Highland Park is the most northernly distillery in Scotland. It is located on the Orkney islands, near the capital Kirkwall, to the north of the Scottish mainland and is one of only two distilleries on the main island (Scapa is the other). Highland Park is one of the oldest and best known whisky distilleries in Scotland and was established in 1798 by Magnus Eunson. He was an interesting local character who was known as the 'whisky priest' - he was a priest by day and an illegal whisky distiller and smuggler by night. The story goes that he used to store the whisky in the crypt under Kirkwall cathedral so that it would be safe from the Customs and Excise men! It is currently owned by the Edrington Group and has an annual capacity of 2.5 million litres.
Highland Park is one of the best selling whiskies in the world. The success of Highland Park comes as a result of them creating a spirit which is smoky but not to the degree of the majority of Islay whiskies. It is therefore more subtle and approachable and is a good whisky to try if you don't like too much smoky flavour. The core range is extensive, covering different ages (12, this 18, 25,30 and 40 years old) with the majority matured in sherry casks. There are also some exclusive duty free travel retail releases at 16 and 21 years old, as well the occasional limited edition bottling such as the new Hjarta. Highland Park is readily available and popular with the independent bottling companies.
The colour of this Highland Park 18 years old is a gorgeous dark amber. The nose is fabulous and full of dried fruit (think of sultanas), caramel, sweet heather honey, some woody spice (imagine nutmeg) and soft peaty earthiness. On the palate, the fruit and honey are predominant and it is incredibly smooth. The smokiness is there but it does not overpower the whisky and is slightly floral (imagine heather - this comes from the fact that they put dried moorland heather in with the peat when drying the malted barley), earthy (think of damp soil) and light. There is also a slight saltiness (think of brine or sea air), a distinct nuttiness and some warm spices (like ginger and cinnamon or nutmeg). The combination of all these elements gives a gloriously rich, well balanced and rounded whisky that is easy to drink. The finish is long and warm with mellow smokiness, dried fruitiness and those spices again.
Highland Park 18 years old is a great dram and it is easy to see why this classic whisky has won multiple awards around the world. It has the honour of being the whisky that got us interested in quality whiskies and single malts and tastes even better today than it did on that day two years ago. A bottle should cost £55-60 from specialist whisky retailers, although it can also occasionally be found in larger supermarkets with good whisky selections. Excellent stuff and a definate 'try before you die' whisky!