Highland Park distillery is a holding of the Edrington group, “one of Scotland’s largest private companies” which itself is held by the charitable Robertson Trust. Maybe that makes you feel better about drinking their whisky.
If I remember correctly, I read about Highland Park 12 in Jason Debly’s blog back in early 2014. I was just starting to expand my horizons into single malts, after a long hiatus brought on by the financial strain of an old house, growing children and various stock market crashes. Those challenges behind me, I felt like spoiling myself a little. Jason’s review of Highland Park caught my eye as I was looking for a scotch with a lot of character, a touch of peat and a reasonable price tag.
Highland Park is one of the older distilleries, founded in 1798, about half a century before the big boom in distillery foundings in Scotland. Probably the folks up in the Orkneys needed a local supplier. Considering the long winter nights, not a bad idea.
The elegant canister boasts of hand-turned barley maltings, so along with Bowmore and The Balvenie, HP is yet another distiller holding on to the old customs. Given a 2.5M liter/year production, I wonder, how much of their malt is local? I inquired of them and received a helpful answer in a few days from Mark Budge, Visits Co-Ordinator at Highland Park:
We are malting 20% of the total malt we use onsite. We then peat this malt before drying. Our makeup of malt is 20% peated (malted and peated on site) and 80% unpeated (bought from commercial maltsters).
Like Bunnahabhain, Talisker 10 and I go back a long way. But in the way-back, some twenty years ago, Talisker was a bit much for my palate. When I was a Scotch noob, the smokiness and medicinal qualities of this whisky were a bit much for me. These days, with uber-peat monsters coming out of Ardbeg, Bruichladdich and Laphroaig, the moderate peat (20-ish ppm) of the Talisker feels like a well-balanced note than an overbearing chord.
The Talisker distillery is on Skye, an island far to the north of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland. It’s the most northern of the inner Hebrides, and like Islay, there aren’t a lot of trees on Skye. Peat is the traditional fuel for malting here, and although Talisker distillery took out their malting floors in 1972, their flavor profile was established by then and Talisker is still produced with a fairly hefty dose of phenols for a “richly flavored maritime malt” (from the label) that flavor is a combination of the smoked malt (from the mainland) and a peaty water source (Hawk Hill).
Ah, Laphroaig. They advertise themselves as “The most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies” on their website and on their bottle (at right). And when they say ‘flavour’ they mean smoke, peat, seaweed and iodine. Oh, there’s malt in there, too. Quite a bit actually.
I think Laphroaig is great for chasing mothers-in-law from the room. Just crack open a bottle, pour a little, and the more delicate souls will run for the hills. If you’ve never had this whisky, this superlative might get the message across. During the U.S. Prohibition, Laphroaig whisky was (famously) still being imported to the U.S., as “Such was the pungent seaweedy nose of Laphroaig that Ian persuaded the officials that the “Iodine” smell surely meant that Laphroaig had medical properties.”
Alright, we’re all not driving Ferraris and eating at Spago every day. Some of us punters have to grab a value whisky now and then. Usually, my bottom line is Teachers, which at a 45% malt blend is a pretty solid pick. But that’s more than a double-deucer here in Oregon ($22). More on that battle later. This entry is a test of what sub-$20 whiskies will leave you wanting more, vs. going for the Altoids to clean the horrid burnt-rubber taste out of your mouth (I’m looking at you, Old Smuggler).