Oooh an 8 year old Highland Park, and from independent bottlers Gordon & MacPhail no less! Independent bottlers, at least the well established ones, are increasingly a reliable source of good whiskies. Adelphi, Gordon and MacPhail, Douglas Laing, van Wees, Cadenhead and others offer some great value, interesting bottlings. I have found them to be generally above average, characterful drams, punctuated by the occasional magnificent discovery or disappointing dud. If you'd like to see your favorite distillery from a different perspective, or unadulterated in all its potential glory, independents are where you should look.
I picked up this bottle for the princely sum of $35US, which means it would cost about the same as a distillery bottled 40% ABV 12 year old Highland Park in Australia. This bottling though, has a higher octane rating (43%) and appears to be free from colouring. While I'd love to say it has not been chill filtered, there is no statement to that effect on the label and the addition of water creates no cloudiness or Scotch Mist in the glass, so we must assume the contrary is true. Although Highland Park is Scotland's most northerly distillery (less than a kilometer north of Scapa distillery) the climate of the windswept Orkney Islands is surprisingly homogenous, due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. For those of you about to board a flight to Orkney, expect an average winter temperature of 4 degrees and 12 in summer.
Colour: Pale gold.
Nose: Cashews, walnuts, leather, mango, apricot and sweet peat.
Palate: A few drops of water will liberate subtle (but ever present) sweet peat, less subtle brine, toasted grains and sweet tropical fruit flavours. Decent, if not luxurious, mouthfeel. Sweet honey, smoky, salty, balanced. Interesting rather than complex, it develops a lovely vanilla bean influence mid-palate, finishing with the lingering smokiness of a good cigar, rather than peat.
I'm thoroughly enjoying this. It isn't magnificent, but it is a good, straightforward dram that displays its youth with a delightful freshness of flavour rather than brashness. On the flipside, one dram is the same as the next; it develops little in the glass or as the level in the bottle diminishes. The latter will happen quickly though, as it is just so eminently drinkable.
G & M Highland Park 8 year old isn't any kind of challenge or revelation. It's more like a comforting fireside chat with a friend.