky in two different styles of oak allows the blender to capture characteristics of each in the final blend.

The Highland Park 25 Year Old Whisky is blended with up to 50 per cent of  its whisky coming from the matured (1st refill) Spanish oak, and it is bottled at 48.1 per cent alcohol by volume. This is a full 20 % higher than the 40 per cent bottling strength we typically see in North America. The combination of the higher bottling strength and a larger portion of Spanish oak whisky in the blend will bring forward a stronger more assertive aroma and flavour than the other whiskies in the Highland Park portfolio, and may even make the whisky a little intimidating at first tasting. On the whole I really like higher strength whiskies, but I approach them with caution as it is easy to sip a little to quickly.

In the Bottle 4.5/5

The Highland Park Distillery does a really nice job with the presentation of their range of whisky. The 25-year-old expression comes in a the rugged cardboard box which opens with a tiny metal latch on the side. When the display box is opened, the inside of the box contains a variety of advertising/informational highlights which are printed on the left inside portion of the opened box, while the oval-shaped Highland Park 25-Year-Old Whisky bottle sits on the right side. The front of the bottle is smartly labeled with a combination of black and gold lettering. But what I like most is the fancy glyph  (Highland park logo) which is embossed on the bottom front of the bottle. This just looks plain classy. A solid high density cork finishes the presentation.

I should point out that this whisky represents an opulent purchase ($225.00 in my market), and although I think the presentation is solid, I do think that at this price point it could have been even better. I have seen similarly aged and priced spirits in solid wooden display boxes rather than cardboard, if we would have had a nice wooden display box I would have scored this a perfect 5/5.

In The Glass 9.5/10

The initial nose of the Highland Park 25 is sharper and more defined than the previously reviewed Highland Park 12. The whisky seems heavy in the glass with just a wee bit of an oily texture. I allowed the glass to decant a few minutes to help myself separate the various scents I was receiving. My first impressions included caramelized butterscotch toffee, sweeter underlying sugars, and a floral peat rich with heather, citrus, damp spruce moss, and humus.

As more of the scents separated in the air I was reminded of mildly boggy saw-grass growing in a damp lowland meadow below a field of ripe alfalfa and timothy growing in the early fall just before cutting. (This place I am describing is a real memory from my childhood days on the farm. The Highland Park Whiskies always seem to evoke these early memories from my youth.) The fully decanted glass added rich vanilla; apricots, prunes, and peaches in a vaguely smoky breeze; and then less familiar whisky smells of green grapes, punky oak, and more spruce moss. Although some of these scents seemed strange and unfamiliar in a whisky glass, I could not help but enjoy myself as I took one more wiff.

In the Mouth 56.5/60

Like the nose, the flavour in the mouth is assertive. It starts with a peppery bite that heats up the tongue and is quickly followed by a chewy, organic peat full of floral and herbal flavours (heather and peat moss come to mind first). When you chew through the peat, some sweetness kicks in with raw honeycomb and a sweet caramelized butterscotch with toffee. The whisky continues to be spicy in the mouth as ginger, nutmeg and hints of cinnamon and cloves seem to materialize out of the oak spices and tannins.

I also taste strong elements of canned fruits (apricots and peaches) which seem to be adding weight to the whisky. There is a firm cereal grain running through the whisky, and a subtle smokiness under the peat with dry fruit flavours of raisins and prunes which seemed to burrow into, and become part of, the floral peat. The intensely of this smoky peat keeps rising and falling carrying and pushing forward the other whisky flavours rather than becoming the dominant flavour.

Amidst all of this is an underlying oak flavour which is firmly melded into whisky. On the nose I described the oak as punky; in the mouth it tastes the same as though the oak barrels were stacked in a damp forest and left until thick spruce moss was growing on their sides. I do not know if this description does justice to how wonderful this tastes.

In The Throat 13.5/15

The finish is softer and smoother than I expected at full strength with  sweet honey, punky oak, and floral peat pushing their way through to the finish where suddenly the oak tannins take over and heat up the back of the mouth but not the throat.

The Afterburn 9.5

The Highland Park 25-Year-Old Whisky is a wonderfully intense, assertive dram which is sure to please the whisky enthusiast. The most surprising element of this whisky is that it tastes so good a full strength. During my entire tasting regimen I was practically loathe to add more than a few drops of water to dilute the whisky to a lower strength. It just seemed to me to be ideally suited at the higher alcohol content.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74   Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79   You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84   We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89   Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94   Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+        I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

Note:

In order to provide another opinion, this review has been published in conjunction with Jason Debly’s review of the same whisky on his website, Jason’s Scotch Whisky Reviews (We did not share any information before publication). Jason is an outstanding writer and reviewer of whisky, and I am happy to link to his review:

Jason on Highland Park 25 Year Old Whisky

 

10 Responses to “Highland Park 25 Year Old Whisky”

  1. Dan said

    Afternoon Chip,

    Just reviving the discussion on monumental spirits briefly (again), as you listed the HP 25 as one of them. I managed to pick up a bottle, complete with nice oaken case, and it is now sitting on my utility shelf (not on public display!) waiting to be opened around Christmas / New Years of this year. It is the single most expensive whisky I’ve ever purchased (next to the HP 21, but that purchase was shared by our group as part of our Orkney Vertical), but I was only able to do so because for some reason NB Liquor had it priced at $197 (a full $150 cheaper than it is in Ontario!), and I just happened to be out in New Brunswick on a business trip at the end of April…and I was lucky, too, as subsequent to the trip someone must have realized how under-priced it was, and about a week ago NB Liquor raised the price to $275.

