Highland Park is probably the best all-rounder you can buy. The 12-year-old has been absolutely vital in getting newcomers closer to the influences of sherry and peat, while the legendary 18 is unarguably one of the best single malts ever made and I won’t hear otherwise. So it was with a fair amount of fuss that Dark Origins – an ageless,
marketing story-driven release – came to take its spot in the core lineup (which is now receiving a massive overhaul).
Here’s the gist: more sherry, more alcohol, but sacrifice the age statement. That’s what Dark origins is all about. They claim to use “double” the number of first-fill sherry casks (whatever that means) and present it as naturally as possible… while ditching the restriction of marketing the minimum age. Being a Compass Box fanboy, this doesn’t particularly bother me as long as the whisky hits the spot! To make the purchase a little easier, they stick it in a brooding, Black Art style bottle with some sort of alcoholic priest on the label to help you feel like you’re sipping a little piece of medieval Scotland.
This one is long overdue, so let’s dive right in:
Dark Origins lives up to its name… lovely, deep ruby orange. No doubt which casks were involved here.
Still clearly Highland Park, but with a rich sherry layer, expertly integrated. Christmas cake. Mild smoke. Raisins, prunes. Toasted nuts. Faint citrus. Light banana.
Great at the bottled strength of ~46%. That same deep complexity I get with well aged blends (Johnnie Walker Platinum, Spice Tree) and devilishly difficult to unpack. The sherry is rich but not overpowering – you can still taste a little of Highland Park’s signature malt, smoke and spices, and the extra ABV is welcome. Pineapple, raisins. Heavy, heavy on the palette – this stuff is strong, and not an easy dram by any stretch of the imagination.
Beautiful. Bitter, but zesty, apples and dark chocolate. An incredibly long finish at bottled strength. Sip this one slowly, if you can muster the self-discipline!
Oh wow, we’ve got a winner! This takes water like it ain’t a thing, and I must admit it’s better for it. A slight alcohol edge that I hadn’t noticed is gone, and it smells fresh, fruity and zesty. The taste becomes more citrusy – oranges – more woody and sweeter (candy floss, cherries). Lovely stuff.
A truly wonderful whisky, at a great price considering the punch it packs. A no-brainer for Highland Park followers, and a must-try for people interested in that rare merger between sherry and peat (think Lagavulin Lite, or Diet Uigeadail). Absolutely not for whisky virgins, however – this one could easily chase them away.
To be honest, if I wasn’t so taken with Highland Park I think I might find it difficult to grab a bottle of this over, say, something more clearly sherried and age-stated. My eyes would naturally drift over to the Genfarclas or Glendronach section of the shelf and let my wallet cast the deciding vote – in which case there’s a bottle of Glendronach 15 with my name on it.
Highland Park shines in the “skip every other expression” vertical ladder – the 12, 18 and (weep) the outrageous 25-year-old. However Dark Origins is a great departure from their style, a worthwhile purchase and gives the bizarre Travel Retail selection a run for its money!