Highland Park 10 Year Old

Some things are difficult to judge purely on their own merit…

We can have this problem when it comes to sequels to movies and books, listening to a new album by a favourite band, hell it can even happen when we consider a relationship. But let’s stick to a sports analogy – Take Bobby Orr’s 1970 Stanley Cup winning goal, for example. Was it really all that miraculous? It’s consistently ranked among the top hockey goals ever, but I tend to think that it’s been a tad over-hyped because of the circumstances around it, because it was scored by an all-time great player, but especially because most people actually believe it was scored while #4 was soaring through the air, as the iconic image suggests.

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I think that judging the goal for what it really is reveals a decent, but rather pedestrian, give-and-go , ending with a 5-hole goal that Glen Hall probably would have liked to have back.

So what does all of this have to do with a whisky review? Well, I’m having a similarly tough time deciding what I really think of Highland Park’s 10 Year Old single malt because I’m very familiar with – and very fond of – the 12 year old expression.

My father-in-law picked this bottle up for us to try during his most recent visit from Saskatchewan for Easter and to watch some of my son’s spring hockey action. HP-10 can be had for about $41 in my local liquor store, and it’s bottled at 40% abv.

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To the Eye
Looks good but nothing really stands out about this whisky. A golden, honey coloured dram that leaves moderate legs on the inside of my glass.

In the Nose
Anyone who is familiar with Highland Park will immediately recognize this nose. Right away I pick up aromas of vanilla and peat. Letting the glass breathe a little brings forward a toffee-like note and I think I can also sense a bit of sherry. Of course, there are the traditional Highland Park smells: a wisp of smoke (but only ever so slight) and a somewhat vegetal, floral character that I believe is the Scottish plant, heather. What strikes me while nosing the glass is that everything about it seems so familiar… just less impressive than the 12 Year.

On the Tongue
After my first swallow, I immediately notice how smooth this whiskey is, considering it’s relative youthfulness. But I’m not sure that it’s a great thing that this is my initial reaction – I like flavour and there isn’t a whole lot of that jumping out at me. There’s sweetness, but it’s not overtly so, which I like. As I continue sipping, I do taste that very subtle sherry note that was suggested in the aroma. There is also a hint of peat and smokiness but not a whole lot more. The finish is rather short and weak, with a slight astringency/drying of the mouth, which I expect from a young whiskey – definitely not a rough bite, though, as it remains quite smooth.

Final Thoughts
While writing this review, I hesitated to label the Highland Park 10 Year Old Single Malt as “Recommended” but I couldn’t bring myself to say that I’d pass on it. There is nothing wrong with this expression, I just have trouble judging it on it’s own, without comparing it to the HP-12. It really is amazing what only two more years of maturation does to develop the character of this malt and, for only a few dollars more, I would personally choose the 12 every time.

With that said, however, I still like the HP-10 and I would definitely accept a dram of it, if offered. I suspect that this whisky is aimed at fledgling drammers who aren’t yet ready for richer, more robust flavours in their whiskies. Is it great? Not quite, but the HP-10 is certainly a gentle introduction to the Highland Park profile and hints at the excellence that this distillery has to offer.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

First of all, this is not the kind of whisky I usually buy! At $220+ per bottle in my Alberta market (and I know it’s more than that in most other markets) it’s beyond my normal drinking budget! Fortunately I have a good buddy who doesn’t think twice about his drinking budget and he decided I should have this bottle for my last birthday… I hope everyone has a friend like that!

This bottle obviously has that “holy shit” factor. Even semi-knowledgeable scotch drinkers will likely have seen this bottle on a top shelf somewhere but even non-scotch drinkers will immediately recognize that this is something more than an everyday bottle. Everything about the presentation screams ultra-premium. “Blue” is among the rarest is the Johnnie Walker lineup and the back of the box says that this blend is composed from whiskies that their “Master Blenders handpick [from] just 1 in 10,000 casks of the rarest whiskies, from the four corners of Scotland to craft an rivaled masterpiece.” I can’t find an age statement anywhere on the bottle or the box, which is somewhat surprising, but I imagine that some of the rare whiskies in the blend must be rather mature. (For the price, some of them had better be!) As with most blends, Johnnie Walker Blue Label is bottled at 40% abv.

