Whisky Advocate

Highland Park 21 y/o: buy now!

May 1st, 2009

I first wrote about Highland Park 21 year old here back in December, 2007. I commented how this new whisky, exclusive to Travel Retail, is one of the finest Highland Parks I have ever tasted. The whisky was smartly bottled at 47.5% ABV.

This past week I received a letter from Highland Park’s Global Controller that the whisky’s strength will be dropped to 40% ABV.

First, let me commend Highland Park for taking the high road on this and letting the whisky media know about this ahead of time, rather than us finding about it after the fact. It was very professional of them to handle it this way. But still, I can’t help but be sad about this decision. Here’s the explanation I received in the letter:

We intend to keep the same selection of cask types for the 21 year old and, as with all expressions of Highland Park, the colour will remain entirely natural. However, in order to  protect the character of this variant, a reduction in overall strength will be required; this reflects the relatively lower cask strengths of the whiskies coming from the mid–to late–1980s, the key constituent components for this expression. As a result, the ABV will be reduced from 47.5% to 40%.

So, if you are traveling internationally in the near future, or know someone who is, now is the time to stock up on HP 21 before the strength is dropped.

The letter goes on to say something even more concerning to me:

It is worth pointing out that we are currently looking at the strengths of both Highland Park 25 year old and 30 year old for the same reasons and expect that their strengths may need to  change too.

As you may know, these expressions are also bottled at higher strengths. I fear that lowering these strengths to 40% ABV will also be a detriment to the whisky. Don’t rush out and stock up on 25 and 30 year old HPs (just yet anyway), but I will keep you abreast of any changes to these expressions before they occur.

34 Responses to “Highland Park 21 y/o: buy now!”

  1. Red_Arremer says:

    Not that it’s really makes up for it, but I heard that HP’s dropping the price of those expressions by an amount proportionate to their drops in proof.

    Actually, I did not hear that– I was just daydreaming. What have you heard John? Will the prices stay the same?

  2. John Hansell says:

    There was no mention of pricing. I’ll see what I can find out.

  3. Chris says:

    John, in your opinion is the explanation HP gave to be taken at face value or is there more to it?

  4. Sam S. says:

    An attempt for the supply to last longer in this economy?
    Dilute it down a little? Or am I not understanding.
    HP is my favorite distillery(I enjoy their 18, 25, very rarely 30).
    I was lucky enough to get a bottle of the HP 21 in January from a friend passing through London.
    It’s a wonderful whisky.
    I can only hope that the character doesn’t become dulled by the coming changes.

  5. John Hansell says:

    Chris, what I am taking from the statement is that a significant amount of the casks used to make the bottling are low enough in strength to make it difficult to maintain the 47.5%. They have been pretty honest with me in the past, so I will take their word for it.

    Still, it would have been nice if they tweaked it to 45% or even 43%, rather than all the way down to 40%.

  6. Rich says:

    hmmm… Highland Park 25 at bottle strength…? HP25 is truly a great whisky, but i doubt i would buy it at 43%. there’s a reason they went the other way with the Laphroaig 25.

    would the HP21 be available at O’Hare, for example, or only overseas at Heathrow, etc…?

  7. tom says:

    When you cut whisky proof by that much, you get a lot more whisky. I think that they are in the same boat with everybody else. People are drinking it faster than the stocks of whisky can keep up with. A good problem to have if you are a distiller, not so good for the drinking public.

  8. John Hansell says:

    Rich, I was told it was availble in the US, if you’re heading out of the country (but can’t confirm).

  9. bgulien says:

    It sure makes the stock last longer.
    Don’t forget that the UK tax on alcohol was raised. They need somebody to pay for the saving of sinking banks.
    So diluting can keep the price the same.
    I tend to avoid 40 % abv whiskies, because they taste watery.
    Ever tasted the 40 % 10 yo Laphroaig against the CS 10yo?
    Cask strength is the best, because the decision to add water or not, is totally mine.
    46 % is a minimum of what I will consider.
    Exception of course for old whisky, whose cask strength is near 40%.
    But that won’t taste watery.

