What are you doing Master Quill? Not too long ago you already reviewed one of those “newer” Highland Park 18yo‘s, did you forget? Are you drinking too much, making your memory slide? Nope not really, but with this one I want to tell you a short story…
A long time ago, the wide necks were replaced by the more feminine bottles, which in turn, in 2007, got replaced by this more manly look they have got today, well… Back in that day I felt Highland Park were a bit suffering from batch variation, something the industry is afraid of because it may put-off loyal drinkers of a particular expression. It must look, smell and taste the same every time around. It is a sort of mantra throughout the industry. Unless you are called Springbank and make exactly thát your strength. By “thát” I mean: batch variation. Just look at the success of the 12yo “Cask Strength” expressions. You see a lot of comparisons between batches on the internet. In the end everything at Springbank is released in batches that vary from one to the other. “Hello, I’d like a Springbank 18yo, released in 2016, no not the 2015, the 2016 please…”
I loved the old, wide neck, 18yo Highland Park to death and when that got replaced by the feminine looking 18yo I bought me a few of those, expecting more of the same. Well, the new one was pretty disappointing in comparison. I was sad the whole time drinking the bottle, and when I finished it, I sold the rest of the bottles, I bought, not buying the 18yo for a long, long time. Recently I got hold of a sample of the “new” 18yo (bottled in 2012) and was nicely surprised. Not as good as the wide neck, but certainly worth your time, effort and money. I liked the 2012 so I bought a few bottles of the “new” 18yo when it was on offer, and ended up with a batch that was bottled in 2014. (L0405S L4 16:09 14:53) (S=2014).
This is a story about batch variation, and something about a donkey hitting its head on a stone, so lets compare this 2014 with the 2012 I reviewed earlier.
Color: Full gold (slightly lighter than the 2012).
Nose: Barley and pleasantly fruity. Definitely more fruity than the 2012 batch. Waxy, warming, heather, vanilla and honey, so it’s a Highland Park alright. Dusty and when smelled more intensely, some smoke emerges. Peat, not so much. Influences of dull smelling Sherry (as in not fruity), and even hints of a compound containing the element of S (Sulphur). Cookie dough and charred pencil shavings. However right from the start it also smells a bit thin. Watery. It’s also lacking some depth and I would almost say that it smells younger than the 2012 batch. Next, some paper-like and vegetal notes. More smoke and a fresher note of Belgian style Beer. Slightly less balanced as well, but also somewhat more complex. If I dare say so, this one has even some exotic notes reminding me of Amrut (matured in Bourbon casks).
Taste: Hmmm, the first thing I notice is definitely a discrepancy in the balance of this 18yo and an obvious weakness. Tiny notes of paper and cardboard. Warming. Hints of the Belgian Beer-notes are right there from the start. Cream and a hint of cold fresh butter. Sherry and hints of vanilla and cardboard. Not as complex as the nose. Watered down wax and heather and an unpleasant edge of bitterness, which has some staying power. After letting it breathe for a while, quite unexpectedly, some hints of red fruits pass by. Short to medium finish, with again a Beer-like quality to it. I was taken aback a bit by this when it was just opened, now the bottle is half full, got some time to breathe and it still isn’t getting any better. Change, yes, better, no. So this one really got several chances to redeem itself, but alas. It isn’t to be.
Where the nose was still good and complex, this definitely is a lesser batch of the “new” 18yo. The 2012 batch is way better than this 2014, and its an obvious difference as well. (I have them both before me). So it happened to me again. Donkey. I taste a 18yo Highland Park, like it, go out and buy several bottles at once, and I end up with a different batch, most definitely less good than the one I tasted before. Disappointing and annoying. Luckily I keep samples and can do proper H2H’s, proving to myself, I’m not going slightly mad. I still have some unopened bottles of this batch, bugger. Now I have to sell 18yo Highland Park bottles again.
Just to be sure I brought this bottle with me on an evening with my Whisky club, a seasoned bunch of experienced older fellows (I hope they don’t read this). I said nothing, just observed people drinking it and listen to their reactions and comments. Well people, it turns out it wasn’t only me…
This hurts. I have been a big, big fan of Highland Park since my beginnings in Single Malt Whisky, and that will never die, because I know it is a good distillate. However, the amount of mediocre bottlings put out by Highland Park today are scaring me (as does the emphasis on marketing). Bugger.