Highland Park is a well-known distillery with well-known whiskies but somehow, I had not yet managed to try any of them. It was time to put this unfortunate state of affairs right and find out exactly how good Highland Park whiskies are.
Highland Park whiskies are good if you like light amounts of their unique heathery peat. I would recommend Highland Park 12 as it’s easy to drink, enjoyable and inexpensive, Highland Park 18 for being their most refined and complex whisky, and Highland Park Valknut for those wanting a whisky that has more of their unique peat.
There are over 60 Highland Park whiskies and I examined 9 of them, four from the Core Range and five of their Special Releases. Their other whiskies are travel retail exclusives, limited editions, out of my price range or way way way out of my price range.
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How I Determined Whether Highland Park Whiskies Are Good
I didn’t want to present just my own personal opinion about these whiskies but rather a more general consensus, so I gathered a team of experts (translation: anyone who would help me with this project and who knows a thing or two about whisky) and amalgamated all our tasting notes. I left out those aromas and flavors that were found by only one person and focused on those experienced by more than one member of the group. Descriptors that appear earlier in the coming lists were detected by more people.
Everyone scored each whisky out of 100 and I calculated the average.
The notes after each table are my summary of the general consensus and the combined results present a pretty clear picture of these whiskies.
Here’s what we found:
Highland Park 12 Year Old Viking Honour
- 43%ABV (in the US)
- Price: $58.99 approx. for 750ml
This is the first (in the US at least) of the core range and it’s matured predominantly (the precise meaning of that is unclear) in European sherry seasoned oak casks and American sherry seasoned oak casks.
|Nose||Honey, light smoke, light peat, fruit, grass, sweet, floral, pears, apricots, raisins, heather, vanilla|
|Taste||Honey, light smoke, peat, earthy, citrus, fruit, grass, fruit jam, oak, salt, sweet, vanilla, leather|
|Finish||Medium: honey, light smoke, peat, fruit, heather, bitter|
|Average Score – 78|
We found Highland Park 12 to be a solid, enjoyable whisky that can easily be a daily drinker. It’s got strong flavors, sherry sweetness and a medium yet creamy mouthfeel. It’s a balanced, easy to drink whisky with no obvious flaws or unpleasantness.
Typically, Highland Park whiskies are lightly peated (only 20% of their malted barley is peated) with their unique peat that’s heathery rather than medicinal, and the 12 is no exception.
That’s what makes this whisky so approachable. It’s not a peat bomb and also, it’s not a sherry bomb so it’s not off-putting for those with different preferences. This does mean however, that it lacks a certain depth for those who prefer a whisky with one flavor profile or the other so it may be better for those who like a more easy-going whisky or are looking for a jumping point to a sherry or peat profile.
It’s also reasonably good value for money and you can buy a bottle of Highland Park 12 here.
Highland Park 18 Year Old Viking Pride
- Price: $159.99 approx. for 750ml
This is their most highly awarded whisky. It’s matured in a high proportion (the precise meaning of that is also unclear) of first-fill sherry seasoned European oak casks and first-fill sherry seasoned American oak casks for 18 years.
|Nose||Light smoke, raisins, vanilla, heather honey, chocolate, tobacco, lavender, nuts, oak, sherry, butterscotch, cherries, light peat, leather, red fruit, malt, roasted coffee, citrus, apple, plums|
|Taste||Light smoke, peat, honey, spices, vanilla, fruit, chocolate, heather, oak, malt barley, sherry, grass, nutmeg, toffee, orange zest, apple, raisins, caramel|
|Finish||Medium – long: Light smoke, honey, spices, oak, peat, chocolate, tobacco, bitter, citrus, dry, heather|
|Average Score – 87|
Highland Park 18 is a more refined and complex version of the 12. It’s sweet and delicious with a light creamy mouthfeel that is a bit thin and would have been improved at a higher ABV.
Once again, the peat and smoke is gentle and integrated well with the sherry and fruit sweetness. It’s another well balanced all-rounder that’s restrained for those who prefer a heavy hitting peat or sherry profile.
The main problem we had was whether it’s value for money. It’s three times the price of the 12 and there are other 18 year old single malts out there that cost less. On the other hand, there are other 18 year old single malts out there that cost more.
Either way, you can buy a bottle of Highland Park 18 here.
