Highland Park Distillery
Founded: States 1798 on the bottles but in reality it is more like 1826.
Water Source: Cattie Maggie’s Pool
Stills: 2 Wash. 2 Spirit.
Capacity: 2.5 million litres.
Owners: Edrington Group
1800s-1975: Old Style
Highland Park has been bottled in various guises as a single malt for most of the twentieth century, although very old bottlings are incredibly expensive and rare and as always you should be very wary of fakes. However it is still possible to taste many different expressions of HP from all decades since the second world war. Old HPs are peatier than modern bottlings and display intense old school characteristics of eucalyptus, fruits, metallic and mineral notes, oils, wax, coastal notes and many different phenolic complexities. Unlike many other distilleries the best old bottlings of HP are generally the official ones, although there are some utterly stunning aged exceptions by Gordon & MacPhail.
1975-Modern Day: New Age HP.
Throughout the seventies there are evident changes in the overall style of Highland Park. The amount of peat in the distillate is evidently less from the late sixties onwards, this is due to a reduction in the amount of in house malting. At HP all barley malted on site is done to 40ppm while all malt taken from the mainland is done to only 1-2 ppm. These two styles are mixed together and this dilutes the peat character in the finished product to a more delicate heathery, honey smokiness. These days the amount of in house malting is now about 20%. Other changes are normal ones concerning modernization such as changing from direct firing and worm tubs to internal heating and condensers and the use of stronger distillers yeast strains. The overall effect has been a lessening of the fruitiness and a taming of many of the wilder and more old style aspects. HP is now a more approachable and more 'sexy' malt but still an exceptionally fine and flavoursome whisky. The flagship 12yo went though a difficult time in recent years but since 2008 it has shown serious improvement and is now back on top form. This is largely due to a more careful vatting that utilizes some strategic aged sherry casks. The same is true with the 18yo which is still as good as ever, one of the best 18yos on the market in many peoples opinion. Wood plays a very important role in defining HP these days. It is one of the few distilleries that relies heavily on sherry casks over bourbon. This has defined much of HPs richness and fruitiness and helps retain some of the distillery’s more old school aspects. Another plus side to HP is that they have benefitted from exceptionally good stock management through the years which has enabled them to have ongoing expressions and 18, 21, 25, 30, 40 and even 50 years of age. Current HP’s with the common sherry dominance show lots of heather, delicate spice, candied and stewed fruits, chocolate, honey and a gentle coastal smokiness. More naked expressions from refill casks are well worth seeking out as they display wonderful notes of green fruits, engine oil, leafiness and often some minerality. There are great examples from Signatory, Duncan Taylor, Douglas Laing, G&M and many other smaller independents as well. As long as HP continues to pay careful attention to its time proven recipe for good whisky and doesn’t fall too far down the path of silly prices then they should remain a popular favourite amongst drinkers for a long time to come.