Cigar Aficionado

Highland Park's Half-Century Malt

Remember 1960? John F. Kennedy's election? The New Frontier? The beginning of the space race? Highland Park single malt does and has commemorated the year magnificently with the release of a 50-year-old whisky from its Orkney Islands distillery.

The extremely rare whisky comes from a vatting of malt distilled in 1960 and placed in five, first-fill sherry casks for the long sleep. A half-century later, the resulting 275 bottles will sell for a suggested retail price of $17,500 each. That is, if you can get some. Only five of the bottles will be available to the United States market this year.

Highland Park brand ambassador Martin Daraz says of the whisky's super-mature appearance: "This is the time for the whisky and it's our duty to release it now."

We're glad they did as it has appeal to cigar smokers with its musky tobacco notes—even if the richly antique, oldest-ever island single malt doesn't particularly evoke the Age of Aquarius or any of the other attributes of the decade of the 1960s.

It's a lightly peated malt (at 2-4 parts per million phenol) and has been carefully monitored in the last few years of aging for optimal time of bottling. Even given its great age (during which great loss of alcohol content can be expected) it maintains a highly respectable 89.6 proof (44.8 percent alcohol by volume).

Part of the prize is the bottle design. The vessel is encased in a "net cage" of handcrafted Sterling silver designed by the Scottish jewelry designer Maeve Gillis, with inspiration from the Orkney Islands elemental forces, including the seas, island life, wild elements, natural light and the passage of time. The front of the bottle includes a hand-carved Highland Park amulet made of sandstone. Inside is a silver replica of the rose window of St. Magnus Cathedral, which is revealed as the whisky is consumed. The bottle comes in an individually hand-carved box of Scottish oak, also inspired by Orcadian elements.

The whisky is superior and always reminiscent of the floral Highland Park style with its cool maturation owing to it being the most northerly of Scottish distilleries.


Highland Park 50-Year-Old, (89.6 proof, 44.8 percent alcohol by volume) $17,500

APPEARANCE: Deep amber, mahogany, luxuriant legs.

NOSE: The aroma comes on from a foot away with almonds and hard candy. Closer up it reveals the cigar box characteristics, with tobacco leaf and some cedar, as well as dried fruit, spice and nutmeg.

PALATE: In the mouth it reveals more spice-licorice, herbs, cinnamon-as well as a gritty sandstone character and meaty nuts. As hard as it is to do, by adding a touch of water you'll release Sherry and berries.

FINISH: While it doesn't last as long as it will take to convince your wife that it was a good investment, it makes a fair stab at it. In the after life, you'll find truffles, an earthy character and most of its smoke.

"Thanks for tellin us..." —April 2, 2011 05:39 AM
"Jack, you get to try scotch that sells for $17,500 a bottle (and nary can be had)? You poor bastard." —February 21, 2011 09:29 AM