Highland Park 21 Year Old (August 2019 Release)
- Price: $359.99 approx. for 750ml
With older casks and fewer to choose from, Highland Park are releasing their 21 year old expression in batches so each one will be slightly different. Our sample was from August 2019, which comes from 15 casks – six first-fill sherry seasoned European Oak casks, four first-fill sherry seasoned American oak casks and five refill casks.
|Nose||Light smoke, salt, spices, peat, nutmeg, heather, apples, pears, vanilla, honey, fruit, lemon, sweet bread, orange zest, lemon zest, minerals|
|Taste||Fruit, light smoke, nutmeg, vanilla, spices, oak, pears, lemon zest, salt, pepper, floral honey, orange zest, pineapple, apples|
|Finish||Medium – long: herbs, wood, fruit, spices|
|Average Score – 86|
Once again, Highland Park 21 is a better version of the 18. It’s sweet, spicy and delicious with Highland Park’s signature peat and smoke and it’s extremely well balanced. It’s full bodied with an incredibly gentle and silky mouthfeel. A really nice whisky.
However, as with the 12 and the 18 it doesn’t lean towards a particular flavor profile, and while having mild amounts of many profiles is ok, it does mean that nothing stands out, and for a 21 year old whisky that can make it somewhat disappointing.
Also, if you thought the 18 was expensive this is even more so, as its twice the price!
On the other hand, it’s a delicious whisky and if price and lack of single flavor profile are not an issue, then you can buy one of the Highland Park 21 releases here.
Highland Park Cask Strength – Release No. 1
- Price: $99.99 approx. for 750ml
Highland Park Cask strength has no age statement and is matured predominantly (presumably meaning ‘in a high proportion of’) in sherry seasoned American oak casks of different ages. It’s also released in batches so once again each one will be slightly different. We tried the Release No. 1.
|Nose||Light peat and smoke, honey, vanilla, sherry, fruit, spices, toffee, malt, heather, brown sugar, caramel, apricot, orange peel, raisins, tobacco, chocolate, citrus, nuts|
|Taste||Light peat and smoke, honey, chocolate, toffee, nutmeg, fruit, citrus, spices, vanilla, malt, tobacco, cinnamon, sherry, wood, apricots, coffee, raisins, oak char|
|Finish||Long: Light peat, spices, oranges, honey, fruit, pepper, oak, vanilla, leather, nuts|
|Average Score – 85|
Highland Park Cask Strength is the classic Highland Park profile only more intense. It’s sweet, delicious with bold flavors, a decent amount of complexity and it’s fairly well balanced. It has a soft and oily mouthfeel.
The alcohol is more noticeable than in the non-cask strength expressions but it’s well integrated and kept in check, so the whisky remains delicate and smooth.
The only issue is its youth – it can’t be more than 12 years old, which holds it back. This whisky would clearly be much better with a few more years. Despite that, the Highland Park Cask Strength – Release No. 1 is a high-quality, very enjoyable and relatively affordable for cask strength, whisky.
You can buy a bottle here.
Highland Park Valkyrie
- Price: $82.95 approx. for 750ml
First of the three-part Viking Legend series special edition, Highland Park Valkyrie has no age statement and is triple cask matured in sherry seasoned European oak casks, sherry seasoned American oak casks and ex-bourbon casks. It’s made with more of their peated malt barley (50% instead of the usual 20%) to be more peaty and smoky than your typical Highland Park.
|Nose||Light smoke, fruit, spices, peat, floral, green apples, raisins, salt, wine, caramel|
|Taste||Light smoke, peat, vanilla, apples, malt, spices, fruit, ginger, chocolate|
|Finish||Medium – long: smoke, spices, smoked meat, fruit, apples|
|Average Score – 79|
This is certainly a nice whisky. It’s sweet and tasty with a light to medium mouthfeel. It has strong rich flavors due to the relatively high ABV, and it’s quite well balanced.
It also delivers on the promise of extra peat – although for those used to heavily peated whiskies, this will still be only moderately peated in comparison, so it shouldn’t put off those who don’t like too much peat.
Once again, it’s a whisky that could do with a few more years in the cask as its youthfulness combined with its relatively high ABV gives it a slight sharpness.
It’s also expensive for what it is and for some reason more expensive than the 12, so not exactly value for money but if you want more of the unique Highland Park heathery peat, you can buy a bottle of Valkyrie here.
Highland Park Valknut
- Price: $79.99 approx. for 750ml
Highland Park Valknut is the second of the Viking Legend series which, like the Valkyrie, has no age statement, is triple cask matured (in sherry seasoned European oak casks, sherry seasoned American oak casks and ex-bourbon casks) and is made with more of their peated malt barley to be more peaty and smoky than usual.
It has a slightly higher ABV than Valkyrie and a small portion of Orkney-grown Tartan barley to give the smoke an extra edge and spiciness.
|Nose||Vanilla, light peat and smoke, apples, caramel, honey, raisins, peach, malt, cinnamon, oranges, brine, salt, heather, pears, sherry, brown sugar, fruit, cloves|
|Taste||Vanilla, light peat and smoke, brine, spices, black pepper, toffee, apples, oranges, honey, malt, seaweed, fruit|
|Finish||Medium – long: Light peat and smoke, nuts, oak, licorice, pepper, chocolate|
|Average Score – 84|
Highland Park Valknut is a full-bodied, sweet and tasty whisky. It’s relatively complex and very well balanced.
