Whisky Advocate

Review: Two Highland Park Vintages (1964 & 1968)

December 1st, 2009

Two new Highland Park Vintages
There are two new vintages of Highland Park being released. (The older 1964 Vintage will not be imported to the U.S.) While the vintages are both very good, they are distinctively different, as you will see in my review. (Note that prices are in Pounds.)

You say you can’t afford these? No worries. You can’t go wrong with Highland Park 18 year old, at a much more affordable price. And if you can afford these (you lucky dog, you), then start saving up for the next offering: Highland Park 50 year old! Details to follow soon.

 

1968 bottle RGB 72dpiHighland Park, 1968 vintage, 45.6%, £2,250
A marriage of eight casks (seven hogshead, one sherry butt). A whisky in excellent shape for its age. Very clean and bright on the palate, with no excessive oak. Notes of lemon tart, Clementine, plum, honeyed vanilla, and polished oak, peppered with clove, soft mint, marshmallow and subtle toasted coconut. Clinging, mouth-coating finish.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 93

 

 

 

 

 

 

1964 bottle RGB 72dpiHighland Park, 1964 vintage, 42.2%, £3,750
A marriage of two casks (refill hogsheads). Significantly darker in color than the 1968 vintage. Darker (and more serious) in personality too. Red berries (strawberry, raspberry), rhubarb, plum, oak sap, vanilla bean, smoldering peat, coffee grounds, toasted almond, and dusty malt. The finish is long and contemplative, with polished leather, juicy oak and tellicherry pepper.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 94

19 Responses to “Review: Two Highland Park Vintages (1964 & 1968)”

  1. Tom Troland says:

    John,

    I’ve been sampling distilled spirits and reading reviews of them for years. With all due respect to reviewers such as yourself, I have concluded that the descriptions of aroma are essentially meaningless. At least to anyone other than the reviewer. For example, your review of Highland Park 1964 contains 13 descriptors of the aroma. How could anyone imagine what a combination of 13 disparate aromas would be like? Plus, many readers (like me) have little idea what juicy oak smells like, or dusty malt or tellicherry pepper, much less how these aromas would smell when combined. In short, I believe that spirit reviews like these, despite the best efforts of the reviewers, convey very little useful information to the reader. The problem is not with the reviewers. The problem is with our language that is incapable of describing aromas very accurately. There are, no doubt, tens of thousands of aromatic compounds that can combine in various ways to create different aromas. Our language is at a loss to account for them. Imagine, for example, describing strawberry aroma to someone who has never experienced it. You could say it is something like raspberry, but different. How different? Art critics have an easier time. They can describe a painting in such a way that someone else reading their words would recognize the painting itself. Not so with spirits critics. Nonetheless, I read spirits reviews with interest. And I notice that when two reviewers describe the same spirit, they usually use completely different descriptors to do so. Spirits reviewers like you have a hard job. But, as the chiche goes, someone has to do it!

  2. WhiskyNotes says:

    I strongly disagree. Indeed, you can’t image exactly how the combination of 13 aromas would be like, but you do get an idea and a general profile. If I don’t like excessive oak influence, sulphur, peat or whatever (not telicherry pepper but pretty basic things) then at least I’m warned if they are mentioned by several reviewers.

    Sure, we’re all different and we all make different associations, but as long as you don’t follow reviewers blindly (or at least get to know their preferences), I find reviews helpful in the current plethora of whisky releases.

    Anyway, this has nothing to do with these specific Highland Parks. Which I think are very interesting… based on the flavour description.

  3. Tom says:

    I agree WN. It’s possible to experience a huge array of aromas and flavors in whisky. The key is to be deliberate and take your time when experiencing the whisky. Will you get 13 aromas in one sniff? -Never, it’s a deliberate, lengthy and hugely enjoyable process.

    John has an excellent nose and I greatly appreciate his reviews when trying to make tough decisions on what to buy on a limited budget faced with a staggering number of options. Highland Park is always a safe bet though, my favorite distiller for sure.

  4. John Hansell says:

    I’ll be honest with everyone, as I always try to be.

    I always feel that I’m walking a thin line when I review whiskies. I generally try to keep my reviews straight-forward and easy to understand. Most often, I don’t publish everything I smell because I fear that I will alienate people. There are other reviewers who I think go way off the deep end–much more than I ever will.

    But still, if I keep my reviews too simple, I think people will not take me legitimately. If I told you that something smells like whisky, what good is that?

    I’m always trying to find the middle ground. This means that I will always disappoint someone. But in the long run, I hope that you see that I’m really working hard to do the best I can for the largest percentage of whisky drinkers.

  5. MrTH says:

    Tom, I’ll disagree with you that HP is a safe bet. It’s a favorite of mine, too, but I’ve had some really weird ones.

    John, bottlings like these always make me wonder…there’s such a limited amount of it, but all of the reviewers seem to get a sample. Do you have any idea what percentage of the whisky produced gets sent out as samples for review? I wonder about this, too, when I hear of Richard Paterson pouring drams of 62yo Dalmore down various people’s throats.

  6. Chris Riesbeck says:

    The “spirit” of a review is to provide the map by which you can draw your own conclusions. The suggestive powers of nosing a taste of whiskey along side a professional review is incredibly important. As a professional in the spirits industry for a number of years the assistance of having a review and then working through a tasting drastically increases the consumers ability to relate to a particular sensory experience. A review simply ‘declutters’ the mind when approaching a complex aroma for a whiskey.

  7. John Hansell says:

    Mr TH, I think it’s fair to say that the standard HP releases are a safe bet. The Single Cask bottlings they did for specialty retailers varied greatly. (Maybe that’s why the discontinued the practice.) Still some were stunning.

