Hail to the King

Excuse the week-long absence on the spirits blog! I've been up to my eyeballs in wine-related duties, as you may have noticed from the On the Trail post earlier this morning, and I've been on the road this week visiting producers in California. I've also been getting non-stop emails from customers over the last 48 hours since this little number hit the website, all of them asking what type of barrel the new Highland Park 20 year exclusive was aged in. If you look at the label, all it tells you is "refill hogshead," but all you need to do is look at the color and take a small sip to know that hogshead was most definitely re-coopered from a sherry butt. I've been sipping on a sample all morning long, letting the sweet, raisiny flavor coat my palate, while chewing on the subtle smoke that permeates the finish. I was thinking about how one of Scotland's most famous distillers (one that I won't name since he works for a rival company) once told me: "Highland Park is the king of all malts." There are numerous single malt fanatics who consider Highland Park the world's best whisky, right along side Macallan at the top of the food chain (both are owned by Edrington as well, if you didn't know). This 20 year single cask, full proof expression should help to bolster that case.

While $200 isn't exactly what I'd call a "value," let me contrast this price with the 12 year old distillery-direct sherry hogshead I purchased from Highland Park this past January (due in later this year). That full proof edition should come in somewhere between $150 -$170 per bottle. That's the added premium that a distillery-bottled expression carries. Nevertheless, I bought it because it was one of the best sherry-aged whiskies I'd tasted in months. That being said, for an extra $40 or so in this case, you can get a 20 year old version of the same make and provenance. 

Rather than continue to gush, I'm going to introduce you all to Andrew Whiteley, my assistant here in Redwood City and a man who will be taking a larger role in the spirits department with my continued foray into the wine world. He's got a great palate, he knows his shit, and he wrote up the notes for the Highland Park this time around, so have a look at what he had to say:

This is one of the most complex Old Particular casks we have ever bottled. The nose is at first full of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies sprinkled with a touch of cracked rock salt but gives way to the much more delicate aroma of stone fruits and tree blossoms. The palate is dense with dried figs, caramel, brioche, Christmas spices, and the savory notes of lightly smoked meats. The barley itself seems take center staged for a moment before fleeing into the background leaving behind a wisp of orange and smoke, like a hip bartender flashing the citrus oil before dropping the garnish peel into your Old Fashioned. The finish is particularly lengthy here and changes slightly with each sip. Every sampling leaves you with a different impression than the one before, but each contributes to building the complete picture of what 20 long years of age does for one of the world's greatest distilleries.

1997 Highland Park 20 "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky $199.99 - Highland Park is truly a product of its environment. The distillery lays just a few degrees outside the bounds of the Arctic Circle on an island devoid of trees and ravaged by wind, yet relatively mild in temperature swings. This unique location coupled with the extra effort of floor malting their own barley on site are some of the components that lead to an awards list a mile long. This list includes many Gold and Double Gold medals for the distillery and its various bottlings. The barley is malted with local peat from Hobbister Moor, dense in heather, and providing an unusually floral characteristic to the smoke. The gale force winds carry the salt sea air through the barrel houses giving the whisky a salty tanginess that is all together different than the iodine characteristics of Islay. Weighing in at 53.1% alcohol and well below the $550 price tag of the 25 year old distillery bottling, this 20 year old Old Particular cask really struts the salt air and delicate floral smoke. Charged from a refill hogshead.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll