Highland Park is one of the oldest and best known distilleries in Scotland. Established in 1798, it is currently owned by the Edrington Group and is one of only 2 working distilleries on the Orkney islands (Scapa being the other). This makes it the most northern distillery currently operating, being located near the town of Kirkwall. Highland Park is regarded by whisky drinkers as a great all-rounder and the core range is extensive, covering different ages. This makes it one of the best selling whiskies worldwide. It is also a major constituent in Edrington's leading blend, the Famous Grouse which is one of the best selling blended whiskies in the UK. At Highland Park, they produce their own peated malt barley with a reasonably high phenol level (40ppm) and this is then mixed with malted barley from their sister distillery Tamdhu, 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 subtle and approachable and is a good distillery to try if you don't like too much smoky flavour. This whisky is released by independent bottling company Signatory Vintage. It is 16 years old and matured in a sherry cask. Only one cask has been released and as a result there are only just under 800 bottles, which are available in selected specialist retailers only.
The nose smells very promising with some gorgeous fruity sweetness (think of dried fruit like red berries and raisins), some malted barley and a whiff of smoke. The smokiness is different to Islay whiskies and is more floral (imagine heather). This is because the make up of the peat is different on the Orkneys, due to the lack of trees. On the palate, this is mellow, creamy and fairly rich. There is that sweetness again (fruity and malty) but this mixes with heathery and honey notes and that lovely subtle smokiness. The combination of all these elements marry very well and emphasises Highland Park's reputation as a classic all-round whisky. The finish is long and very pleasant with the smoke more prominent.
Your review is right on the mark. Just tried the 1991 and my first thought was that it was similar to Caol Ila. But tried them side to side and the Signatory has a very distinct Highland Park sweetness you don't find in even the more subtle Islay single malts. It's all good, but this Signatory is a stand out if you are not a big Islay drinker like myself. Thanks!
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