    Regarding review samples, when it comes to rare bottlings, I suspect that some companies just sacrifice one bottle and send 50 or 100 ml samples to a short list whisky writers.

  8. MrTH says:

    Thanks, John. I’d agree that HP 12/18/25 are safe bets indeed–for me, the 25 is a classic of understated excellence (if that makes any sense). But I’ve definitely had some oddballs, both IB (Blackadder Old Man of Hoy springs to mind) and OB (Ambassador’s Cask #2 was just unconscionable). I’m willing to accept the risk of single-cask variation, but I can’t escape the notion that a lot of really excellent single-cask bottlings would be possible, if only distilleries like HP were willing to make the effort to spread them around to the various markets.

  9. Mark says:

    Mr Troland’s point need not include the strong claim that the aroma terms are “meaningless.” John’s honesty shows in part that one of his aims is accessibility across a range of whisky drinkers. In that context, I find his reviews clearly helpful; they introduce the terrain, so to speak, which we then have to walk ourselves, if we want and are able.

    Still, I remember reading an interview with a chemist who specializes in whisky. He spoke of using two languages, one for his public work with the SMWS, and one in his professional context. The latter was, not surprisingly, much more sophisticated and precise. So, when Mr Troland writes, “The problem is with our language that is incapable of describing aromas very accurately,” he has a point. It does not, however, follow that more accessible terms are meaningless.

    John, one question, and I apologize if answering it requires restating something I missed in the past: When tasting, how long do you typically nose the whisky before that initial sip? In my experience, the list of aromas develops over time as one picks out characteristics. (I think over the last few years, at least when I’m trying to take the dram seriously, it’s at least 3-5 minutes before it crosses the lips; this gives something like ample time to identify aspects.) Thank you!

  10. [...] Hansell reviews the Highland Park 1964 and 1968 vintage releases.  He likes them both, but hints that you’d do just as well (and save a few thousand bucks) [...]

  11. Tom Troland says:

    WhiskyNotes is absolutely right. There are some basic aroma elements that most consumers will recognize – peat, oak, and sulfur. Add fruitiness, spiciness, vanilla, perhaps a few more. So reviewers convey actual information to their readers when using common terms such as these. But dusty malt, dusty grain, Play-Doh? Really. I’ve even seen a reviewer describe a whiskey as buxom. What does that mean? I certainly do not doubt John Hansell’s honesty and sincerity. But I think he has the right idea. If reviewers don’t use a lot of words to describe a spirit, some readers may not take the reviews seriously. Even though many of the words convey little if any useful information. Perhaps some consumers grade spirits reviewers the way lazy teachers might grade student essays – by the inch.

  12. John Hansell says:

    Tom, I really do try to keep my flavor descriptors fairly straight-forward. Sometimes I smell something peculiar in a whisky and I point it out. (Play-doh, for example). If you don’t like the more esoteric descriptors, just ignore them and focus on the more basic ones, which I also offer.

    I also try to provide some general summary notes, which I did at the beginning of this review, which I think adds perspective.

    (PS While I don’t think I have ever used the term, “Buxom” to me means full-bodied, lively.)

    Mark, I go back and forth: I nose, then taste, add water, nose again, taste again, etc.

  13. John Hansell says:

    I forgot to mention in my initial post that Highland Park is giving away one bottle of the 1968. You can enter the competition on their website. Here’s the link.

  14. Red_Arremer says:

    To join the discussion of the theory of reviewing:

    Language swears to us that it can transform most anything into a paragraph, even a good dram. It’s doubtful, however, that anyone who really believed this could be a good reviewer. Good reviewers understand the limitations of language and work within them. The best any reviewer do is draw the reader on with hints, which is all that genuine reviews are.

    Also, Apologies Mr. TH, I can’t help myself but to come to the defense of Old Man of Hoy. Man that was an excellent bottling! Really one of the most individualistic and savory whiskies I’ve ever had. The notes of chutney, semisweet dill pickle, olive, lemon– My bottle’s almost empty, my dealer can’t get me any more and I don’t know what to do.

    But then again, it’s not nescessarily the type of thing that someone who really liked the standard HP line would go for.

  15. Red_Arremer says:

    Nice note about HP 18 btw.

  16. Tom Troland says:

    John,

    My comments about spirits reviews notwithstanding, I enjoy visiting your site frequently, and I recently took you up on the two-for-one offer to subscribe to Malt Advocate. I look forward to receiving my first issue! Your site and Chuck Cowdery’s blog are by far the most informative sites on the web for whiskey information.

  17. sam k says:

    Play-doh is definitely a strange one, but there’s no mistaking that aroma. When I read “Play-doh” I know exactly what John means!

  18. patrick says:

    With all these ultra whiskies, I am wondering how many get sold out after 1 year. For these HP, I am struggling to understand their pricing strategy. When the 1958 was released, it was £990 and it took ages to be sold out. Now, the 1964 and 1968 are a vatting of many casks, and still priced at the same level as a single cask or 50% more than the black bowmore.

    To come back to Mr Th comment, if no one would review then, no much would be said about them and they would have a tough time selling them.

    As mention by John, how much better are they from a 18 yo or a 30 Yo?

  19. John Hansell says:

    Patrick, You make some great points. It shows you how much the price of older whiskies have sky-rocketed. Now, I will tell you: I’ve tasted the 1958 and I like the two new releases better. But, having said this, I think that the HP 18 and 30 (both wonderful whiskies), are similar in quality. (I rated the 30 year old a 94.) So, if that’s all you can afford, don’t worry too much. You are doing fine!

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