  10. sam k says:

    Though I’m not a scotch drinker, I agree with the thread here. There are too many outstanding whisk(e)ys available to spend a lot of dough on 80 proofers. I think any great whiskey starts at a minimum of 43 per cent, and an outstanding spirit at 45 or more.

    Life’s too short.

  11. Alex Cranstoun says:

    HP pricing on 12, 15 & 18 is all going up according to distributor in NY – assume same on older expressions…bummer.

  12. Red_Arremer says:

    sam k– is the pudding really in the proof?

    Drinkers always feel, legitimately, like they’re being gipped when the proofs of their favorite expressions get dropped. (This has happened to quite a few bourbons over the years.) Dropping proofs and keeping the prices the same though, is one thing, and intitially releasing them at low proof and a fair price is another. For instance G&M’s recent Strathisla 44 year old worked beautifully at 40% and is being sold for less than 250$.

    If HP drops the prices on these expressions by an appropriate amount and keeps their profiles in reasonable working order, then that would be fine with me.

    Still though, I suspect that most other HP fans would be angry because higher apv part of their whole appeal has already been established as part of their appeal.

  13. bgulien says:

    Red_Arremer – The Strathisla 44 yo is likely cask strength at 40 %.
    I remember a story from Mark Reynier and Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich, finding an old cask. Remember, this was shortly after buying the distillery.
    And they tasted it and they liked it. It was 40 odd years old. When they tested it it was 40,3 % abv.
    They had to hurry to get it bottled, otherwise it couldn’t be classified as whisky.
    This was one of the best whiskies they ever tasted and of course it was not diluted at all.
    The thing is when you have “young” whisk[e]y who’s strength is above 50 %. Then it is diluted for a certain reason.
    I think it’s to stay within a certain level of price.
    Tobacco-firms used the same trick in Europe.
    They had an attractive price-point and when duty was raised, they just took out a cigarette, or dilute the package (in whisky terms).
    If their story is right then they have to sack their cask buyer, if still in employment, because this points to shitty casks.
    If other distilleries have CS on the market from the eighties as high as 55 %. I just bought a Port Ellen 7th release distilled in 1979 at 53,6 %.
    So something is fishy and this post is too long already. Sorry!

  14. sam k says:

    Hey Red, I’d have to say that I’ve found some acceptable Americans that are 80 proof, but none that are outstanding. Four Roses standard bottling probably comes the closest for me.

    Excellent wording for your initial question, though!

  15. […] Malt Advocate’s John Hansell notes that the Highland Park 21 Year Old is going to drop from 47.5% ABV to 40% ABV. He advises HP fans to buy their bottle at the traditional ABV now while they still can. […]

  16. MrTH says:

    It would be far better to leave each vatting at whatever strength it arrives at, wouldn’t it? Is it really so much more difficult to relabel each batch (45.7%, 43.4%, 44.1%) than to dilute all to a standard 40%?

  17. Neil Fusillo says:

    Alas, no luck for me. Flying out of Atlanta, there is precious little in terms of whisky worth buying at Duty Free. And, as I mostly head to Toronto, I can attest to there not being much more when flying out of Pearson.

    None of these great ‘available in Travel Retail only’ whiskies I hear about are ever actually available in any of the travel retails in which I seem to find myself.

    To me, that’s more a disappointment than the drop in ABV of a whisky I’m liable never to see. It’s ALL rather mythical on my side.

  18. John Hansell says:

    Mr TH: not a bad idea. Nothing wrong with batch variation–especially if it will help bring up the ABV.

    Neil, I have seen it in some places, and not in others. Plus, I’ve heard the whisky has been very popular, which also might be the reason for not being able to find it. Good luck searching. (I snapped up my bottle shortly after it was relased.)

