Jura 18-Year-Old vs Highland Park 18-Year-Old

It’s been about a week since my last pairing, not that I have not been trying, mind you. I even order two drams in a restaurant to find out the subtle differences in the whiskies that I love. The night prior, I’ve celebrated Burns Night with the newly found friends at London’s Soho Whisky Club and the newly found blends from Douglas Laing, including the recently released Timorous Beastie, The Sherried Beast Edition, and a special bottling of Ben Nevis 18-Year-Old from their Old Particular range. But today, I’m tasting these two single malts from two of my favourite distilleries to peel apart the notes that [possibly] may set them apart. So let’s dive in, but first, music! Now playing: Frances ShelleySongs of Possibility.

Ah, Jura. The remote island already felt so magical even before I visited last summer, and now I think that I can sense that malted smoke of barley rising up above the chimneys by the sea. The Jura is the only distillery on the island [if you don’t count Lussa Gin produced by three amazing women on its very end], and unlike the scotch from Islay, it is much gentler and not shouting with the smoke. There is, of course, The Prophecy edition, which is the peated single malt of their expression. But the 18 is just a beautiful eighteen; it’s rounded and bodied and not too fragile for its age. Matured in the American white oak ex-bourbon barrels, it’s then “enriched” with Premier Grand Cru Classé Bordeaux red wine barriques from the South of France. As a result, it’s slightly fruity, with a bit of auburn tint, but I don’t sense a lot of “wine” in its shoulder-length finish. Perhaps the term “enriched” is very much appropriate since some of the whiskies “finished” in wine casks end up a tad acidic on the palate [for my taste]. I sense precisely zero smoke, but some say it’s a little peaty – perhaps I’m getting used to this ingredient, but truth be told, I smell exactly zero smoke in Highland Park as well. There is that added colouring, but this time I’ll forgive my Jura for this move, at least it’s bottled at a higher ABV (44%) than most of their expressions (the 21-year-old is even higher) and sold for about £65-70 or so at all your favourite retailers.

I’ve covered Highland Park before, and in my pairing of its 12 against the Caol Ila 12, it seemed to clearly make its mark, even among the marketing of all the “Viking” symbols. The 18-year-old bottle is subtitled Viking Pride, and it is bottled at the ‘standard’ 43%; however, there’s no colouring at all in this £100 bottle. The whisky was matured in a “high proportion” of first-fill sherry seasoned European and American oak casks for all of eighteen years. It has that very slight tinge of handmade caramel on the very end, and as a result, it’s just a little sweeter than the Jura. It’s also smoother on arrival, but that could be attributed to a single percent lower ABV [I didn’t add more water to the Jura]. Again, I sense to peat at all, as I have said above of Jura, but it could be a gentle heather smoke that rounds off this lovely whisky. It’s got more toffee, and I think a longer finish than the Jura, and overall it just goes down easy by itself. I’ve had it later with a meal, and suddenly there were some notes of saltiness as if a seaspray landed in my glass and then evaporated in a flash. I’ll need to try that with the Jura since I’ve been sipping on that dram alone [there is no wrong way for you scotch]. Note that the Jura has no sherry in its mix, but any sherry present in this Highland Park is much subdued and not too forefront.

I thought I’ve had tough pairings in the past, where I could not pronounce a clear “winner”, but in this case, it’s even harder to select. And yes, I taste these back and forth and cannot tell which one appeals or just stands out. I really love them both. The Jura has that “ugly secret” with its E150A, but the Highland Park is dressed in slogans of the marketing campaign. I kind of wish they were a bit more naked and direct. The Jura has a higher ABV at a much lower price (a whole 30 quid!), but Highland Park brings in those sherried notes, albeit from the “seasoned” casks. Sigh… I’m not sure, folks, and for the first time on this site, I think I’ll call a draw and place both bottles on my shelves as I can’t seem to pick the winner.

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