If you’re in the market for a $54,000 whisky, and that’s quite a presumption, you should at least have the chance to compare it to other age statements from the same distillery to see how it stacks up. Or, if that is an unreasonable request, you should at least be able to read about how it compares. Which brings us to the new Highland Park 54-year-old single malt, the oldest release from the distillery to date. Spoiler alert: the 40-year-old is a little bit better.
If this all sounds extremely whisky-privileged, that is a correct assessment. Still, I had the chance to taste various age-statement expressions side-by-side from Highland Park, the Viking-themed scotch distillery in the far northern reaches of Orkney, to compare and contrast. I sampled whiskies aged for 18, 25, 30, and 40 years, as well as the crown jewel, the 54-year-old. Make no mistake, this is an elegant whisky, especially given the fact that it spent more than five decades in casks. Master whisky maker Gordon Motion selected 10 barrels in 2008 that were filled 40 years earlier, and then put the whisky into first-fill sherry-seasoned casks for another 14 years.
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This is an excellent, delicate, refined whisky, which is not always the case with something this old. The strong tropical fruit notes that usually creep onto the palate as a single malt ages for this long are there, but that’s not the only note. The nose is almost like whisky perfume with a whiff of Cognac in the mix. The palate has notes of honey, papaya, fig, molasses, fresh raspberry, vanilla soft serve ice cream, and a touch of rose syrup. This is a collector’s bottle that you should open and drink, because after all that’s what whisky is made for. As mentioned above, I preferred the 40-year-old over this release, and according to a rep for the brand that is one of Gordon’s favorites, sort of an elevated version of the 18 (which is one of the best single malts out there). But the 54 is no slouch.
So where does that leave us? In a world of myriad (but also extremely rare and limited) ultra-aged whiskies from distilleries like The Macallan and Bowmore to choose from, you have to decide what is the best investment, the most collectible, and hopefully the best tasting. And while most of that is pretty subjective, Highland Park 54 is a whisky that one could argue is worth the expense if you are in the market for high-priced single malts. It doesn’t taste like a 54-year-old whisky that was picked just so the distillery could have a half-century-old whisky in its pocket (although that’s surely part of the reason). It tastes like a carefully matured single malt that was selected from highly curated casks. This whisky will be hard to find—there are only 225 bottles—but it is available now from various secondary retailers, or contact the distillery to locate a bottle.
100: Worth trading your first born for
95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet
90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram
85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market
80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable
Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this
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