A New Direction: Highland Park 1999 (Signatory Vintage)

by on January 28, 2019

Island Single Malt Scotch

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Throughout these first 28 days of 2019, I’ve done a lot of thinking about my role in this website as a writer.  You see, writing about whisky has always been a natural expression of my enjoyment of it.  In other words, from the day I started drinking and seriously enjoying whisky, the fulfillment of that joy has been in writing or talking about it.  Before I was in a single whiskey group, I was keeping a personal journal of whisky musings and tasting notes.  Those who are long time members of WBSE likely remember me as the windy newbie who used to talk on Facebook live every Wednesday for 15-20 minutes about a new whiskey I was trying.  No interest in clicks or views; just doing what came natural, and hoping to find others like me with whom to share a fun discussion about a mutual interest.

This has always been my goal; the day writing and talking about whisky becomes tedious rather than enjoyable is the day I quit.  Which brings me to my point:  The natural progression of my whisky adventure has always lead me deeper in; I have an obsessive personality, and a relentless desire to find out what I don’t know yet.  It’s why I never buy multiples of a bottle.  If I love it I may look for it again someday, but I’ve got way too many new things to try before that day comes.

As 2018 wore on, the progression of my journey started to split from the common path it shared with my publicly published writing.  I’ve always felt a sense of duty to whoever may be reading or listening to me to give you something useful, tangible, or attainable.  It’s why you’re not gonna read tasting notes from me that sound like Shakespearean prose, and you’re rarely if ever gonna see me feature a $500+ whisky in a published piece of writing.  For the most part, this sense of duty never conflicted with my natural, organic whisky journey.  But I have to confess:  For the last several months, it has.  Uh oh.  All the sudden, for the first time in several years I started to feel writing about whisky becoming more like tedious work than joy filled hobby.  I started to feel like I was trying to be two different people.  Real Andrew is going bonkers with glee exploring a released-3-years-ago 12 year old Springbank matured in Calvados casks, but published writer Andrew is telling you all about, well, something much more normal.  

So for the past 28 days, I’ve seriously considered if 2019 was the year that my presence as a whisky writer on the interwebz would discontinue.  To be sure, I’d still be exploring whisky and writing or talking about it ad infinitum with people.  But why publish it in writing if 99% of you would either not know what it was, not care what it was, or not be able to attain the bottle I was writing about without significant work, and possibly not even then?

Ultimately, I decided against hanging up the metaphorical cleats.  But it is time to take things in a new direction.  No more publishing reviews that I think will please the masses.  If I’m being frank, I don’t care about what you like.  I don’t care about whether or not you can attain the exact bottle I’m writing about.  I have to be authentic and I have to be me.  So for as long as Bill and Chad want to keep me around, I’ll be writing about what I’m currently exploring and what I’m currently genuinely excited about.  One great luxury here is we have multiple writers, and each one has a unique perspective and interest.  You won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t read my articles.  Want to read about bourbon only?  Bobby is your guy.  Want experience-driven articles with such clarity of detail you feel like you’re actually in the scene?  You gotta read TW’s articles.  Brett, Blake, Robert, and the gang do more than fill in everything in between.  I’m confident that regardless of which whiskies I write about, this will still be one of the most comprehensive sources for all things whisk(e)y.

Now that we’ve cleared the air, let’s get off to a fresh start, shall we?  Hi, I’m Andrew and I’ve got a one-off bottling of cask strength Highland Park matured in a different cask than what you probably know as Highland Park, and I’m going to tell you all about.  Oh, and this particular bottle is from a single cask and was released in 2015.  Close out of the tab if you want to, but I implore you to stay and read on, because even if you can’t find this bottle (although I only bought it 5 months ago) there is a lot to learn, specifically about Highland Park, which I hear is quite the popular single malt whisky these days.

Notes on Highland Park 1999 Single Cask bottled by Signatory Vintage:

  • Distilled by Highland Park on the island of Orkney, bottled by Signatory, who’s operations are based in Perthshire near the Edradour Distillery (which they own)
  • Distilled October 15, 1999.  Bottled September 1, 2015
  • Cask type:  bourbon barrel.  Cask Number:  800198.  Outturn:  201 bottles
  • ABV:  57.6%
  • Chill filtered?  No.  Color added?  No.

Nose:  Complex fresh fruit and waxy vanilla.  The fruit is primarily citrus/tropical.  Kiwi, pineapple, green strawberry, a touch of melon and yellow stone fruit.  It’s absolutely mouthwatering.  Perfectly concentrated and cohesive.  Further in are notes of bitter-fresh grain, fresh heather, the smallest hint of smoke, and subtle spices.  Very fragrant.  It’s a bit sleepy, and really needs some time in the glass and/or a bit of water to fully express itself.

Palate:  Fresh fruit and bitter grain greet me on the arrival, before a drawn out development reveals sultana, peach, kiwi and raspberry.  These fruit notes compete with more smoldering heather and fresh/bitter grain for dominance.  The result is slightly astringent with enough sweetness for balance.  Silky, full body.

Finish:  Vanilla, melon, and an abundance of peaches.  More malty and less astringent than the nose or palate.  Long, with some heather and charcoal sneaking in late.

Buying Recommendation:  Must Try!  This single cask of Highland Park flirts with truly exceptional status due to its great concentration of, and harmony between, flavors.  Without the typical sherry cask influence used in the official distillery bottlings, and without any pre-bottling dilution or chill filtration, the natural fruit, peat, and grain notes of Highland Park’s malt really shine, and the result is fantastic.  This is Highland Park in it’s primal form, it’s quite excellent, and I absolutely recommend seeking out a Highland Park matured in bourbon barrels only.

Which brings me to what we can learn from this review.  I’ll freely admit it – I’ve reviewed a very specific whisky that was bottled over 3 years ago and that you will never likely find without significant effort, and perhaps not even then.  But by sharing this review what I really hope you come away with are 3 things:

  1.  What Highland Park single malt tastes like without sherry influence
  2.  That Highland Park single malt without sherry influence is really damn good
  3.  That sherried or unsherried, independent bottlings of Highland Park likely offer much better value for money than the modern day official bottlings.

This really is an excellent example of one of the great benefits of independent bottlings:  the opportunity to examine a distillery’s whisky under a different set of conditions than you find in official bottles.  Highland Park is known for its near-exclusive use of sherry seasoned casks.  What we know of Highland Park’s whisky is therefore intrinsically tied to sherry influence.  But what would Highland Park taste like without sherry?  Or Macallan?  What would Benrinnes taste like if it were matured in a Shiraz cask?  Dalmore in a Pomerol Cask?  Linkwood in Cote Rôtie?  Outside of independent bottlings you will likely never know.  You can enjoy a perfectly satisfying whisky hobby if you never venture beyond official distillery bottlings.  But if you want to know what’s behind the curtain – what the whisky is really like if you peel back the marketing, blending away of peculiarities, and standardized maturation protocols – more often than not independent bottlings are where to turn.  My future articles will still feature plenty of official bottlings, readily available whiskies, bourbon, ryes, etc.  But expect to see a lot of independent bottlings.  Where the whisky industry currently sits – whether it’s the head spinning and cynicism inducing bourbon craze or the embarrassment that is dozens of scotch distilleries releasing hundreds of over-marketed and under-performing NAS labels – independent bottlings are where the current value is and where the real fun is.

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
50-59: 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.

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