Scent: Bit-o-honey, light smoke, caramel, dried cut grass, Asian pear, cumin, buttered toast. In the mouth, this whisky reveals more sweetness that borders on cloying. Over some fruit, the smoke rises to the tip of the tongue and there is a hint of peat but not much. On the finish, I get some coffee, dark chocolate and a little oak, along with something like sea mist and the haunting ghost of something like peat.
Even though the above review sounds pleasant enough, I feel as though Highland Park's 12 and 18 have slipped a few notches over the last half decade. The 15 has remained consistent and I find that in many ways I like it better than its older and younger siblings today as a result, whereas I used to favor the 18 as a great deal for the money. In my town, a bottle of the 15 is $90 American, which seems a bit steep for what you get, however.
I don't buy bottles of 12 any longer, nor the 18. I had a little bottle of 18 left in my cabinet, and so I brought it out to taste as a way to usher in my birthday today. This whisky sample was poured in a bar a week and a half ago from a glass that I didn't want to drink on premises (a fairly stingy shot poured into a giant tumbler in a loud bar that ended up not suiting my mood). I had been curious how the 18 tasted these days. My initial impression of the 18 in the bar was worse than here at home. The bottle was opened for my order and the whisky in my glass, despite its cavernous dimensions, had not yet breathed enough to open up and offer its best impressions.
This sample of the Highland Park 18 smelled and tasted pretty much as I suspected it would. And it was priced very high in the glass for what I got.
I think the An Cnoc 22, which is about the same price as the HP 18, is far more for the money, and in the same basic ballpark, admittedly without the hint of peat and smoke.
In my town, the An Cnoc 22 costs $150 and the HP18 costs $140, a mere ten dollar difference. This said, oddly enough, the An Cnoc 18 costs $180, a figure that I find preposterous even though I have not tasted it. At a price like that, I won't be buying a bottle and An Cnoc never finds its way into many bars in town, so I doubt I will ever taste this broth. I noticed online that WhiskyIsrael liked it a little better than the 22. On the other hand, Christopher Null at Drink Hacker gave it a B-, which is a very low mark indeed on his scale (he tends rarely to go below a B for malts in this category). Recently, he gave HP Dark Origins and A-, for instance. If anything, Null tends to overrate whiskies, so that's yet another black mark in my book, along with a prohibitive price.
As always, Highland Park 18 covers all of the bases with a heroic swing and crack of the bat, catapulting the senses from sweet to peat but this time only a little toe hits the bags.
The old Highland Park 18 evidently was a tough act to follow, even for Highland Park.
As for the 12, I also liked that better back around five or six years ago. Still, I have ordered the 12 in bars now and again when the only other scotches to choose from are the likes of lower echelon Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, or Bowmore Legend, which happens all too often in bars and restaurants (unfortunately without even the HP12). I would rather order a glass of water than Glenlivet 12. I'm sorry if somebody out there loves the Livet 12, it's just not my thing.
As for HP 18, I would drink it gladly at a friend's house, and my contribution to the conversation would be respectfully animated as a result. Another pleaser that is not a "wow" whisky is the Tomintoul 21. Not great, but very nice if and when it is offered. Like the HP 18, there is not a lot to dislike in the Tomintoul 21. Last I checked, it was about forty dollars cheaper than the HP 18. A great whisky for parties with drinkers that admire labels more than noses and palates, but certainly know to steer clear from a bad whisky when they taste one. As for my own personal collection, I own a bottle of An Cnoc 22. Would I buy a bottle of the 21 year old Toul for 100 bucks? Yes, I would.