Single malts. They’re a varied lot. Some people like peat monsters. Some like sherry bombs. Others enjoy their whisky light and floral. Others still prefer their drams sweet with hints of vanilla. Pleasing everyone with one drop, however, is a much harder task. Unless, of course, you happen to have a bottle of the Highland Park 12 Year Old on your shelf. This bottle truly is the great all rounder of Scottish whisky.
Highland Park also has the distinction of being Scotland’s northernmost distillery, located on the largest of the Orkney Islands, pipping its neighbour Scapa by under a mile. As the island group was settled long ago by Vikings, it should come as no surprise that the flavours on offer are a veritable smorgasbord.
Up first comes a nose with many varied elements: a whiff of grapes and malty biscuits. There is chocolate, so dark it is mostly cocoa, mingling with notes of pear and bubblegum. Finally is the smoke: far subtler than anything from Islay. It brings to mind smouldering vegetation, an attempt to create a fire from damp leaves on a drizzly day.
The palate is equally varied. It initially suggests a roast meal: beef, parsnips, even gravy, before giving way to mandarin, brown sugar and chocolate milk. The smoke lingers gently, now mostly burnt out and close to charcoal. Finally this all gives way to a long spicy finish with salt, tobacco and mint combining with flashes of caramel.
The Highland Park 12 Year Old is unlikely to be anyone’s number one whisky. It is not weighted in a particular direction to please one group of whisky fans over another. Instead, it sits squarely in the middle, a dram to be enjoyed by everyone no matter their preferences. This is a whisky that brings people together, and if that is not a glowing endorsement, I don’t know what is!