  19. John Hansell says:

    Red, regarding your query about the price, here’s the response from HP’s Global Controller:

    “The 21yo is not widely listed as it is a relatively scarce single malt and the distributors & retailers are content with the current pricing. We have no plans to deviate from our ongoing pricing strategy.”

    So, there’s your answer. No increase. No decrease.

  20. Red_Arremer says:

    Thanks, John. So Product quality is being lowered, price is staying the same. Will it hurt sales? I hope so. Maybe that would discourage other companies from pulling this kind of thing.

  21. […] Highland Park 21 : This is the bottle that the same John Hansell (how does he get such great access to news and tastes ,hmm?) said was the best Highland Park he’s had as well as urged us to purchase because they’re taking the ABV percentage down.  Scotch Chix also have something to say on it. […]

  22. Rich says:

    o.k., John… slightly off topic here.

    i just scheduled an impromptu trip to Scotland next week, including a full weekend tour of Islay. (my first visit there; i’m very psyched!)

    my question is, do you how many bottles i can bring back with me? my understanding is (and i don’t remember where i heard this), you can bring back only two bottles in your checked baggage. is that true, and if so, can i also nab a couple bottles in Edinburgh travel retail and carry them on the plane, for four bottles total? or is there an overall limit of bottles i can bring back with me?

    again, sorry for the slightly off-topic question, but i’ve had little luck with Google searches and the U.S. Customs website.


  23. John Hansell says:

    Yes Rich, next time just email me privately on off-topic items. Maybe I’ll make this topic a new posting in the future.

    But to your question: I think it’s something like two bottles (technically). But I usually bring more than that back and don’t have problems with Customs. And if you do, you can just pay the Duty on them, which I don’t think is excessive.

  24. Rich says:

    o.k., just got back from Edinburgh and Islay, and managed to pick up an HP21 47.5% at travel retail. there were only a few bottles left, at least on the shelf. (haven’t opened it yet…)

    also nabbed a Talisker 57′ North, and my friend just emailed to say he picked up a Laphroaig Triple Wood for me, so it looks like i’ve managed to acquire my top three travel retail bottlings.

    thanks for the tip! i look forward to trying the HP21…

  25. Jason says:

    I do not consider the drop in ABV to necessarily reflect in a diminishing flavor profile. As others point out, it has more to do with stocks used in the spirit having different ABV.

    Great site, just stumbled on it now.

  26. John Hansell says:

    Welcome aboard Jason!

  27. Dale says:

    Am sitting, sipping a newly bought 21 yr. HP now! Bought it at Fort Erie Duty Free for $99 Canadian!

    More citrus nose than the 12, but with dark chocolate on the sides of my tongue.

    A great buy!

  28. Todd says:

    This is an old thread, but I just passed through Heathrow Terminal 5 last night and picked up a Highland Park 21 for 65 GBP at World of Whiskies. It is at 40% abv. I’ll open it in a few weeks and pass on comments. I’m optimistic, one of my favorite HPs was the vintage 1977 Bicentenary bottling, which was still very interesting at 40% – I wish producers would stick to 46% for all premium category whiskies, you can always add water.

  29. Dino says:

    I too picked up a bottle of the Highland Park 21 year 40% yesterday. Really have not been able to find any reviews online, and given that this was the only time I have been in the U.K., decided to take the plunge. I do wish they sold some of the smaller-sized bottles; it would be wonderful to do a personal Highland Park tasting comparison rather than rely on the tongues of others.

  30. John Hansell says:

    Todd, Dino: Let us know your thoughts after you taste it. Thanks!

  31. Dale says:

    Left a comment after buying my first bottle, which is now half done. I don’t drink much, but appreciate it on the couple of nights a week I have a finger. I still think this the best scotch I’ve ever tasted!

    Got a great surprise when a friend dropped off two more bottles for me as a gift.

    I do note that all of my 21 is 40 percent, and not the 47.

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