So i ended up w/ a bottle of Highland Park 12 (was on sale fr $39 at my local store so I couldn't resist) and just had a first dram. Initial thoughts: it is smokey. If I had blind tasted this I could have been convinced it was a mezcal joven. Thats not necessarily a bad thing but very different from my expectations and previous Speysiders.
In general though it is an enjoyable whisky and a good reminder of how vast the variations are, even at this fairly basic end of the spectrum. Much still to learn! Will likely step up to the Ardbeg next time around. Cheers.