DISTILERY: Highland Park
AGED: Orkney (Highland Park) and Speyside (G&M)
CASK NUMBER: 1501
NUMBER OF BOTTLES: 270
CASK TYPE: Refill American Hogshead; Second Fill Ex-Bourbon
DISTILLATION DATE: July 13, 1995
BOTTLED MONTH: September 2017
AGE: 22 years
Highland Park 22 Year Old by Gordon and MacPhail Single Malt Scotch (Cask Strength)
Exclusively bottled for Taylor & Taylor Whiskey Co. and Norfolk W&S
Matured in ex-bourbon and bottled at cask strength, this is a rare portrait of Highland Park’s distillate character without the influence of sherry. This whisky is remarkably complex but incredibly easy drinking, particularly when you consider 55.4% ABV. Reminiscent of the 1999 bottling by Gordon & MacPhail, but with a little more age.
This Highland Park single cask distinguishes itself, both in balance and depth of flavor. After 22 years, the peating is really just a dusting of gentle sea smoke. The light smoky breeze whispers of tangerine, soft wood spice and subtle butterscotch along with the remnants of autumn. Imagine walking through an apple orchard after the final green apples have fallen. The sun melts the morning frost, releasing a light, grassy freshness. When you add a drop of water to this whisky, the citrus mellows and the green apple notes transition into sweater milder red apples and pears.
This whisky is stunningly complex but incredibly easy to drink, particularly when you consider 55.4% ABV.
However, what really drew us to this whisky was the experience of having an old cask strength Highland Park that was distillate driven. The official bottlings (OBs) are generally aged in first and second-fill sherry casks. Don’t get us wrong the OBs are marvelous, but the extractive sherry casks tend to mask the natural texture and spices found in Highland Park’s raw spirit.
Conversely, this single cask retains a mouth coating oiliness and crackling spice notes that light the palate up with almond, black cherry and a flickering clove finish.
This bottling struck the Highland Park chord and its character resonated for 22 years.
Rescuing The Cask from Kentucky
Getting our hands on this whisky was a heist. Cask strength, single casks of 22 year Highland Park aren’t just sitting around warehouses waiting for a buyer. This particular one was earmarked for a top-5 retailer in the country, but we were given a small window to buy this cask before it hit the open market.
Picking private casks is not always about the quality of your palate. Sometimes you do have a lot of choices. Other times you must commit to buying the whisky before you receive any samples. On rare occasions you are offered something really special and rare and you to buy it sight unseen.
In this particular instance, much more important than our palate was our relationship with Gordon & MacPhail. This cask was offered to a big retailer in Kentucky. They chose a different, younger whisky they believed would cater better to their bourbon consumers. This cask should have gone to Binny’s or K&L or some other large chain next. However, Joe Swanson, head of imports for Gordon & MacPhail, and the Urquharts knew we were in the market for something to kick off our program, something of the fireworks nature. So before opening it up to other retail giants we got a call from Joe.
“Gentlemen, I think I might have something for you.” And just like that we had our window to buy a 22-year Highland Park single cask. Even better it was Highland Park in ex-bourbon with a similar profile to the 1999, 15yr single cask G&M released in 2015, a majestic whisky.
The kicker… we had 24 hours to make a decision and there wasn’t an opportunity to try it. Having just solidified our relationship with Norfolk Wine & Spirits, we called owner Bikrim Singh and asked if he was willing to buy the cask with us. We wanted to work with Bikram because he is the single best purveyor of independent bottlers in New England and he has cultivated a group of passionate and highly intelligent whisky enthusiasts. His answer of course was, “let’s do it.”
Taking a Risk
While you might think this was a huge risk to take, there were several reasons we were confident it would be a great cask.
Gordon & MacPhail is highly selective in what single casks they make available to the U.S. market. Taking into consideration this cask was intended for one of the biggest retailers in the country, we knew G&M picked it carefully. Their reputation with an important account was at stake and more importantly their reputation with a large contingent of single malt enthusiasts was also at stake.
Additionally, Gordon & MacPhail is the gold standard of independent bottlers. Having stewarded casks for over a century, Gordon & MacPhail has more experience than anyone in aging the widest variety of single malts.
The clincher was the whisky’s profile. Having had and loved Highland Park from Gordon & MacPhail in ex-bourbon before, an opportunity to bring an even older cask, exemplary of the Highland Park distillate, was something we could not pass on. Weeks after we purchased the cask, we all sat down and sampled the cask. It was resplendent.
So while we named this cask “Leap of Faith” in honor of buying it sight unseen, we really could have called it “Calculated Risk.”
Through the smoke did shine,
A flavor true, an essence divine,
From Orkney to Spey,
From your glass to mine,
A Leap of Faith is all it takes.