Let me start by just reiterating that I love, love, love the tasting bar concept at the LCBO. I may not be the biggest fan of everything they do, but being able to sample some great wine and spirits for a very reasonable price has been amazing. The most recent sample on that list: Highland Park 21.
I should also preface this review by saying that I love Highland Park whiskies (for the most part). When I say that I’ll never own this bottle, it’s not because I wouldn’t want to, but rather that I could never foresee myself having (roughly) $500 kicking around that I’d be willing to throw at a single bottle of whisky.
In any event, I’m a huge fan of Highland Park 12 as an everyday sipper scotch, and the 18 year old is just great, if a little on the pricey side. Until recently though, I’d not had the chance to try a Highland Park as old as the 21 year old. What did I think? Well, at the risk of spoiling the review, and in a single word: WOW.
Highland Park 21 Year (Islands) – 47.5% ABV – $474.95 (LCBO)
Nose: Oh this is just lovely… Even at 47.5% it’s gentle, but you can sense the complexity underlying its subtlety. The nose is lightly sweet with toffee and malty cereal notes at the fore, but those most basic of notes only slightly precede an array of tasting notes. The smokey quality is there, but not at all what I associate with younger Highland Park offerings. This is far more gentle and more akin to the light waft of dying campfire embers. This is joined by a rich tobacco note, marmalade citrus, some dark, cooked stone fruits, rich chocolate and old leather. This will not punch you in the face, but a little patience will more than reward you.
Palate: All that you might expect, though perhaps not quite as weighty and viscous as you might want. The sweetness is there initially, no question. Something slightly honeyed, with the toffee and milk chocolate notes from the nose. That fades quite quickly, however, and gives way to the cooked dark fruit notes (think compote). That gentle smokiness just lingers behind everything and blends so wonderfully with the leathery hint that tickles the back of you tongue. The prototypical heathery note that I associate with Highland Park is there, although very subdued, as is a very light and subtle spice, along the lines of cinnamon and ginger.
Finish: Once everything else fades away, I’m left with the gentle smoke, the subtle spice, the chocolate undertones, and the sense that I really should be sipping this in a Victorian manor house somewhere.
Conclusion: Man, this stuff is good. When I think of what I expect the stereotypical scotch experience to be (in a good way), this is it. It’s subtle and complex if you choose to really analyze what’s going on, but it’s also just delicious and enjoyable if you don’t want to think about things too much. A little sweet, a little smoky, and a little savory, it’s just got a bit of everything. I’m opting not to give this bottle a score only because I had a single dram and only a short time to enjoy it, but that experience was simply great.
I strongly suspect I will be going back to the same tasting bar to give this bottle another try. If that second experience matches the first, this may well be the first $500 bottle of whisky I would even consider investing in.
Why didn’t I pick a cheaper hobby?