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Highland Park 18 Year Old

Batches Vary! Buyers Beware!

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RReview by @Rigmorole

7th Feb 2013

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I just put over $100 of my hard earned money down on the counter of the liquor store last week for a serious dud of a whisky: Highland Park 18.

Yes, I know, HP 18 can be absolutely heavenly when at its best.

However . . . the bottle in my house at the moment is absolute SWILL and not even as good as some HP Twelves that I've tasted.

I realize that it sometimes takes a bottle some time to "break in" as it were. The level is down about two inches on mine. Believe me, it's not improving.

Two months ago, I tasted a glass of HP 18 at The Branch in NE Portland that was cracking, absolutely cracking.

Not so with the bottle I paid for. I am VERY disappointed and VERY frustrated with HIghland Park distillery.

Shame on you, Highland Park, for selling such an uneven product! For shame! This bottle is not worth half of what I paid for it!

Nose: Wet moss, red dirt, stale butterscotch, cottage cheese, cut ivy

Palette: cheap rye bourbon, sweet caramel, sour cream cake icing, over oxygenated and tired 12 year HP gasping its last mortal breath before giving up the ghost and coming back as a zombie.

Finish: Short, unsatisfying, more of the palette. Blah!

I've been ripped off and I'm not afraid to say it. I will NEVER buy another bottle of HP 18 again, ever. This said, I think the 12 year HP is quite reliable. However, I will not buy a bottle of that for many years to come. Highland Park is now on my "do not buy" list for swindling me out of $104 of my hard earned money.

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11 comments

@BlueNote
BlueNote commented

I'd be taking it back to the retailer and looking for full credit or exchange for another bottle. Let them take it up with HP or whoever they buy it from. It's a well rated whisky, maybe you just got a dud or a bottle that has been poorly stored or mishandled.

6 years ago 0

numen commented

I agree with @BlueNote. The variance, between bottles and even with air, shouldn't be so great. In particular, though, your note about 'wet moss' and 'red dirt' makes me think of cork taint. It's less common in whisky than wine (and a lot of people abuse the term simply when they don't like it), but it's a chemical issue with the release of TCA, which can create a taste like 'wet cardboard,' dank, moldy, and musty. On the other hand, when I've had 'corked' bottles of wine, it's usually considered a risk of playing the game, as it were. Good luck with whatever you choose to do.

6 years ago 0

@Jimlad2000
Jimlad2000 commented

I had a bottle of HP 12 Year old and it had a very strange finish that i didn't like, sulphur maybe?

6 years ago 0

Rigmorole commented

I'm going to try and return it. Not sure I can in Oregon. If this bottle is spoiled then I take back what I said about this distillery. It wouldn't be HP's fault if a bottle was improperly stored unbeknownst to HP. I will find out when I try and take it back. It was my first impression that the problem with this bottle was due to batch variance. I will report back soon.

6 years ago 0

@Max
Max commented

You can always write to the distillery directly. I've read couple of stories about distilleries being quite interested to research such situations. After all it's their reputation at stake and they should be worried if one element of their supply chain in not working properly. Let us know how it goes.

6 years ago 0

Rigmorole commented

I poured a glass and left it out for thirty minutes. Here are my findings: --Nose: Vanilla, cheap bourbon, gentle smoke, yellow cake --Palatte: Lemon, sharp unpleasant tang, sugary toffee; forced mingling of flavors --Finish: lingers longer than last night; stale butterscotch, tang of a cheap Speyside, last dollop of nicer vanilla that faintly reminds me of a good batch of HP 18.

Rating with more air: 62 The ABV seems a tad higher to me than the usual 43%, which is curious. Whisky from this bottle does better with a touch of water. I normally have never added water to HP 18 in the past.

Yes, the whisky in my final taste taste is noticeably better with more time in the glass, and with the bottle level going down. This leads me to believe that the integrity of the whisky is fine; rather it is the batch that is to blame. I must say though that the dirt/mossy nose has all but gone away now. I no longer detect it.

The whisky in my glass right now is a FAR CRY from the 18 Year HP that I have known and loved for the past few years. I now do not believe there is a some sort of damage to the batch, such as cork spoilage. I think it is simply a newer batch that does hold a candle to what I have grown accustomed to over the past few years.

