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This whisky is a bit deceptive. It’s not a simple dram, although I remember thinking it was when I first had it ages ago. When I first tried it, I was only just getting into whisky. I remember thinking that there wasn’t a whole lot to it. Regardless, I grabbed it again recently when I came across a sample bottle at my local booze peddler. It was cheap and I had a hankering for something lightly peated. Even upon trying it again, my initial reaction was “That’s it?” Well, no. That’s not it. This whisky actually has a lot going on beneath the surface.
Nose: Very malty. Lovely caramelized fruits. Apples, peaches, banana, citrus and pears. Behind that, some gentle vanilla. Sherry notes; baking spices and dark fruits. Chocolate, nuts, and raisins. There are hints of salt and peat here, but they take a backseat to the sweet, dark fruity character.
Palate: The arrival is creamy, and initially slightly dry and salty. The gentle peat note presents itself very gradually. With it comes a deep, rich caramel, followed by big, juicy raisins, cinnamon, banana-nut, milk chocolate, and faint ginger. The dark, roasted caramel sweetness is fantastic, and it cooperates beautifully with all of the above flavours.
Finish: Cinnamon and anise. Demerera sugar? More rich, lovely caramel, which is beautifully interwoven with the gentle smoke. Banana-nut, chocolate, juicy raisins, toffee and allspice. A bit of oak comes through as well. A thoroughly enjoyable medium-length finish.
The HP18 can be challanging. There are subtleties to this dram which make it seem simpler than it is. The flavours aren’t all crisp and easy to identify, and it takes some effort to distinguish them. Why? Because they don’t stand alone, but rather their individual characters merge (quite effortlessly) with that lavishly rich, dark, sweeping caramel presence which characterizes this whisky. Because of that synthesis, it’s a fun, albeit challenging, whisky to explore and deconstruct. But if you’re not interested in picking this stuff apart, you don’t have to. The natural quality of that dark, fruity, smoky caramel makes HP18 something that one can also enjoy casually.