Many whisky producers take great pride in their apparent heritage, and Highland Park is no exception. Their website offers a wealth of reading material detailing their origins, with a considerable chunk driving home a connection to Vikings. This association has become positively pervasive in their branding, right down to nicknaming expressions in their lineup with that very word. At this point it’s a wonder they haven’t partnered with Amon Amarth for a special release—I, for one, am down.
Beyond that, folks can uncover plenty of information about Highland Park’s whisky production, including the climate that helps influence it. The Highland Park distillery is among the 20 inhabited islands of the 70 or so total comprising Orkney. It’s one of Scotland’s northernmost facilities, out where winds can reach over 100MPH in the Winter. Between this and the long-established, heather-rich peat used for their whisky, Highland Park certainly appear to be a note-worthy distillery. And I’m going to put that to the test based on a sample pour of their 15-Year single malt, “Viking Heart.”
Although this isn’t the first time I’ve tried Highland Park, it’ll be my first review for one of their products. Perhaps the most unique thing about Viking Heart is its ceramic decanter. The justification for this is how whisky was stored one to two centuries ago: in earthenware vessels. Highland Park reached out to Wade Ceramics to create a modern take on one of those decanters, resulting in a “lead-free porcelain decanter…100% food safe, glazed inside and out, and embossed with the lion and serpent design that appears on many of our glass bottles.” As for the whisky itself, it’s aged in a combination of mainly sherry-seasoned European oak, as well as sherry-seasoned American oak and refill casks. It’s bottled at 44% ABV and retails for around $110.
Nose: Sweet and savory. Fig, possibly dates, and a touch of salt for good measure. Rich but not indulgent. Apple juice backbone with a light breeze of butterscotch. Bit of musty malt in the background.
Palate: Light-medium. Fairly tangible presence of barrel char and smoke. Raisins, honey, and toffee. Gets a bit dry and coarse as it sits.
Finish: More throat-focused. Hint of cream and honey develop, joined by caramel and lingering raisin. Maybe whispers of brine and smoke, but they never come into their own.
I’ll admit that I didn’t look up the price on Highland Park 15-Year until after recording my somewhat minimal notes. We’ll touch on that momentarily, but it’s worth setting the stage upfront. The whisky itself is roughly what I’d expect given its composition. If anything, I found it more tame than aggressive, despite noting how it gets a bit dry and coarse. Some whiskies absolutely benefit from trying over multiple sessions, and I could see Highland Park 15-Year being an example of that. So a review based on a mere 2 ounce sample may not do this bottle justice.
I still have no desire to purchase one. The overall experience starts out good but slips into mere decency over time. Put simply, Highland Park 15-Year fails to inspire. I hoped the combination of elements surrounding the distillery with a fair age statement in seasoned casks would result in a far more interesting experience. And while it’s certainly elevated when compared to more ordinary bottles that cost less, I can’t say it justifies the cost. Compounding my disappointment is how the aforementioned peat and environmental factors feel like an afterthought. In fact, much of this whisky felt like an afterthought. So much so that by the time I finished my sample, I felt like Jeremy Jahn’s after he says, “you’re not going to remember [x movie] in t-minus [x amount of time].”