Highland Park Dark Origins Tasting Notes

Look how far north that is!

Look how far north that is!

I haven’t written many tasting notes from Highland Park, though I’ve had my fair share, and today I get a chance to remedy that with a look at Highland Park Dark Origins.

A little background on Highland Park, it’s the northern most distillery in Scotland and located in Kirkwall, Orkney. There it is on the right under the red location marker! The biggest confusion about it is that it’s not from the Highlands, which is the area that surrounds Speyside. The name comes from the local area being named “High Park” because it’s higher than the area around it. The confusion is significant because Highland uses locally cut peat and that imparts distinct flavors to the spirit, a flavor that is absent from traditional Highland and Speyside malts.

In terms of peatiness, it’s believed that Highland Park peats their malt to 20 ppm, which puts it well into the realm of Islays when it comes to peatiness (at least measured scientifically).

Highland Park Dark Origins 750ml

Highland Park Dark Origins 750ml

Where does Dark Origins fit it? The name Dark Origins refers to the illicit distillery run by founder Magnus “Mansie” Eunson that would later become Highland Park. What separates it from Highland Park 12 is that they used twice as many first fill sherry casks and so much of what is passed along to the spirit is more intense.

Dark Origins has no age statment (NAS) and the bottle looks awesome. I had mentioned that I thought Bruichladdich Octomore’s matte black bottle looked sexy as hell and it looks like HP took a page out of that book, going with a black matte bottle as well.

  • Color: A dark amber, not quite what I’d call mahogany (also, Highland Park does not use distiller’s caramel so the color is all from the cask)
  • Nose: Initial light smoke that’s familiar with HP with spice, sherried notes of dry fruit, and a hint of banana.
  • Palate: Nice body, smoke on the front and then many of flavors associated with a sherry maturation like spices, walnuts, almond, and some orange peel.
  • Finish: Dry, chocolatey, medium finish

Dark Origins is bottled at 46.8% ABV (non-chillfiltered, though it wouldn’t have to be) and I found it listed for $89.99 locally. It’s currently unavailable though.

That puts the price above the 15 YO ($88) but below the 18 YO ($140). General impressions is that the increased use of sherry gives his a lot more flavor, punch, and body; I’m a little hesitant about the price tag though, $90 for a NAS with its aged cousins so close by makes me pause. That said, if I knew nothing and purchased this on name alone, I wouldn’t be disappointed and I wouldn’t think I overpaid – it’s definitely worth it.

Update: For what it’s worth, the suggested retail price is only $79.99… the local store was marking it up by ten bucks! I retract my earlier hesitation. You might ask – “does $10 make a big difference?” The answer is no, not really, but when you’re in the store, $89.99 and $79.99 look very different.

If see Bowmore Darkest 15 YO at $79.99 and Highland Park Dark Origins at $89.99 (they are not the same but singing familiar tunes), maybe I pick up the cheaper one with the age statement. If they’re both similarly priced, I might go with HP Dark Origins simply because it’s new (FWIW, I am impartial to age statements… i.e. I’m not a snob about it).

And the bottle looks badass!

Scotch Night: Jura, Laphroaig, Glenmorangie, Chivas Regal, Macallan, Highland Park

I mentioned last week that having a Scotch Night was a great way to sample a wide variety of scotches without spending a wide variety of dollars. I must admit, the idea to write the article come from the fact that my friends and I would be having one of these Scotch Nights the very next day! (1/16/09)

So, the roster was:

  • Jura 18
  • Laphroiag 10 & a quarter casks version
  • Glenmorangie 10
  • Chivas Regal 18 (our only blend)
  • Macallan 15
  • Highland Park 12

Jura-18yo-bottle-and-cartonThe Jura 18 was a bottle I picked up coming back from England last Thanksgiving and I was eager to try it because it wasn’t available here in the United States. The Isle of Jura 18 Year Old is a 40% abv scotch and the only scotch from that island. My memory of the Jura is that it’s sweet and very soft, no doubt a product of its age, and it definitely captures the mood Jura tries to invoke, which is a celebration of the island life.

The Isle of Jura itself is 16 miles off the coast of Scotland, near Islay, and measures only 30 miles long by 7 miles wide, a population of only 185. The main settlement on Jura is a village known as Craighouse where they distill Isle of Jura. What’s most interesting is that there is no ferry connection to mainland Scotland, travel must be done through Islay, though that connection, or its heavy peat, doesn’t come through in the whiskey!

chivas_regal_18The Chivas Regal 18 was the only blend of the bunch and headquartered in Speyside. My novice palate had trouble with the Chivas Regal 18 because the spiciness tripped up the fruity flavors, having both really threw me for a loop. I could definitely taste both but I couldn’t get past the spiciness to really enjoy the fruit (I love spicy food) and spiciness isn’t something I typically taste in scotch, further confusing me a little.

A little bit of history, Chivas Regal is produced in the oldest working distillery in the Highlands of Scotland, the Strathisla Distillery.

Those were some notes I had from our Scotch Night. With each night, I’m slowly developing a better palate and a better sense of the scotches that I enjoy. In prior scotch nights, I discovered I enjoyed peatiness and smokiness in moderation (Laphroaig and Lagavulin!) but liked the fruitier and more vanilla-y scotches for longer stretches.

Oh, one other thing we did during scotch night, besides eat and drink, was watch The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly… which was a lot longer than we thought it was. 🙂