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Highland Park

Highland Park 18 Year Old 1995-2014 (Old Malt Cask)

€135.55 $154.19 £120.00

Wood

Sherry casks, cedar, mahogany, cigar box

Whisky, by definition, is a grain spirit aged in oak casks - and it is the influence of this wood that produces they greatest variation of flavour. Different species of oak result in different flavours, while the previous contents of the cask has a major impact on the style of the resulting Scotch. A whisky may spend anything from three years to thirty years in wood - in some extreme cases even longer than that. Yet there are only certain cases where the resulting spirit can be said to ‘taste of wood’.

The most obvious example is when the whisky has been aged for an exceptionally long time. Conventional whisky wisdom claims that any period of ageing beyond about 25 years is wasted or even detrimental, because the spirit begins to taste more like the wood it is stored in than anything else. As a result, subtleties of flavour built up over years of maturation will be lost as the wood takes over. A certain amount of woody flavours may be desirable, however, not least because it implies that a whisky has spent a considerable amount of time ageing and has likely reached the peak of its complexity. For this reason, single malts over 25 years of age are relatively scarce (not to mention expensive), but often in high demand.

The wood of the cask imparts tannins to the spirit inside: tannins are a compound that produce a dry or astringent flavour, as found in red wine, unripened fruit, black tea…and heavily oak-influenced whisky. This means the flavours in question may be found in whisky aged in wine-influenced casks, such as those which have previously held sherry, port or red wine, as opposed to bourbon; therefore it is not always necessary for a whisky to have been aged for a very long time in order for woody flavours to be apparent. Notes of mahogany, cigar box cedar-wood or varnish are relatively common among the more savoury styles of single malt, such as complex Speysides or some Islay whiskies.

Wood is also a common flavour in many cigars, which can be expected to pair well with a woody whisky: Romeo y Julieta and Montecristo are both excellent examples, while Fonseca and Diplomaticos are good choices among the lesser known brands.

Fresh Fruit

Citrus, berries, apple, pear

One of the most distinctive characteristics of the Speyside region, fruity flavours are also common in the Islands (so long as peat does not dominate) and in many Lowland single malts. It is a curious coincidence to find overt flavours of fruits in a spirit made from grain, and therefore of a completely different provenance to brandy or wine: these flavours of fresh fruit - to be distinguished from the drier flavours of raisins, red grape or fruitcake that derive from sherry-cask maturation and are grouped under the ‘dried fruit’ tag - owe much to the influence of ex-bourbon barrels made from American Oak. These casks generally produce vibrant aromas with a far lighter and fresher character than the heavy, dry European Oak sherry casks: tropical fruits, such as pineapple, kiwi or coconut, are a common comparison.

Some whiskies present clear flavours of apple or pear, such as Glenfiddich 12-year-old and many other Speyside whiskies in a similar style (our Treasurer’s Selection Benrinnes is an excellent example). Others tend towards a tarter citrus flavour, such as the orange notes in Dalmore or the tropical fruits of Arran. Flavours of red berries often derive from wine casks - raspberry, strawberry or cherry are common flavours in port-cask matured whiskies (see e.g. Balvenie Portwood or Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban), while drier flavours of cranberry or red plum may result from various red wine finishes (e.g. Longrow Red, or many of the wine cask expressions from Edradour). It is a wide-ranging set of flavours with all sorts of possible incarnations, and a good test for the learner’s palate: it is easy to define a whisky as tasting ‘fruity’, but is it fresh fruit or dried? Apple, citrus or berry? Raspberry, blackberry or boysenberry…?

Some cigars have slightly fruity flavours themselves, which are an obvious pairing: consider the floral flavours of Romeo y Julieta or San Cristobal, for example. Grassy or sweet flavours may also complement this diverse and expressive flavour profile.

Peat

Smoke, barbecue, medicine, farmyard aromas

By far the most polarising of all whisky flavours - and in some ways, that most distinctive of Scotch whisky. Peat is a type of fossil fuel, halfway between soil and coal, which produces a very aromatic smoke as it burns, and is widespread in the Scottish Highlands and islands. It has long been used to dry out malted barley in preparation for making whisky…and the aroma of the smoke lingers throughout the whole distillation process and the subsequent years of maturation.

The resulting flavour is often described as “medicinal” - associated with disinfectants such as TCP, especially by its detractors. Those who enjoy the flavour may be more likely to compare it to the scent of a barbecue, or a welcoming fireplace on a cold winter night.

Peat is almost universally associated with the Islay region - although some Islay whiskies have no peat, while many non-Islay whiskies do. As the flavour derives from the malted barley rather than the cask, it is generally more upfront in younger whiskies than in older expressions, where the cask has had more time to influence the overall style - this is why most Islay whiskies, renowned for their peaty flavours, are bottled at 10 or 12 years with relatively little spirit kept for older ages (Lagavulin is a notable exception). The most notorious of peaty whiskies is probably Laphroaig, while the crown of the “world’s peatiest whisky” is held by Bruichladdich’s Octomore series. At the other end of the scale, those flavours produced by relatively light peating levels are described by the earth flavour tag.

Because of the distinctiveness and the sheer intensity of peaty flavours, they can be difficult to pair with cigars: generally, the fuller-flavoured the cigar, the more likely it is to complement an intensely peaty whisky. In this sense, Bolivar, Partagas and certain Cohibas are safe choices. You may like to experiment a little more and try other cigars that are marked by flavours of leather, pepper or toast, however.

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Distilled: November 1995

Bottled: June 2014

Limited to: 221 bottles.


Tasting Notes

Nose: Floral and sweet, with vanilla, honey, apple skins and pears.
Palate: Buttery, with dark chocolate, bitter almonds and a hint of smoke.
Finish: Long, lingering and mouth drying with just a touch of smoke.

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Delivery Information

Robert Graham uses reputable courier services and we ship worldwide. Within the UK we aim to deliver within 2 working days. International delivery times vary depending on destination. After your purchase has been processed, you will receive an email notification with your delivery tracking number.

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We strongly recommend taking on transport insurance for your purchase. You will have an option to do so at the check-out.

Note: Regrettably we cannot ship cigars or any other tobacco products to the USA and Canada.

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