Bought: Highland Park Shop, 22nd September 2018
85.22/100 – Whiskybase (average from 29 member votes)
As Highland Park (HP) say on their website the first release of ‘The Dolphins’ was a request to create an “officially licensed product for sale in the bars and shops at the The Royal Navy’s Faslane base in Scotland” by the Royal Navy Submarine Service. So this was effectively a private release and not on general sale. I believe this was in 2017 as The Dolphins started to drift onto auction sites in December of that year. Being rare and difficult to find bottles were making over £300.
During the first half of 2018 The Dolphins were consistently making £250 at auction, peaking at £400 in June. Then in September HP put the bottle on general sale from their online shop for £40. People refer to it as the second release but there’s nothing on the label to say that it’s any difference from the private version from 2017. Even the barcode is the same. And I strongly suspect that the shops at the naval base were selling the first release at the £40 mark. But there is a difference between the shape of the bottles between the first and second releases (the first is straight) and the first release has “Estd 1798” on either side of the HP logo, which is missing from the second release. But I bet the whisky inside both versions is very much the same.
The first release of The Dolphins scores a respectable 83.85/100 from 48 votes on Whiskybase but the second release scores slightly better with 85.22/100 from 29 votes. A similar low budget NAS (no-age statement) HP called ‘Viking Tribe’ scores 82.5/100 from 20 votes and that’s 46% compares to The Dolphins’ 40%.
With official tasting notes including vanilla, bananas, light peat, lemon peel, white pepper and toasted oak, The Dolphins sounds quite appealing. The second release has sold out on the HP website and if it doesn’t return we’ll probably see prices at auction start to increase again but not back to the heady heights of £400.
Here’s The Malt Chronicles doing a comparison between two Highland Park no-age statement releases, The Dolphins and Viking Tribe (March 2019):
Bought: Highland Park, 30th October 2017
86.48/100 – Whiskybase (average from 119 member votes)
I was lucky enough to be one of the first 1000 ‘Inner Circle’ members to order the Full Volume so I got a 7′ vinyl record as an added bonus – woohoo! Now all I had to do was find a record player to play it on. This took 6 months only to discover that the record was faulty. But I could tell from what little I heard on constant repeat that I wasn’t missing much. Some rock dirge similar to something I recorded on a cassette back in the 1980s. Now where did I put that cassette player?
Although the Full Volume has “collector’s item” written all over it the reviews have been very favourable so far for those who preferred to drink it. It is 100% bourbon cask matured so no sherry influence in the mix. And at 47.2% it’s got a decent potency. Over 86/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score where comments include, “a really enjoyable bottling, completely different from HP’s usual core range”, “an official that tastes like some very good independent, and that’s because there’s no sherry”, “quite interesting – at least not boring” and “I like this one a lot and I’d almost give it an extra point for the Spinal Tap reference on the box”.
There is a bit of debate to the age of the Full Volume, with some saying it’s a 17-year-old. On the box it says that the last cask used in the mix was filled on 7th September 1999. Full Volume wasn’t released until October 2017, which does suggest it reached its 18th birthday before being bottled. With special 17yo releases such as the Dark, Ice and Light costing £190, £86 for the slightly older Full Volume seems like good value. Heck, it was even cheaper than the bog standard 18yo at £100!
In this video from ‘Whisky in the 6’, HP ambassador Cam Millar says the ‘Full Volume’ is 18yo, so not 17yo. I assume HP ambassadors don’t go around lying about the age of the whisky so I’ll take his word for it. (Oct 17th 2017):
Bought: Highland Park online shop, 17th August 2017
84.89/100 – Whiskybase (average from 20 member votes)
The ‘Shiel’ is the second bottle in the Keystones Series, which started with the release of the ‘Hobbister’ in 2016. Both releases were limited to 1200 bottles and offered to the Highland Park ‘Inner Circle’ to gobble up as fast as possible. I missed out on the Hobbister in 2016 when I thought I’d joined the Inner Circle only to realise I hadn’t. Even when you manage to become a member you have to be careful to read emails from HP thoroughly and follow links and instructions to the letter.
