Highland Park is an icon among distilleries and frequently wins awards. They cut their own peat, and apparently mix in heather, which might account for the honey notes. Where Bunnahabhain holds a special place in my heart for its particular style of oily, nutty, mildly peaty flavors, Highland Park's bottlings are my wife's personal favorites.
In the glass this dram is quite dark and reddish, an attractive jewel-like amber color. The texture is oily.
On the nose, there are some peaty phenols, a damped-down Listerine flavor, blended with muted vanilla and toffee, but not overwhelming caramel, and a very light toasted bread -- it isn't very malty. The chocolate in this one is a light milk chocolate. There's a complex set of floral notes that I'm not sure I can fully unpack: rose, lavender, carnation? Warm the glass and there are some intriguing fruits: pear, banana, raisin. Nutty notes: almond. There's a light honey, or maybe golden syrup? Spices: nutmeg, cinnamon.
On the tongue, the immediate impressions are creamy sweetness and a full-bodied smokiness. The fruits and nuts and flowers maintain a wonderful balance. The whisky is warm, but extremely smooth. The mouth feel reminds me of the wonderful smoothness of The Tyrconnell. This finish is long and the sweetness and smoke remain wonderfully matched, with neither predominating.
Whisky writers have a tendency to gush about this whisky, and can't disagree with them. It's extremely fine stuff! And yet, I can't help but feel that the flavors and aromas are all just slightly damped-down -- perhaps the aging has taken a little too much off the "edge" of this whisky? Or perhaps it just covers too many bases? Therefore, I rate it a 9, not 9.5. After exploring a lot of Islay bottlings, and some younger beverages, I seem to have developed a tasted for slightly rougher, odder stuff. So while I would certainly never pass it up, my quest to find the ultimate malt for my own personal tastes continues.