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Highland Park Dark Origins

Review: Highland Park Dark Origins   (82.5/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted February 12, 2017

This is the third Single Malt Whisky which I tasted at the Beyond Islay tasting event hosted by Ryan Engen who is the Director of Spirits, for Liquor Stores N.A. Inc. at the Edmonton Wine and Beyond McTagggert Ridge location. At the tasting I enjoyed 7 different Single Malts in what was termed the Beyond Islay Single Malt Whisky Tasting. The Whiskies at the tasting were selected to represent the diversity of Scotland’s Island Whiskies reaching beyond the popular Islay Whiskies to the malts produced on the lesser known Islands. Highland Park Dark Origins showcases the Island of Orkney in the north of Scotland.

The Highland Park Distillery traces its heritage back to 1798 where it was apparently founded by Magnus ‘Mansie’ Eunson, a local butcher, beadle (lay official of the church), and part-time smuggler. (The association with Magnus Eunson is by no means certain, but it does provide a wonderful back story for the distillery.) The distillery itself is located in the Highlands of Scotland on the Island of Orkney which is famous for its heather rich meadows, and its unique organic Orcadian peat.

At this distillery, all of the Highland Park Whisky is matured in two styles of oak barrels which are stored in warehouses with earthen floors and stone walls. Some of the whisky is matured in Spanish (Sherry) oak, and some of the whisky is matured in American (Bourbon) oak. Maturing the whisky in two different styles of oak allows the blender to capture characteristics of each in the final blend.

Highland Park Dark Origins is the latest addition to the Core Expressions Range of Highland Park Whisky. It features a higher proportion of Sherry cask whisky than the other expressions in the range (twice the amount as is found in the Highland Park 12 Year Old). This give the Dark Origins a richer sherry influence than the other whiskies in the range.

The spirit is bottled at 46.8 % alcohol by volume.

dark-originsIn the Bottle 4.5/5

Dark Origins arrives in an oval-shaped black cardboard sleeve/box. The back of the sleeve contains a variety of advertising/informational highlights which whets the appetite for what is inside. The front of the box is labeled in white, silver and black lettering, and the bottle itself is black representing the ‘Dark Origins’ of the whisky inside.  A fancy glyph (Highland park logo) which is printed on the front of the cardboard sleeve container.

My only quibble with the bottle is the black colour which has two unfortunate drawbacks. The first is that I cannot see the fill line of the bottle so I would not know (just by looking at the bottle) when it is getting close to the time to replace it, and the second is that on my back deck in the summertime, the black bottle will absorb the sun’s heat raising the temperature of the whisky inside quite quickly on a hot day. (These are minor drawbacks.)

In the Glass 8/10

At the Beyond Islay Tasting when I examined the whisky, I saw that it had a nice bronze colour resembling the hue of a tarnished penny. When I tilted the glass and gave it a twirl, I saw a thin sheen of liquid on the inside of the glencairn, The crest at the top was stubborn, but it began to drop slightly fat leglets ambled down at a moderate pace.

When I took sniff of the breezes above the glass the aroma seemed somewhat discombobulated. It was almost as the wonderful Orcadian peat has lost some of its punch due to the increased sherry enhancement; unfortunately, the additional sherry notes were not rich enough to make up the difference. Those sherry notes I found in the breezes took the form of raisins and dates with perhaps a hint of prunes as well. It was only after some time had passed that a welling up peat slowly caught up to the sherry scents although both facets of the whisky seemed diminished rather than enhanced.

Interestingly I felt the breezes also carried a light rum-like quality with a molasses and cane-like sweetness. This rum-like quality then gave way to scents of willow thicket and heather. Although I enjoyed the evolution of scents in the breezes I never did feel like the entire combination meshed together as well as it could have.

In the Mouth 49.5/60

The impact of those additional sherry casks was much more evident when I began to sip, as was the Orcadian Peat. Interestingly I thought the combination gave a bit of an oily ‘Bowmore’ twist to the typical Highland Park whisky profile. (See my review for Bowmore 12 here)

I taste an oily peat with both floral heather and willow thicket impacting its flavour. Some sherry-like raisins and prunes are merging into the peat as are some light baking spices honeyed oak and citrus spice. The overall result is a smokier, heavier version of Highland Park. Although some will find the flavour richer and more inviting that Highland Park 12 or 18, I found that the nuances of the Dark Origins were blunted by the sherry and more was lost than gained.

In the Throat 12.5/15

The whisky is thick in the finish with combination of sherry flavours and the Orcadian peat drowning out the light nuances which I normally search for in an aged whisky. Without the lingering sweetness of honey and the light coolness of menthol the exit seems oddly blunt and finishes with a thud rather than a cool slide down the throat.

The Afterburn 8/10

I was disappointed with Highland Park’s Dark Origins. The stronger influence of Sherry cask whisky seems at odds with the heather rich Orcadian peat that Highland Park has become famous for. Many of the herbal and floral nuances which I normally enjoy have been ambushed by the increase sherry influence and this makes the whisky somewhat boring. I suspect though that the whisky would be a great choice for a Rusty Nail Cocktail (see recipe below).

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Suggested Recipe:

The Rusty Nail

Rusty Nail

The official IBA formulation for the Rusty Nail is nine parts of Scotch Whisky to 5 parts of Drambuie.  This is a rather awkward formulation,  so Instead I will suggest a simple 2:1  formulation:

2 oz Highland Park Dark Origins
1 oz Drambuie
Lemon Slice

First fill an 8 oz tumbler glass with crushed ice.
Add the Scotch Whisky and the Drambuie
Stir gently until a the outside of the glass frosts.
Garnish with a lemon slice.


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)






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