I don’t do much travelling outside of the UK and this means that I generally miss out on the delights of the duty free shopairport travel retail centre. Despite not having an interesting outgoing selection on my recent trip to Hungary, due to flying from rather-uninterestingly-stocked Luton, there was a little more joy in Budapest airport. I ignored the not-available-in-the-UK Ballantine’s (as I’d already picked up a bottle from an off license) and picked up a travel retail exclusive bottle of Highland Park 1997 Vintage.
In the past I’ve got on rather well with Highland Park, both their regular production bottlings and the occasional excellent dram from a single cask SMWS bottling (including the bottle that I took to my dad’s wedding), but I’ve never actually had a bottle of my own at home. I decided that this was something that needed to change and, after a bit of a phone based googleing to help me choose between this and the (disappointing according to reviews) 16 year old, grabbed the 1997 vintage before scurrying for my EasyJet sky bus home.
Highland Park is one of two distilleries in the Orkney islands and beats the other, Scapa, to being the most northern Scottish distillery by a mere half mile. They’ve been around since 1798 and since I’ve been aware of them I’ve heard very little but praise. Their style is generally rich and full bodied with a bit of peat, as they malt some of their own barley using locally cut peat and then mix that with unpeated malt from the mainland.
This one was distilled in 1997 and bottled in 2009, making it the same age as their regular 12 year old expression, before being released just to the travel retail market. On the nose it has a hint of the sea as well as grass, butter, chewy toffees, woody spice and a touch of bbq sauce. To taste it was a bit lighter than I expected with dry smoky sawdust, sour fruit, tannic edges and a line of custard down the middle. It started off quite sugary and faded to a dry woody finish with a lingering warmth. A drop of water made things a bit more interesting and another couple made things even better. The nose got more custardy, maybe with a hint of marmelade stirred through it. The strength of flavour remained in the taste, but the sawdust turned into vanilla, maybe making it too custardy (a statement that I thought I’d never utter, coming as I do from a family where the protrusion of any part of a pudding above the surface of custard when eating dessert is a sign that more custard was required). Along with that some more fruit came out, a bit like a sour Refresher chew, and a some piney wood.
It was really not what I expected, especially as it’s quite a while since I’ve tried a distillery bottling of Highland Park and my memory of previous ones is hazy. I was rather put off by the initial lip-smackingly dry wood finish but a good amount of water really changed it into something quite tasty. My increasingly typically flowery final tasting note reads:
It is a bit like sucking on a custard covered wooden stave – even when the tasty custard has gone you still have a good quality piece of wood to chew.
Highland Park 1997 Vintage
12 year old orcadian single malt whisky, 40%. ~€45 only in selected European travel retail