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Nose: This is way less astringent and in your face then the 12yo. This is way more subtle and richer. Tons of citrus fruit – oranges, lemons, pineapple and apples are the first fruits to emerge from the thick web of ambiguity. Sherry sweetness and some lemon grass that all seems to rest on this thick foundation of smoke. The smoke is not assaulting or aggressive. In fact it seems easy to miss. It seems to stand ominously just behind oranges, peaches, and figs . . . portentous in its stillness. It is almost as if you are standing in a meadow (lemon grass) looking at a row of fruit trees. At first you simply see the abundant ripe fruit (oranges, apples, pears, figs, lemons, dates, and plums). But as your eyes pull back from the fruit you notice that these fruit trees are apart of an immense forest that harbors way more then fruit . . . Such dark fruit here.
Taste: Super sweet brown sugar. Very thick compared to the 12yo. Now a wave of sherry comes through. Only a hint of something soapy . . . but it is there.
Finish: Surprising rich fruitcake. Tons of dates, rains, plums, figs, and brown sugar. There is a hint of smoke at the end (but only a hint mind you) with a bit of mustard. This is more of that “old man’s tobacco” that I purchased years ago. None of that new hip sweet aromatic stuff I smoked at university. I would say that this is a medium short finish. Smaller and shorter then the HP 12 yo. I liked the 12 yo finish better.
Balance, Complexity: I would say that this is more balanced then the 12 and more complex. Where the sweet sherry seemed to dominate the 12yo this one is ruled by the fruit. Luckily there is a bit more here to catch my interest. Still, just a touch more peat and smoke would have pushed this over the cusp for me.
Aesthetic experience: The 18 is a hair darker then the 12 or 25yo. On second check . . . maybe the 25 is the darkest? Hard to tell. Full bodied malt. I really am unhappy with the recent bottle shape. Not that I love the previous one, but this is a step backward. It screams bourbon to me. And I dislike the different colors for the different ages. Overall, this feels cheaper to me then my old 18yo bottle.
Conclusion: I first bought this bottle when it was in the older style shape (back in 2005 or 6 maybe?). I wasn’t blown away then. Trying it again . . . still decent, but I won’t buy it again. It just isn’t my thing: too much fruit and not enough peat and spice. Still, better then the 12yo of late.
You are welcome to disagree with me. I write this only so that you have a reference to know what I look for in a whisky. And if you can't tell yet the answer is: peat and smoke. Sure, I like complexity and balance. This is one of those that is only a few points away from "buy again." If it were half the cost it is around here ($120 or so) I would probably have it as a regular (it lost a lot of points for price and Aesthetic experience). But as it stands this is not the best Whisky in the World in my book.