Before kicking off this review, for full clarity, these samples were graciously provided by Forte Mare (@thefortemare) and Highland Park (@HighlandParkWhiskey). The whisky isn’t mine, but as always, the words and opinions are all me! Also, I always want to stress that I am not here to influence you one way or the other. Look at me as some sort of spiritual guide that can provide a
With that out of the way, let’s do it to it!
Today we are talking the exclusive Highland Park Single Cask bottles. For a quick lesson on single casks, for those of you that may not know, a single cask whisky is whisky that has been taken from one individual cask and bottled. There is no blending of casks here, so what you see is what you get. There is no guessing game to the cask proportions, age, true color, and so on and so forth. Single cask whisky, to me, is the absolute cream of the crop. When bottled at cask strength and non-chill filtered you are getting whisky in its absolute purist form, the way it should be presented and drank. Now I know it isn’t economically feasible for all whisky to be presented as such, so when you do find a single cask whisky, well, it is truly something special.
The Highland Park single cask program is going through a bit of a resurgence right now and is truly a labor of love for the Highland Park crew. Each of the casks is hand-selected by Gordon Motion, Highland Park’s Master Whisky Maker, and is quite exclusive. From what I have heard there are only ~15 casks for the entire United States and a handful of others for the International market. Assuming that the International market gets an equal amount of casks at around 525 bottles per cask then we are talking maybe 16,000 bottles total… for the entire PLANET EARTH.
Side note: Don’t quote me on that number as honestly, it was an uneducated guess.
The point is, these are fairly exclusive bottles that are equally in high demand! Does the whisky match-up to its exclusiveness? We will find out in a moment…
A quick background on our favorite Viking distillery, Highland Park was founded in 1798 and holds the title of the furthest North distillery in Scotland. Highland Park is also one of the few distilleries that malt some of its own barley themselves and is known for their lovely, light, and aromatic smoke profile with their whiskies. However, Highland Park peat is much different than the Islay peat as their’s has a lot of Scottish heather in it, which gives it that more subtle floral smoke. I always recommend them as a gateway drug for those that are interested in diving into the world of peat before jumping right into the Lagavulins, Ardbegs, etc. etc. For myself, some Highland Park whiskies can come off as almost too light for my big bold masochist self, but when they turn up the abv even slightly, man their whiskies f****** rule. With that said, let’s get to the reviews!
All three of these whiskies are cask strength, no color added, and non-chill filtered
Cask #3246: Nor’Easter
Age: 15 year
Cask: Refill Sherry Butt
Bottles: 546 bottles @ $225
Color: Golden Amber
Nose: A light smoke of burning heather. Honey and damp hay – a little sweet, a little funky, a little smokey. On the back end is a medicinal saline sprayed oak.
Palate: Sweet custard tarts, dried florals and a spoonful of raw honey, and earthy grains
Finish: The finish is incredibly creamy, a sweet cream like flavor. Tart and bitter with some nice exotic spices and more florals.
Overall: If I didn’t know any better I would think that this had spent its time in an ex-bourbon cask, and admittedly, I kind of wish that was the case. The sherry cask just feels a bit spent, which made the whisky come off in a weird middle ground. Kind of sherry, kind of oaky, and kind of not my cup of tea.
Cask #6313: Helluland
Total Wine Exclusive
Age: 13 year
Cask: Refill Sherry Puncheon
Bottles: 510 bottles @ $200
Color: Burnished orange.
Nose: The nose begins with sweet red cinnamon candies. Once you get through a brief burst of alcohol there is a fairly predominant smoke on the nose. Dried strawberries with some fresh coastal greenery. The whisky was a bit intense on the nose at first but opens up exclusively, total Highland Park on the nose.
Palate: Tart cherry jam and shortbread cookies dusted with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. A very lovely perfumey smoke from burning driftwood, with a nice coastal feel. Not overly oily, and just a very lively palate.
Finish: The finish is f****** splendid. Big juicy red fruits mulling w/ balanced baking spices. Incredibly smooth given its abv, and leaves you with a long lingering pour of sherry.
Overall: I love this Helluland. This is “shut up and take my money” whisky right here. This is a whisky in the sweet spot! It has a lot of lively flavors going on but on the backbone a balanced sherry. Just layers on layers of beautiful Orkney flavors!
Cask #63297: Gotham City
New York Exclusive
Age: 15 year
Cask: Refill Sherry Butt
Bottles: 588 bottles @ $225
Color: Cognac Amber
Nose: Charred wood smoldering, smoked meats. One of the more smoke forward Highland Parks that I have had, but its a really nice dark charred smoke. Sherry steeped plums and cherries.
Palate: A burnt sugar topping, almond brittle, and sherry soaked oak. On the back end were spiced plums and fruit cake with a touch of marzipan.
Finish: Long and distinguished, and sherry dominant. A decadent dessert like finish. Black forest cake topped with whisky soaked cherries with a side of rich dark chocolate.
Overall: The Gotham City was the most eloquent of the three. The dram is a distinguished sherry cask that carries a rich dark smoke through the finish while having a very dessert-like profile. This is a late night with a cigar in hand whisky right here!
All in all, I was very impressed by the single casks that I was able to try from Highland Park. In a world of increasing NAS 40% abv whisky, these are the ones that I get real excited over! The folks over at Highland Park just know how to make terrific whisky and when you have the opportunity to have it straight from the cask such as this you are able to taste truly how good they are at what they do. The layers of rich and complex flavors that they each possess is really quite impressive. The heather smoke is more pronounced, the cask derived flavors are more juicy and distinct, and the experience from start to finish is memorable. I for one am all on board for this single cask program and am very interested to see what other casks they decide to roll out!
Plus, as with any single cask, once these are gone they are gone forever. The whisky from these casks will never be reproduced. To me, that is pretty damn special and is what gives these exceptional single casks that certain bit of added allure!