6 years ago 0

Rigmorole commented

Called the liquor store. The guy who answered the phone was polite and receptive, but he said that US federal law prohibits taking back a bottle of liquor. Is that true? Any fellow Americans know the official policy on such matters?

I kind of doubt whether "federal law" prohibits the return/exchange of an open bottle of alcohol, but I really have no idea. That seems like more of a state by state issue to me and the OLCC in Oregon is extremely "hands on" shall we say when it comes to regulating anything to do with alcohol.

At any rate, he said he would run my case by the "rep" and see if the rep offered a solution. I'm not getting my hopes up.

This bottle does not have cork damage in my estimation. It is simply a very poor example of the HP18 that I am accustomed to buying. I would never have bought this bottle if I had known it would taste like this.

At any rate, I envy the Scottish when it comes to merchants and distillers being held accountable for the quality of what they produce. Whisky has grown quite expensive these days and for the prices that people are paying, regardless of where they live, there should be more in the way of accountability for what is sold, particularly in the State of Oregon. I would not be surprised if distillers know they have a free ride here when it comes to accountability and end up sending we Oregonians their worst batches.

In the case of my HP 18, that seems to be the case. Oh well. You win some and you loose some. I just lost $104, but it's not the end of the world. Time to move on and enjoy life as it should be enjoyed.

Highland Park has a long and illustrious history of producing some of the finest whisky around. Who knows, this latest debacle might just be a dramatic exception.

One bottle does not a company's reputation make, but for me, a lone consumer, it certainly warns me not to loose another $104 on a gamble . . . unless I know, for certain, that the bottle in question is old enough to be the good stuff.

If I ever come across an older round bottle of HP 18 (not the flat bottle), I would buy it in an instant without hesitation. That much is certain. When HP 18 is good, it is very very very good indeed.

6 years ago 0

Rigmorole commented

Correction: I meant "damage to the bottle" from cork spoilage, not the batch. I know that batches have nothing to do with corks.

6 years ago 0

Rigmorole commented

My review above was written just after midnight. The last three replies above were written around 4pm. I'm done writing, and over the initial shock. HP 18 was my favorite stand-by, like an old friend.

Rigmorole out.

6 years ago 0

Rigmorole commented

The bottle is slowly improving. I've been sampling it a few times per week with tiny little samples. The finish is fine now and the palette is coming around. Nothing near the old HP18 I used to drink, but it's actually becoming quite good in a more simplistic way on the palette and finish. Very very sweet. Nothing near the complexity of older batches. No smoke whatsoever. I do miss the hint of smoke that older batches exhibited, but oh well. Them's the breaks.

Still, it is improving, I have to concede that fact. I can't really take it back to the liquor store now. It's just a disappointing purchase, that's all. Shit happens.

Still, it's shaping up into an interesting desert whisky. The nose will probably come round eventually as well. I will let it sit for another month or so before pouring a real dram from this bottle.

6 years ago 0

@FMichael
FMichael commented

I helped myself to a "hearty" dram of the HP 18 yr last night (hadn't had any in roughly several months).

Within a few minutes after my 1st sip last evening - I sorta noticed that odd feeling that I haven't had in years...I cannot tolerate neither wine, nor champagne due to the headaches that I tend to get from both (is it the sulfites?), and last night I sensed I would have one.

After finishing the HP 18 yr, I then helped myself to an old stand-by - the Balvenie 15 yr Single Barrel (just 1 "hearty dram" - nothing more).

Sure enough - this morning I woke up with a head pounder; not from too much alcohol consumption, but from what I gather is something that I didn't tolerate that may have been in the HP 18.

I must admit; last night I wasn't too impressed with the HP 18 yr, and from what I remember - both the 12 yr, and 15 yr are better...Last night's Balvenie tasted great in comparison.

Wondering if I have one of those "off bottlings"?..Looks as though mine was bottled in 2010 (code on the back of the label reads 'L0092K' - I'm guessing it was bottled on the 92nd day of 2010).

End of ramble.

6 years ago 0

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