The Highland Park distillery is an interesting one, being located in the Orkney Islands (not in the Highlands, regardless of the name), it is the Northern-most distillery in Scotland. They use local peat, apparently to a level of around 20ppm, which is rather different from most other sources, and they malt their own barley using the traditional floor-malting method. Top marks there.
With the above in mind, I was looking forward to trying this 'Dark Origins' bottling. They seem to have taken a much more craft-friendly approach with this recent addition, being bottled at 46.3%, being non-chill filtered, and apparently being without added colouring. The only not-so-good move, in my book, was to add this one to the growing Non-Age Statement (NAS) sector. It may be relatively young, but that's nothing to be ashamed of!
The Dark Origins bottling, according to the distillery, has been matured in double the amount of sherry casks in comparison to their standard 12yo. Not very revealing is it? Nevertheless, this is the main reason for the name, with the sherry casks giving a darker colour and deeper flavour. Let's have a closer look...
Highland Park Dark Origins, NAS, 46.8%, Orkney Islands, Scotland.
Non-chill filtered, no added colouring, matured in 'double the usual amount of' ex-sherry casks.
Colour: Medium bronze.
Nose: Nice dry & rich sherry, quite salty, I'm guessing first fill dry Oloroso sherry casks, or perhaps Amontillado. Toasted and spiced dried fruits. Not getting any real peat or smoke on the nose though.
Texture: Dry and viscous, thanks for not chill filtering!
Taste: Dry & peaty, more heathery/herbaceous peat, not medicinal, and some dark chocolate. Less salty than on the nose, but much more yummy peat, also less sherry presence than on the nose, but it's there, lovely and dry. No alcohol heat to speak of, a good indicator of good quality, and good maturation.
Finish: Short-to-medium length, mouth-watering and dry, spicy and peaty, then some dark chocolate bitterness, and light smoke at the end.
Score: 3.5 out of 5.
Notes: Certainly my favourite Highland Park from those I've tried. Much better than even the more expensive 18yo. It seems to be priced above the 15yo and slightly below the 18, which is about right in my book. The NAS (Non-Age Statement) shadow lurks overhead, meaning you can't quite be sure if it's a fair price or not, but this is becoming unavoidable in the world of whisky.
Nevertheless, Highland Park Dark Origins passes with ease, and has bumped this distillery up in my head. Unfortunately it's becoming harder to find in Australia, but is still on shelves around the world, and is well worth trying.
How about a more heavily-peated bottling HP? Perhaps with a similar maturation treatment to this one. Pretty please...
P.S On further reading after the review, HP's own website states they use dry Oloroso sherry casks. Win!