It’s similar to Valkyrie but has some differences. It’s similar because it’s also more peaty than your typical Highland Park (although again still only moderately peated in comparison to other whiskies) but different because it’s a bit more intense and has a slight spicy edge (maybe from the Tartan barley).
The consensus was that Valknut was better than Valkyrie. The consensus was also that it’s somewhat expensive but if you want more of the unique Highland Park heathery peat and more intensity, you can buy a bottle of Highland Park Valknut here.
Highland Park Valfather
- Price: $88.99 approx. for 750ml
Last of the Viking Legend series, Highland Park Valfather also has no age statement, is triple cask matured (in sherry seasoned European oak casks, sherry seasoned American oak casks and ex-bourbon casks) and is made with more of their peated malt barley to be more peaty and smoky than usual.
It’s marketed as ‘our most peated whisky to date’ but it doesn’t say how much more.
|Nose||Smoke, peat, heather, vanilla, apples, honey, fruit, charred wood, sherry, citrus, pears, caramel, mineral, pepper|
|Taste||Pepper, smoke, peat, vanilla, honey, fruit, apples, spices, crème brûlée, wood, herbs, pears, apricots, oak|
|Finish||Medium – long: Smoke, dry, pepper, wood, oak, fruit|
|Average Score – 82|
Highland Park Valfather is definitely a good whisky. It’s not too complex, but it’s sweet with lots of flavors and nicely balanced. Once again it does have more peat than usual, but it’s not clear that it’s more than in Valknut or Valkyrie.
The consensus was that overall, Valknut had more going on, but for those looking for maximum Highland Park peat, you may find it here.
You can buy a bottle of Highland Park Valfather here.
Highland Park Twisted Tattoo 16 Year Old
- Price: $104.99 approx. for 750ml
Highland Park Twisted Tattoo is a 16 year old single malt that’s a combination of whiskies aged in first fill ex-bourbon barrels and first fill Rioja (Spanish wine) seasoned casks – the latter being quite unique for a Scotch.
|Nose||Light peat and smoke, vanilla, fruit, heather, wood, apples, currants, caramel, berries, cereal, coffee, honey, mineral, nuts, wine|
|Taste||Light peat and smoke, spices, fruit, vanilla, earth, berries, citrus, herbs, honey, caramel, wine, apples, pepper, grapes, chocolate|
|Finish||Long: Light peat and smoke, dry bitterness, oak, fruit, berries, wood|
|Average Score – 80|
Highland Park Twisted Tattoo is a sweet and tasty whisky. It’s complex and fairly well balanced. Interestingly, some of us thought it was slightly more peaty than your typical Highland Park expression, which was unexpected given that it didn’t seem to be the intention with this whisky.
The influence from the Rioja casks was definitely present, but some of us thought it wasn’t enough – the casks are only Rioja seasoned after all. There was also disagreement as to whether the bourbon and Rioja complemented each other well or whether there was a slight imbalance, and they were fighting each other for dominance.
Either way it’s something different to the usual sherry seasoned casks, which makes this whisky interesting.
Also, it’s not that expensive for a good, 16 year old whisky and you can buy a bottle of Highland Park Twisted Tattoo 16 Year Old here.
Highland Park Full Volume
- Price: $109.43 approx. for 750ml
Highland Park expressions typically contain whiskies that are matured in sherry seasoned casks. Full Volume is different because 100% of its whisky was matured in first fill ex-bourbon casks to get the most from the creamy bourbon notes – hence the name Full Volume.
For some reason, this whisky doesn’t have your typical age statement (18 years old), but instead says ‘Distilled 1999 Bottled 2017’, which amounts to the same thing. Maybe they just wanted us to work it out for ourselves.
|Nose||Vanilla, salt, light peat, tropical fruits, floral, honey, malt, banana, apples, mango, brine, grass, oak, creamy|
|Taste||Vanilla, tropical fruits, oak, banana, caramel, papaya, pear cider, salt, peat, wax|
|Finish||Medium – long: Light smoke, vanilla, banana, caramel, wax, oak, spices, honey, pepper|
|Average Score – 85|
This is a good, sweet and enjoyable whisky. This is partly due to being older than most of their special releases, which makes you wonder why they didn’t state it normally instead of telling us in a cryptic and roundabout way.
Being made up entirely of whisky matured in ex-bourbon casks seems to have had the desired effect, but on the other hand it’s created a banana and butter bomb with lots of creamy vanilla, so it’s somewhat one-dimensional.
The price is also reasonable given its age and you can buy a bottle of Highland Park Full Volume here.