    Did I have to own it because of its prestige value? Perhaps, but I wouldn’t have bought it had I not found it at the price it was in New Brunswick. Does it serve a greater purpose to me other than as a product to be consumed? I don’t think so, since it isn’t on prominent display in my cabinet, it is in storage in my basement, although I imagine that I won’t be sharing it with great abandon. Does it signify that I am a whisky connoisseur? I’d say that I am very far from being a connoisseur, I’m just continuing my exploration of whisky in general, and more specifically, the HP range; to paraphrase C. Montgomery Burns from The Simpson’s, “I may not know [whisky], but I know what I hate. And I don’t hate [Highland Park].” I have no plans to purchase bottles of Thor, Loki, the HP 30 or the HP 40 as they are far beyond my price range.

    I suppose, however, that the story of how I was able to acquire the bottle at a significantly lower price than it ordinarily commands adds to the monumental nature of the spirit in some way…

    Cheers,
    Dan

    • Hi Dan

      I would be interested in knowing, when You taste the spirit of course, whether you believe the actual whisky was worth what you paid for it. Or whether other factors made the whisky a worthwhile purchase anyways…

  2. JK said

    Chip, I enjoy reading your blog. Thank you for candidly sharing with readers the sourcing of products under your review, such as here with the HP-25 bottle being gifted from a Beam associate. Your perspective is appreciated. I believe that free product from industry (rather than retail or non-industry folks) compromises the nature of any reviewer’s impartiality, The reviewer ‘s ability to describe a product’s value, nature, and position in the marketplace with an independent and unbiased voice is diluted by the move away from the perspective of a grass roots purchaser and enthusiast. Nonetheless, your blog provides clarity in this area, and we are free to gauge your observations, wholly informed. Thanks !

    • Thanks Jk

      You are right, I try very hard to be completely honest about every aspect of my reviews. I also try very hard not to let samples influence me, but… who knows. You are perfectly right in suggesting that there may be subliminal effects especially as you develop relationships with industry.

      Every reviewer must make a choice with regards to samples; the downside of receiving samples is exactly what you illustrate. The downside of not receiving samples is that the reviewer does not have access to the breadth of product to taste (and to review). I write 2 to three reviews a week. If I had a strict policy of not receiving samples my review schedule would be only 2 to 3 per month, and to be honest, after my initial inventory was exhausted it could be even less. I chose very early to choose the path of samples which would not only allow me to do many more reviews (which I hope is appreciated), but which would also allow me to expand my experience base over time. I decided (unlike many of my counterparts) to be extremely honest with respect to which samples came from industry and which came from my personal collection. My feeling is that this honesty would give my reviews more validity.

      Have a great day JK

      Salud!

  3. Anytime Chip!! Funny enough it was your good friend Jason Debly’s blog on the 25, quite a while ago that made me do a bit more research. I saw he reached out to Gerry Tosh for knowledge and hit the Highland Park website myself. Very informative site. Tosh truly gives a solid breakdown of the different expressions, which of course explains why we taste what we do in the glass. I wish more distilleries provided such video, etc. One should not have to try so hard simply to find out the process behind what they truly enjoy. Cheers Chip!!

    DB

  4. Good Day Chip,

    Excellent review, and I too agree that the 25 yr expression is divine. You mentioned earlier in your review that the distillery utilized Spanish sherry oak and American Bourbon Oak in its maturation. If I’m correct, they don’t use Bourbon barrels in the distillery as per Gerry Tosh. Only American Oak that has been seasoned with sherry. If I’m wrong, my sincerest apologies. Thanks and once again great review. I actually prefer their 25 to the 30.

    DB

    • Hi David

      Thank-you for the comment. I rechecked my research and this time I am able to confirm that up to 50 % of the whisky is matured in 1rst refill sherry casks. I was not able to confirm whether the rest of the whisky was finished in ‘seasoned’ American oak or refill bourbon. I guess this begs the question as to exactly what is meant by a ‘seasoned’ American Oak cask? I think I will have to poke around and ask a few more questions.

      PS: I will make a change in the introduction to reflect the correct information. Thank You!

      • I have received clarification on the issue of a ‘seasoned’ bourbon barrel. Once used bourbon barrels are shipped to Spain where they are used for aging sherry. These ‘seasoned’ barrels are then brought to Highland Park where they are used in the maturation of Highland Park Whisky.

        I thank you David for bringing the matter up as you have increased my understanding of the process and I believe your description of the maturation in indeed correct! Thanks again for the input!

  5. Chip! I think you and I agree on this single malt being one great dram!

    • Jason,

      I think the only thing we disagree on is how much water to add. Who would have thought that the cocktail guy (me) would want this one as close to full strength as possible.

 
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