Highland Park Dark Origins Review

Highland Park is the northernmost distillery in Scotland, situated just a short distance north of its neighbor, Scapa Distillery, on the Orkney Islands. It’s so far north that it’s almost more Scandinavian than Scottish (and indeed, the distillery often plays up its Viking heritage in its marketing and product labeling). By the way, while I’m talking about locations in Scotland, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the excellent Whisky Map of Scotland available on the Malt Madness website. It’s a terrific resource that will give you a good understanding of the geography of Scotland and its different whisky producing regions.

Highland Park was originally founded in 1798 (according to the distillery), although it wasn’t officially licensed until 1826. The distillery is known for its distinctive style of lightly peated, heathery malt, usually with a Sherry influence. Highland Park is extremely popular amongst whisky drinkers, both novices and experts alike. That said, I have to make a confession. I am not a fan of Highland Park. I find their standard 12 year old to be weak, watery, and thoroughly uninteresting. The 18 year is supposed to be terrific, but it is quite expensive so I’ve never tried it. (If they made a good 12 year old, I’d be willing to spend the money on the 18, but since I don’t like the 12, why would I bother with something so expensive?) But I never want to completely write off a distillery based on one or two bottles, so when I found out that Highland Park was discontinuing their popular Dark Origins bottling, I decided to pick up a bottle while I still could.

Dark Origins is a no age statement (NAS) single malt whisky that is heavy on sherry matured malt. I like a good sherry maturation, and I love a whisky with a light to medium peat level, so I should enjoy Dark Origins. Right? Let’s find out.

Highland Park Dark Origins Review

Type: Single Malt Scotch
Region: Highlands
ABV: 46.8%
Non chill-filtered

Nose: Red Licorice. Cherry fruit chews. Playdoh. Mint chocolate chip ice cream. Flower shop. Seems artificial, although it improves a little with some air.

Palate: Artificial cherry. Heather and peat. Vague tropical fruits. Red wine that’s been sitting in a glass for a few days and is going bad. A touch sour. Like the nose, the palate does get better with exposure to air—a bit of chocolate and cherry cordials emerge. Even so, it’s not particularly interesting… or tasty.

Finish: Sour. Cheap and gross fruit candy. Playdoh. Heather. Some peat. Sulphur. Not very good. Medium in length… wish it was shorter.

Overall: I’m not a fan. Immature. Cask quality is questionable. Tastes fake. I feel like there are some nice flavors lurking in the background, but unfortunately they are drowned out by the unpleasant/artificial notes. As I mentioned, this does improve some with exposure to air—to even enjoy this a little bit, I had to let it sit in a glass for at least 30 minutes after pouring. And even then, it still isn’t very good.

This is almost as bad as the Glentauchers 16 I recently reviewed, which received the lowest score I’ve ever given to a whisky so far. The only reason it gets a better score than the Glentauchers is because at least I was able to finish a glass of Dark Origins without pouring it down the drain. Barely.

I thought that one of the reasons I don’t like Highland Park 12 is that it’s bottled at only 43%, and it seems like a whisky that begs to be bottled at a higher ABV. Since Dark Origins comes in at 46.8% ABV, I expected that I’d like it more. I was wrong. I guess the issue I have with Highland Park isn’t ABV-related—I simply don’t like the whisky.

I really want to like Highland Park. I really do. And I know there are a lot of people who enjoy Dark Origins. But I don’t get it. To my tastes, this is not good whisky. Maybe someday I’ll get to try the 18 year old, and maybe I’ll love it like many others do. I hope I do. But as it stands now, I have been completely unimpressed with the whisky coming from Orkney (OK, that’s not fair—I have had some Scapa that I like).

If you’re a fan of Dark Origins, stock up on it now, because it won’t be around for much longer. If you’ve never tried Dark Origins, well in my opinion, you’re not missing much. I will not mourn its loss.

Buy Again? No.

Score: 72/100

Questions about my scoring system? Refer to the Review Method & Scoring Scale page.

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