It’s time to take a look at our Whisky of the Month for March.
We have decided to go with a bottle from one of Scotland’s most renowned distilleries, a single cask whisky that was produced specifically for the Japanese market (making it rather rare) – The Highland Park 19 Year Old by Gordon & MacPhail (1995).
This whisky was created in 1995 and then aged in a refill sherry hogshead cask. It was bottled and released some 19 years later after the cask had imparted a whole array of wonderful notes on the spirit. It was bottled at a cask strength of 55.9%.
Highland Park’s signature sea breeze and subtle smokiness are the first things that you will notice. They are soft on the nose and by no means overpowering. Even for those who aren’t the biggest fans of peaty drams, the initial smells that come from this whisky will surely be enjoyed.
After a few sniffs, some dark fruits make themselves known. Blackberries and sherried raspberries seem to be the most apparent and if you look hard you can find a little chocolatey raisin in the background (not the kind you buy for 35p from the corner shop, but a much richer, more elegant version).
The palate brings a little more smoke (again this is soft) followed by a subtle sweetness that is reminiscent of a mild whisky jam (if you have never tried whisky jam, do it now!).
The maritime notes in this bottle are very well restrained and they balance nicely with the subtle sweetness and (slightly) boozy fruits, but they are at their most apparent on the finish.
A saltiness creeps in and lingers for a good amount of time before leaving your mouth feeling fresh and ready to go again.
So, with that out the way, let’s look at those behind this wonderful dram.
Highland Park is Scotland’s most northerly distillery, based on the Isle of Orkney. It sits just half a mile further north than the Scapa distillery, but there is much more to Highland Park than this.
It was founded all the way back in 1798 by Magnus Eunson, a smuggler who managed to avoid the limelight (as he would have liked) until more recent times, when his story became the stuff of legend. And a legend he is. After all, he is the man who made this distillery and since then they have produced some of the finest whisky to ever pass our lips.
Highland Park is one of just a few Scottish distilleries who malt their own barley and they are enormously proud of this fact. It means they have ultimate control over the spirit they are producing. This has allowed them to create a wide range of incredible expressions that the distillers have nurtured from the moment the spirits are born, to the moment they hit the bottle.
Highland Park whisky often features a good dose of strong sea breeze (it’s awfully windy up north) combined with hints of heathery peat smoke, which comes from the rather unique process of blending locally cut peat and heather together before using it to heat their kiln (in turn flavouring their malted barley).
Gordon & MacPhail
So we’ve looked at the distillery, but they were not the only ones involved in creating our Whisky of the Month. This is, after all, an indie bottling.
Gordon & MacPhail are easily one of the most well-known, respected and loved bottlers in the business today. They lay claim to an absolutely enormous expression list, but they are not simply about quantity. It is a testament to their hard work and tasting abilities that nearly all of their whiskies are an absolute delight.
It’s really no wonder that they have got this whisky bottling business down to a tee – they have been bottling drams from over 70 different distilleries since they were founded in 1895. That’s over 100 years of experience. If they didn’t know their stuff by now, we would be very worried, but thankfully they have become true experts in the industry, and a company that your average whisky drinker and whisky buffs alike can put their trust in.
This particular expression from Highland Park and Gordon & MacPhail delivers everything that you would expect from two of the most successful and experienced names in the business.
The bottlers no doubt took their time tasting hundreds of different casks (as they are famous for) before eventually landing on this one (a single cask bottling).
One of the first things you will notice when looking at this bottle is the words “Exclusively Bottled for Japan Import System” across the bottom of the label.
By this point we are all aware of Japan’s love for Scotch, and whiskies that are exclusive to their market are nothing new, but they are rare and often highly collectible (as is the case here).
The spirit inside is a vibrant golden colour with a slight amber hue that becomes more visible under dimmer lighting. This isn’t one of those bottles that you could look at and know that it was matured in an ex-Sherry butt, it appears a good deal lighter than other 19 Year Olds that have received the same treatment.
Fortunately this doesn’t signify anything with regard to the taste. This whisky is absolutely bursting with a range of notes that you will have to take your time to fully understand.
There is a lot to be explored in this full and delicious whisky. That, combined with the fact that it is rare, collectible and comes from two whisky experts that we know and love, makes this our Whisky of the Month for March.