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To the Eye
This whisky appears pretty standard, as is true for most blends… pale gold. A swirl of my glass releases skinny, stubborn legs down the side of my glass. It looks good enough to drink.

On the Nose
With a whisky that sits in this price range, you can bet I’m going to let the damned thing breath a bit! Actually, maybe I just let this one sit for so long because I enjoy nosing it so much.

Right away, I smell fruit – green apples. I also get sawdust… maybe this is what some people call pencil shavings. Yep, I’m definitely reminded of pencil shavings. As the nose develops, the Islay character in the blend begins to assert itself with a mild peat and a subtle smoke. It is sweet and inviting, there is nothing harsh or overbearing about this dram and it has a really nicely balanced complexity about it.

In the Mouth

The first sip of this whisky always surprises me… it’s not as sweet as the nose suggests. It is a very smooth, easy-drinking dram with a light mouth feel. I don’t really sense any of the rough edges that are usually present in younger whiskies, so I suspect that the bulk of his blend is rather mature. This whisky has a mild, muted honey flavour and a slight caramel note. Additional sips reveal oak and an almost rye spiciness. Of course, there is the signature Johnnie Walker smokiness, but it is smoothed out nicely in comparison to the more common Red Label. The finish is medium, maybe a little shorter than I’d like. I don’t know if I’d call it overly complex but “Blue” is very good!

Final Thoughts
Every time I have a dram of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, I appreciate it a little more. My instinct is to say I have $50 single malts that I enjoy as much or more than this whisky but I’m probably a bit of a single-malt snob and I know I’m also a little harder on “Blue” because it costs three-to-four times more than most of the bottles in my collection. Taking it for what it is, “Blue” is a fantastic overall whisky. It’s complex, but approachable, and exceedingly drinkable! Will I buy myself another bottle when this one is gone? Probably not. Do I hope my buddy decides to buy me another one for my next birthday? Absolutely!

Welcome to my new blog!

I suppose if you have stumbled across this site, it’s for the simple reason that you enjoy whisky… I’m sure you must like the drink, and I’m guessing you have an interest in learning more about it. At the very least you are at a point in your dramming journey where you are curious about what others might have to say about this most-wonderful of spirits! After all, why else would you be spending your time reading words put down by some nobody like me?

Before I lose your interest and send you back-buttoning it back to Google to find the reviews you were hoping for, I do want to introduce myself and tell you why I’ve created this blog and what I hope it will be.

I’m just a guy… Mid thirties, with a decent job and the very good fortune to have three beautiful, very active young kids and a wonderful wife. In short, enjoying the occasional dram is just about the only “hobby” I have time for anymore! I guess I’ve always been a whisky drinker, but that used to mean that rye and coke was my drink of choice. I remember that my first taste of scotch was From a bottle of Chivas Regal that my brother got from somewhere, and it seemed pretty revolting to me at the time. Somewhere along the way, however, I started to enjoy my rye on the rocks and, eventually, I began to sip it neat. The rest is history – once I allowed myself to actually experience the aromas and flavours that the distillers were intending, I became fascinated with the nuances and subtleties that I could detect in each one.

I’ve been reading other people’s blogs and whisky review sites for some time now and I’ve decided that I just might have something to offer. Namely, I want to write some reviews of the whiskies I sample from a “regular-joe” point of view… nothing pretentious, without any of the over-the-top descriptions that I occasionally read, which leave me confused and experience a little bit of palate envy. I’m also writing this blog for me – I’d kind of like to have a record of what whiskies I’ve sampled and what I thought of them!

My reviews will never carry a percentage ranking because I don’t believe There’s any point even attempting to pinpoint the quality of a dram to this level of specificity but also because any number that I might assign would be nothing more than a reflection of my enjoyment of the drink – you might like the same whisky more or less than I do, and that is YOUR right, and one of the things that makes enjoying whisky so damned interesting! Finally, while I may speak to the presentation of the bottle, etc., I hope to never let this play into my description of a whisky’s quality – a whisky’s good because of how it reacts with your senses, not because you paid an extra $25 for the pretty box it came in, right! No, my reviews will focus on four elements:
To the Eye
On the Nose
In the Mouth
and
Final Thoughts

That’s more than enough, already, and more than I intended for my intro… Enjoy your whiskies and I hope you enjoy my blog.

Cheers!