The Shiel was released at a similar time to the Royal Mile Whisky Shop announcing their entrance into the auction market. They caused quite a stir by having an ‘ethics’ list on their new auction website which included, “Royal Mile Whisky Auctions will not accept for auction any limited edition whiskies within one year of release” and “whisky fans know that prices are not being artificially driven up, especially those new releases being ‘flipped’ immediately after release.” Will this stop Flippers from simply buying limited edition whiskies for a quick profit? No because they’ll just wait a year then sell. Not that I’ve seen any other auction house joining this crusade against flipping. It’s been over a year since the Hobbister was released and bottles are making £300 at auction having been flipped initially for around £350 before dipping to £200. Bottles of Shiel are making £250 so not as profitable for the Flippers as the Hobbister but still a good return for £81, even after auction costs.
For those of us who are actually interested in drinking the Shiel, which is what it was designed for, initial ratings are very good. Scoring nearly 85/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score but lagging behind the Hobbister, which gets 88/100 from 12 member votes.
Tasting notes from Highland Park for the Shiel:
Nose: Unashamedly smoky, camphor, eucalyptus, violets and vanilla
Palate: Dry peatiness, pencil shavings with light vanilla
Finish: Dry and lingering peatiness
Bought: Highland Park Shop, 6th July 2017
84.29/100 – Whiskybase (average from 23 member votes)
The ‘Rebus 30’ 10yo by Highland Park’s own admission is the standard 10yo in a different bottle. Their excuse is that the new 10yo (named ‘Viking Scars’) isn’t available in the UK market so the ‘Rebus 30’ is an opportunity for Brits to try it. The 10yo scores 82.8/100 on Whiskybase from 9 member votes, nearly 1.5 points less than the Rebus 30. It goes to show that by releasing a ‘limited edition’ in different packaging and adding a story can influence opinion. Although we’ve all known that for year. I’ve certainly fallen for it!
When John Rankin, author of Inspector Rebus, got in touch with Highland Park in 2007 and asked about a commemorative bottle to mark 20 years of his character this resulted in a unique 20yo single malt limited to 150 bottles. These now sell for up to £2,000 at auction and £3,000 retail. In a way it’s a shame that after 30 years of Rebus all we get from Highland Park are 10,000 bottles of their bog standard 10yo. The look of the bottle is nice but it doesn’t come in a box. I suppose for £30 and £5.99 postage we mustn’t grumble. It has an age statement on it after all, unlike the new Highland Park ‘Dragon Legend’ selling at Tesco supermarkets for £40.
Tasting notes by Martin Markvardsen, senior brand ambassador at Highland Park:
Nose: Lightly fruity, hints of vanilla, citrus, fresh green apple
Taste: Citrus, fresh fruits, cream of vanilla, peppery spiciness, touch of smoke
Finish: Very long with continuing spice along with honey peatiness.
Here’s Rob of ‘Whisky In The 6’ with his review of the Highland Park 10yo, which is exactly the same as the Rebus 30 (Jan 2017):
Bought: Highland Park Shop, 14th July 2015
85/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
83.02/100 – Whiskybase (average from 164 member votes)
Back in about 2000 when I got my first bottle of HP 15yo it was exclusive to Sainsbury’s supermarket (according to a member of Whiskybase). 15 years later and it’s equally difficult to acquire in the UK. You have to go direct to the Highland Park shop on the distillery’s website. The bottle is readily available elsewhere in Europe (see the Whiskybase link for details) where it’s around £45 as opposed to the £65 price tag in the UK.
85/100 in the Whisky Bible classifies this dram as “good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying” but the author, Jim Murray, is hardly complimentary in his brief review “had to re-taste this several times, surprised as I was by just how relatively flat this was. A hill of honey forms the early delivery, but then….”
83/100 on Whiskybase is a reasonable score, beating other HP offerings such as the Leif Eriksson, Einar, Harald, Drakkar and the HP12, although expert reviewer Mark Dermul says about the HP 15yo “this is a bit of a weird HP if you ask me. The 12 Year Old easily transcends this one.” Other voter remarks about the HP 15yo include “an unusual HP but I like it”, “a decent and interesting dram” and “a trademark Highland Park dram and lovely at that.” It’s definitely worth a try and I’ll be interested to see how it compares with my old bottle of HP 15yo.
