Okay, so something has to win. Sometimes you have to put your heart on your sleeve and say: "This is what I really like." Me? This is my thing that I like more than just about anything else on this site. You might not, but I'm confident this is in my top 2 or 3 spirits.
Small detour: I really like the guys over at Regular Cars, and they said something interesting about the 1969 Chevy Camaro Z/28. It's basically the Tyrannosaurus Rex of muscle cars. Everyone loves the '69 Camaro, just like every kid has a poster of a T-Rex when they go through their dinosaur phase. But as we get older, we realize that there are other things in the world we can hitch our wagons to. Things that give others a better idea of who we are.
I understand why this is. There's something about human nature that makes us leery about lavishing our praise on something everyone loves if we want to be considered a connoisseur and taken seriously. There are a lot more U2 fans out there putting butts on seats, but I'd rather have a conversation with someone who saw Pavement on their reunion tour. There's something in our nature—if you're anything like me—that makes us want to root for the underdog.
So when Distiller has a rating of 99 points out of 100 for the Highland Park 18, it signals that the 18 most definitely ain't an underdog, and some part of me didn't want to like it. I'll admit that part of my initial purchase was wanting to verify whether a score that high could possibly have any basis in reality. (What a sadistic, self-defeating way to spend $130!)
As you might have guessed where this was going, I flat-out loved it... and there's so much about this Tyrannosaur to love. It starts with a very biscuit-heavy nose with peanut brittle, orange oil, and ginger. There are some floral and lavender elements and a hint of chocolate that becomes quite pronounced the longer you smell it. It's a very intriguing aroma that hints at the pleasant and complex experience that will unfold for you.
The taste, though. Oh, my.
The best way I can describe the Highland Park 18 is that it hits you in multiple waves. It's very expansive on the palate, and as you continue to chew and chew the whisky the flavor continues to grow as you're hit with a crescendo of sea salt, dark chocolate, tobacco, and rich raspberry. There are huge amounts of nutmeg, walnut, and cedar that drift throughout. Every sip seems to introduce another element or two, but nothing that comes in at an angle to what you've tasted before. I poured myself a small glass as I finalized this review and once again tasted the chocolate-dusted tiramisu I wrote down in some earlier notes. Yes, please.
The whole experience ends with just a faint wisp of smoke to add a touch more complexity to the whole affair, as if the HP18 needed it in the first place. As a distillery, Highland Park prides itself on a "sweet & smoky" flavor profile, and you'll find that present in the baseline 12-year expression. However, after having the 18, it's hard for me to see the 12 as anything but a pale imitation of what's possible. And I don't say that about a lot of things at this price point. It's a shut-out.
Are there any negatives past the price? Yes: the Highland Park 18 is one of those drams I'd recommend drinking when you're alone or with like-minded company. If someone asks you a question while you've got a mouth full of this, it will piss you off, because it means you need to swallow an exceptional dram before you're 100% ready. My girlfriend asked me something as I was sipping this a few months ago and I could literally sense my Gollum-like reptile brain hissing at her. (Sorry, Karen.)
Hearing all of this, you might undoubtedly ask whether the HP18 is worth nearly three times the cost of the 12. To me it is. I've nursed my bottle for the better part of a year. Every few months, I begin to doubt myself, wondering if my "favorite scotch" no longer is. And every time I pour myself an ounce, I fall in love with it all over again.
If you want to treat yourself, this is absolutely the way to do it. It purrs like a Camaro. It roars like a Tyrannosaur. And you know what? It deserves the love it gets.