Highland Park is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, having been established in 1798. It is also the most northern distillery currently operating, being located near Kirkwall on the Orkney islands. The core range of Highland Park is extensive covering a wide age range and it is one of the best selling whiskies worldwide. They produce peated malt barley with quite a high phenol level (40ppm) and this is then mixed with malted barley from their sister distillery (Tamdhu in Speyside), which has no peat influence at all. This creates a spirit which is smoky but not to the degree of the majority of Islay whiskies. It is therefore more approachable and is a good distillery to try if you don't like too much smoky flavour or any at all. This particular release is a 21 years old from the small Mackillop's Choice independent bottling company. Other independent bottlings are readily available.
The first thing I noticed was that there is no smoke on the nose or palate! This surprised me even though it is a fairly old whisky (as smoky whiskies age, the smokiness tends to mellow but should still be a feature). Instead, there is lots of sweet vanilla, some woodiness and stacks of fresh fruit (think of crisp green apples, pears and honeydew melon). This intensity is replicated on the palate and is joined by some notes of honey, something woody but spicy (like cinnamon bark) and a hint of aniseed right at the end. It is full bodied, very good and enjoyable with a reasonably long vanilla based finish. My only disappointment was that the smokiness normally associated with Highland Park wasn't there. Bottles of this are rare and will cost you around £55 from independent retailers only.