Bought – Highland Park Distillery, 14th August 2014
96/100 – Whisky Bible 2014
87/100 – Malt Maniacs (average from 18 reviews)
Now here’s a mystery. The ratings I mention above are for the original bottling of the HP 25yo at 48.1%, and miniatures of this are still available on the Highland Park website. But a full 70cl bottle on their website, and other online whisky shops, is 45.7%! Clearly it’s a different whisky. But the Highland Park website use exactly the same description for both versions of the HP 25yo. I don’t have my finger on the pulse of what’s happening at the distillery but it seems like there’s a new version of the 70cl on the market. The miniatures I have are the old version, which has been discontinued. The fantastic ratings are for the OLD version, so I can only hope the new version keeps the high standards. At £175 for 70cl, you’d have to hope so!
The miniatures of this discontinued 25yo are still available on the HP website for £12. At 5cl they are one 14th of 70cl, so 14 x £12 is £168 (if it’s even possible to still buy 14 miniatures). I don’t know how much the old 70cl was being sold for but I doubt it was much less than £175 (that’s the cheapest I found online. Highland Park are selling it on their website for £250). It’s rare to find a miniature that costs less than 1/14th of its 70cl counterpart. If you’re a collector of miniatures then this is definitely something to add to your collection. I spotted one selling at auction for £15.50, so £3,50 more than buying it directly from Highland Park. It goes to show, it’s already making money as an investment, even at 5cl in size!
Here’s Jo of Whisky Wednesday with his review on You Tube (March 2016):
Bought – Highland Park Distillery, 14th August 2014
82.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2014
89/100 – Malt Maniacs (average from 9 reviews)
When you look at the Whisky Bible rating of 82.5/100 you’d be forgive for thinking this was a good whisky yet nothing special. But the Malt Maniacs score this 21yo 89/100 and they only gave the HP 18yo 88/100, when the Whisky Bible scores it an amazing 95.5/100! Here we have the wonderful world of opinions. Stick 3 whisky drinkers in a room with one bottle to try and you’ll get at least 4 opinions. And if they try the bottle again after a week of letting it breath, opinions will change – some for the better, some for the worse.
In fairness, the rating for this HP 21yo is a little more clear-cut. Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible score of 82.5/100 would have been higher if it weren’t for his sulphur sensitivity. As he says “bad news: a sulphured sherry butt has found its way into this bottling”. When I think how rare it is to see reviews mentioning sulphur, I’m beginning to wonder if Jim Murray’s taste buds no longer reflect those of your typical whisky drinker. After relying on the Whisky Bible for so long, I may start changing my source for reviews to such places like Whiskybase and Malt Maniacs, where ratings are an average from numerous voters, not just a single opinion.
Here’s ‘Malt Reviews’ on You Tube with their thoughts (August 2015):
Bought – Highland Park Distillery, 14th August 2014
95.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2014
91/100 – Ralfy, of http://www.ralfy.com
Review: – Ralfy – Highland Park 18yo – YouTube (May 2012)
It’s been proving harder and harder to find miniatures of the HP (Highland Park) age-statement range, so a few months ago I decided to go to the source and look on the Highland Park website and their online shop. The 30yo was available, then a few days later (when I was about to place an order!) it had sold out. I contacted HP directly and they confirmed they no longer had any miniatures of the 30yo. They also said, and I quote “we are discontinuing all of our miniature range excluding the 12 year old.” (email received 9th June 2014). Eeek! Time to place an order, so I got the 18yo, 21yo and 25yo.
The HP 18yo is one of the true heavy-weights of the whisky world. I’ve never seen a bad word said against it. It gets one of Ralfy’s highest scores in nearly 500 reviews, and Jim Murray in his Bible says of the taste “eye closing beauty” and goes on to say “this is a must have dram”. It’s just a shame a full 70cl bottle is so expensive (currently about £90) when other great 18-year-olds like the Talisker are £25-£30 less. At least with a miniature I can experience that “must have dram” Mr Murray insists that I have. Don’t mind if I do Jim, old chap! It’s a shame it’s not his round, or I’d have it in a pint glass! 🙂