Here we find one of my personal favorite Scotch whiskies: Highland Park 18 year. Highland Park is one of the more readily available Scotch whiskies in the US, which is awesome, because they happen to be a great brand.
Highland Park produces whiskies in the Highland region, naturally. I would put the Highland region somewhere in between Islay and Speyside in terms of flavor. They have a decidedly smokey flavor, but with a nice balanced sweet finish. They aren't overwhelmingly smokey, like Islay, but still noticeable smoke. They have some of the same maltiness as Speyside, just counteracted a bit by the smoke. The result is a smooth, complex whisky that exhibits the best of both worlds (in my opinon).
Obviously, Highland Park has a variety of ages that release their whiskies. The Highland Park 18 just happens to be my favorite. Since I haven't covered whisky in all that much depth, I will explain a little. Each distillery will make their own single malt whisky. These whiskies will be aged in used oak barrels (often bourbon, sherry, port, etc.) for a minimum of 3 years. However, you will be hard pressed to find a single malt whisky that is aged under 10 years. Most of the younger whiskies will be used for making blends. After 10 years, you will be able to technically find single malts of any age, but the most common are 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, and 30. As a whisky ages, it becomes smoother, more complex, and more expensive. The flavors from the oak barrels impart their flavors more the longer the whisky stays in the cask. However, as a result of "the angel's share", some whisky evaporates each year. This, combined with the time value of money and the cost of storage make the older whiskies that much more expensive than the younger ones. I am at a point where I can enjoy an 18 year old whisky more than most 10 or 12 years, but it is difficult to tell the difference between most 18 and 21 years. Why pay the extra if you can't tell the difference?
Apart from the general buzz words of "peaty", "smokey", "malty", and "sweet", I won't delve much into the flavor, as different people can pick out very different things from a particular whisky. What I will say is that if you want a balanced whisky, with very little burn, but lots of flavor, go with the Highland Park 18 year (provided you are about $100 to spend on whisky). It has a moderately hefty price tag, but if you are a beginner/intermediate Scotch drinker, it is a great gift to give yourself (or your favorite beer/liquor blogger).
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