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This 20-year-old Highland Park IB is my second experience with a Signatory bottling that tastes milder than its OB rough equivalent, despite a higher ABV. It also has a flavor profile that’s somewhat unexpected. Whereas my Caol Ila Signatory ’99 tastes like a lighter version of the standard C.I. 12 yo, this HP tastes more like…well, a Caol Ila. On the whole, it’s got that characteristic HP all-roundedness, but it’s still reminiscent of a Caol Ila with some sweetness added and some smoke subtracted.
This bottle, #502 from sherry butt cask #15084, was distilled on May 21, 1991 and bottled on my daughter’s 13th birthday (July 7, 2011). Review based on my fifth or sixth dram from a bottle opened about three months.
Nose: The main element is a very floral and fruity peat. Not flowers, fruits, and peat, but all three merged into a single element. This is Orkney peat, a tamer beast than the Islay peat we all know and love. There’s plenty of sweetness (lemons, apples, cola, raisins, and some nice rich malt), but only mere traces of the sherry-cask influence. Very slight negative elements are a little too much wax and something like a harsh, gasoline quality. But, again, they’re slight, and it’s a pleasant nose overall.
Palate: The arrival is the component most reminiscent of standard HP (the 18 yo, to be exact): smoke, honey, vanilla, and apples. Turns a bit one-dimensional in the development, but the layer of mild smoke that remains is not unpleasant. The finish brings things full circle, as it returns to the dominant nose components of sweetness and flowery peat.
A nice experience overall, but I think it might be even nicer at full cask strength. It’s not particularly heavy, it’s very drinkable neat, and its array of familiar flavors will satisfy any malthead. But if you’ve got an extra $20 to spend, the classic HP 18 remains the more rewarding experience.