Hype for the Holidays
Highland Park 18 Year Old Viking Pride (2018)
Since we began our blog, the majority of the whisky we have chosen has been borne of our own curiosity. That being said, we have been influenced to choose different bottles based on our own exploration or from recommendations (or generosity!) of friends and family. Typically there is a key nuance or link that leads us to try something new—a fact about the way the whisky was produced, a connection to the distillery, or just a memorable occasion where we were able to have a taste. This week’s review is a slight departure in that we were strongly motivated to pick up this bottle by reviews we have read time and again.
As we head into the holidays, we were looking for a warming dram that captured the flavors and aromas of the season. Inspired by our reviews from Peat Month, we were hoping to find a dram that was peated, but perhaps not from Islay. We also thought holiday time would go well with a single malt aged in Spanish wine casks. One whisky came to mind that met these criteria and we have come across time and again in reviews and ‘best of’ lists. Highland Park 18 Year has an impressive reputation, and so we wanted to take a chance and see how we liked it.
Highland Park is located on the island of Orkney, off the northern coast of the Scottish mainland. The distillery officially dates back to 1798 and has several distinguishing characteristics. One of only a few distilleries that contain a malting floor, Highland Park whisky is typically peated (in the 20ppm range) using locally sourced peat. Given the conditions on Orkney, the local peat contains no tree material and with it, Highland Park also adds material from heather plants to the fire to kiln their malt. The process influences the whisky in ways that the distillery captures with the idea of ‘aromatic peat smoke.’ The distillery also uses a high proportion of sherry casks and European oak for maturation.
Highland Park 18 Year Old ‘Viking Pride’
Viking Pride represents one of the recently updated core bottlings from Highland Park. A few years ago, the distillery choose to heavily emphasize the Viking lineage of the founder and many of the current employees. The company even utilized the talents of a designer with Viking heritage to remake the bottles and packaging. The new bottles definitely stand out from the crowd, with a bell shape, covered in textured, raised Viking patterns.
On the Eyes: Highland Park 18 pours a deep golden-amber color. The dram is very rich in texture and leaves long legs in the glass.
On the Nose: The first aromas we picked up were very clean and fruity, with a mix of cherries with dark chocolate, and notes of vanilla.
To the Taste: At first, the 18 Year Old has a flavor like an 85%+ dark chocolate. We also interpreted strong and clean oak notes. Next, the sherry influence came forward, with tastes of cherry pie filling and other stewed fruit. Beneath these flavors a hint of peat smoke emerged, very earthy and sweet.
And the Finish: Peat smoke continues to build, along with a dash of baking spices bringing a little heat. The finish is balanced and clean, as the dram finishes with a similar understated intensity as it began.
The 2018 version of Highland Park 18 is as balanced and complex as advertised. This whisky is an example of a dram that can appeal to multiple different single malt tastes—the sherry influence is strong, the whisky definitely has the smooth character of being aged for a while, and the peat influence is present just enough to give peat aficionados something to think about. Given our experience with some of the younger releases from Highland Park, we might have hoped for a little more peat power, but the 18 Year Old was an excellent dram for the season and one that we felt lived up to the hype.