Highland Park 12 Year



Class:  Island Single Malt Scotch

Reviewer:  Andrew Owen


Before we even get into this review, let me answer one of the most common questions I see:  Yes, Highland Park 12 and Highland Park 12 "Viking Honour" are the same thing.  Throughout 2017, Highland Park, the northernmost distillery in Scotland, has been undergoing a re-branding effort in order to better, er, embrace? the Norse roots of the Orkney Isle on which the distillery sits.  The picture on the left represents the now-classic label, while the picture on the right represents what appears to be the new label and bottle design going forward.  While I'm not crazy about the new packaging, as long as the 12 Year keeps the age statement, they can add whatever descriptors and funky designs to the bottle that they want.  Highland Park appears to be jumping fully on board the NAS train with this rebranding effort, releasing two new NAS bottlings this year - Magnus and Valkyrie, but besides taking the battleaxe to the beloved 15 Year (see what I did there?) it appears they will not be eliminating the age statements on their core range whiskies.  I even have to commend Highland Park before going further, for just recently releasing a new Limited Edition whisky that has a vintage date, age statement, full cask details, AND a reasonable price! This is the kind of thing that makes an annoyingly opiniated enthusiast like me smile 🙂

Onto the distillery now, which inhabits the Orkney Isle like a small city of stone, complete with 26 (!!!) onsite aging warehouses, most of which are traditional single story dunnage style buildings.  Highland Park also does a portion of its own floor maltings on site, which is increasingly rare in the modern scotch industry.  Highland Park takes full advantage of Orkney's native peat bogs, moderately peating much of their barley with the local peat, which is one of the main contributors to Highland Park's somewhat eclectic signature flavor.

Highland Park utilizes both ex-bourbon casks and sherry seasoned American and European casks for aging its whisky.  The older age stated whiskies typically have a higher proportion of first fill sherry casks, and the distillery's special releases and NAS bottlings often display some special marriage of different proportions of cask types.  Onto the the review of the 12 year now, which sits in the affordable $40-50 range on most store shelves.


  • Combination of ex-bourbon and sherry seasoned casks (most likely a majority of refill sherry casks)
  • No color added (yay!) but chill filtered (boo)
  • Bottled at 43% ABV (American release)

Nose:  Sweet vanilla and light orchard fruits – pear and peaches.  A hint of earthy peat in the background.  The peat here is pungent, almost sour; it is not smoky.  Some tropical pineapple citrus notes linger with the peat.

Palate:  Right away there’s a unique spice, not unlike sriracha.  Spicy pineapple and citrus – borderline dank.  Cayenne, dry earthy peat, seasalt, paprika.  Fairly thin mouthfeel.  This dram is the opposite of sweet and "smooth", but its fantastic.

Finish:  A reprise of the peat and citrus notes, with some smoked paprika.  Some lingering oak.  Long.

Score:  86/100

Buying Recommendation:  Buy it now!  This Orkney peat has me totally captivated by its uniqueness.  Everyone who wants to explore scotch needs to experience Highland Park, and the affordable price and excellent flavor of this 12 Year make it the perfect place to start!

The Rating Scale

At WBSE we use a true 100 point scale for scoring to allow whiskeys to further differentiate themselves (as opposed to a letter grade scale where 90% of whiskeys fall between 78-92).  This allows you to more easily compare scores between different whiskeys.  Here is how the scale breaks down:

1-49:  Varying degrees of bad

55:  Average

60-69:  Better than average

70-79:  solid/good

80-89:  excellent

90+:  truly exceptional

All thoughts and opinions expressed are original to the author of the review or article. We are in no way paid to express any specific opinion about any specific company or product.


All Time Favorite Whisky: Balblair 1990 2nd Edition

Daily Drinkers: Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, Springbank 10 Year

A former craft beer enthusiast, Andrew fell in love with whiskey after tasting a pour of Laphroaig 10 year and being amazed that such a flavor could exist within a liquid. With a college background in biochemistry and a passion for history, Andrew quickly grew to love the science of whiskey making, the history of different distilleries, and the exploration of flavors within a dram. To Andrew, whiskey is more than just a drink; it is a fascinating mix of art and science – an intricate beauty to be pondered and appreciated. Besides this, Andrew has found that a nice bottle of whiskey has an amazing ability to bring people together and unite people from all different backgrounds together as friends.

While Andrew can be found drinking any style of whiskey from any region around the world, he has a particular affinity for spice-laden bourbons and coastal scotches. Besides drinking whiskey, Andrew also enjoys weight lifting, road biking, and cooking.

5 thoughts on “Highland Park 12 Year”

  1. Well written. I would only like to add that the USA market (and perhaps Canada, not sure) is getting the 43% ABV version while everywhere in Europe you will be encountering a 40% version which is a lot more fragile taste wise. Still good but the rating would probably drop by a few points…

    1. Thank you for this info! Odd to me that scotch distillers would want to water down their whiskies more for their home market than those abroad.

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