Nothing. Except the price.
Despite my buggering of Highland Park’s parent company Edrington, I can’t stay away from Highland Park whisky (the same cannot be said for Edrington’s star child Macallan). The distillery character is just fascinating to me. As others have mused, Highland Park whisky seems to be an all-region-encompassing single malt. There’s some highland-like heather and florals, a Speyside-like fruity and maltiness, and a touch of island and coastal-like peat and salinity. All in all Highland Park single malt is truly one of a kind. Which is why I was a bit disappointed by Highland Park “The Dark”, the limited edition counterpart to the whisky being reviewed here. While I gave “the Dark” a not-at-all-shabby 87/100, I was disappointed because the lovely one of a kind Highland Park single malt character was utterly washed out by the dominating fresh sherry cask maturation. The end result was a mature sherry bomb, which I love, but which I can find for less money via official botlings of GlenDronach or for much less money via a myriad of independent bottlings of Glenrothes, Blair Athol, Glenturrent, Linkwood, Mortlach, et al.
Enter the yin to Dark’s yang, Highland Park 17 Year “The Light”. Released shortly after Dark in 2018, The Light is meant to be every thing the Dark is not, as to form a complementary duo, a veritable whisky dualism if you will. Two halves that make a whole. Whereas Dark was a vatting of first fill European oak sherry casks, Light is a vatting refill American oak sherry seasoned casks. The end result should theoretically yield a malt-driven flavor profile with minimal cask invasion, contrary to the Dark’s cask-dominated flavor profile
Notes on Highland Park 17 Year “The Light:
- Distilled and matured at the Highland Park Distillery on the island of Orkney
- Cask type: refill sherry seasoned American oak
- Age: at least 17 years
- ABV: 52.9%
- Chill filtered? No. Color added? No.
Nose: Complex, bright, aromatic, and mouthwatering. Fresh stone fruit, sultana, that unique Orkney peat that reminds me of smoldering heather, subtle red fruits, sea spray, and a sweet floral note that I can’t identify but that I love (reminiscent of the note you find in older Clynelish).
Palate: Sour and salty entry followed by a huge burst of tropical fruit. Melon, unripe pineapple, lemon, bitter orange, and a sublime tropical astringency roll out in a grand development. Smoldering heather, ginger, seaspray, honey, and bitter florals provide continued complexity and balance.
Finish: Extremely long with all the remnants of the tropical fruit basket and soft, slightly salty peat smoke. Dank.
Buying Recommendation: Must try! What can I say? Highland Park “The Light” has got. it. going. on. This is Highland Park singularity in all its radiant glory. The fruit, peat, heather, malt – it’s all there, and at least 17 years in active enough refill casks have allowed these flavors to develop depth, harmony, and complexity. I griped in my final musings of the Dark’s review that I wanted my Highland Park to taste like Highland Park. Mission accomplished here.
If this bottle were not well beyond my price range, I would be the first to purchase it. Alas, perfection is a vapor that vanishes before you can grasp it, and what keeps the Light from perfection is a ridiculous $300 American price tag. If it won’t cripple your monthly finances, I highly recommend it. If your budget and taste preferences are more akin to my own, then like me you’ll still be drinking plenty of Highland Park single malt, but the majority of it will come in bottles whose labels say Signatory, Gordon & Macphail, Berry Bros and Rudd, North Star, or any number of other quality independent bottlers who are selling interesting and characterful age stated and cask strength bottles of Highland Park single malt for affordable prices, such as the one I reviewed only a week ago. Slàinte mhath!
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
60-69: Better than average
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.