An ongoing project is to explore blends that mimic the primary malts available to whisky conglomerates in Scotland. Edrington is the owner of two of the most iconic distilleries in Scotland, Macallan and Highland Park, as well as the less well-known Glenturret. They also own a stake in the North British grain distillery, which is shared with Diageo. Their primary blend, Famous Grouse, is one of the best selling in Scotland and is primarily based on their grain and malt distilleries.
While I didn't have any Macallan or Glenturret on hand, the different expressions of Highland Park provide a fairly broad palette of flavors. The 12 Year is smokier and has more European oak casks in its mix, while 15 Year is more refined and brings more American oak character.
•15 mL Signatory North British 16 Year CS
•5 mL Highland Park 12 Year
•5 mL Highland Park 15 Year
•3 mL water
Highland Park/North British Blend
Nose: well-integrated grain, sherry, and heathery peat, plus vanilla, burning twigs, malt, and something green. After adding a few drops of water, the sherry becomes brighter and the grain is more apparent.
Taste: sweet grain up front, quickly joined by solid sherry influence that carries through the palate, followed by dark chocolate, an undercurrent of earthy peat, and moderate oak tannins. After dilution, the sherry influence becomes brighter and stronger - spreading across the palate, with more grain and less peat showing up at the back.
Finish: solid oak, bittersweet grain, sherry residue, a touch of earthy peat
I was pleasantly surprised by just how good this was. The grain whisky reads almost like a bourbon cask malt, likely helped by the Highland Park 15 Year. The sherry character from the malts balances well and the smoke is more present than I would have expected. Admittedly, this would solidly qualify as a 'premium blend' if Edrington decided to put something similar out, but at the right price I would definitely buy it.