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My opportunity to sample this wonderful dram came about through a conversation with my friend who I have been chatting with about whisky for the past couple of months. I had previously introduced him to SMSW’s with a dram of Auchentoshan 12, which he found to be an eye opener, as his previous experience had been limited to blended whiskies and the basic gateway drams, which he had not been impressed by.
Subsequent conversations revolved around him wondering what I considered to be a “home run” whiskey, one that would be of consistent high quality and depth. Even though I had never had the opportunity to try it before, I mentioned that based on reviews that I had read, as well as the general consistency of the distilleries’ offerings, that Highland Park 18 would meet the criteria. This suggestion was also made on the basis that this bottle, and the distillery, seems to be considered to offer a good ‘all-around’ product that has many elements found in a variety of whisky regions, without being too reliant on one particular taste/aroma characteristic. Little did I know that my friend was looking to hit the “home run” for the inaugural bottle in his SMSW collection. Later that day, he had acquired a bottle and we each had a dram that evening. We were both instant fans.
This dram was tasted again at a later date, in a copita glass, without hand warming or water added. Now on to the notes…
Nose: The aromas take you on a trip around all of the whisky regions of Scotland. Speyside and the Lowland region were represented by a wide variety of fruit notes including peaches, apricots, and a candied aroma similar to maraschino cherries. These notes were gradually replaced by the Islands trademark notes of salt, pepper and brine, which were also mixed with a very slight note of smoke and peat, which is normally associated with Islay. The mixing of these heavier notes, albeit in lighter quantities, is something that I find common in Highland malts. A last minute emergence of apple cinnamon pie filling combined the fruit notes with the earthier components of the nose. A very complex nose that I spent over 15 minutes analyzing and enjoying.
Palate: A pleasant medium mouth feel brought the salt and pepper notes forward without out the brine. The cinnamon also re-appeared to lighten the gathering on the tongue. A clean, fresher feeling then emerged, replacing the salt and pepper with a general fruit taste.
Finish: The finish repeated the palate very nicely, with a peppery, warming sensation gradually giving way to the light, fruit based, fresh feeling. Cinnamon and other spices linger in a medium to long, very smooth finish.
Balance: There is a wonderful transition of aromas and flavours between nose, palate, and finish. Pepper, spice, and fruit sensations all transitioned frequently but effortlessly, creating a complete journey around the whisky tastes of Scotland.
Overall, this is an excellent all-around "home run" dram that every cabinet should include at some point. The subtlety of the peat, brine, and smoke notes should allow almost all whisky consumers to access a dram that provides a full spectrum of flavours and aromas.