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Highland Park Dark Origins

Average score from 8 reviews and 10 ratings 85

Highland Park Dark Origins

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Highland Park Dark Origins

Like an omen foretelling the death of your favourite entry level drams, or a new stellar mark-up: NAS, the acronym that sends shivers down the spine of most whisky enthusiasts. Seemingly whenever a NAS is announced, distillers are about to retire (or at least reduce the availability significantly) a classic, or cash in on our eagerness to pay good money for a fancy bottle by releasing a gimmicky bottle. The result is often an inferior or at least overpriced whisky young and relying mostly on a strong cask finish. So when Highland Park announced Dark Origins accompanied with its own special video advertisement and a stylish black bottle complete with a hooded figure, most of us were rightfully sceptical. Looking back we were proven wrong: they kept their original range and the price stayed at an acceptable level (between the 12yo and 15yo). So what about our second prejudice? Is the dark origins a flavour-driven NAS or just a gimmick, let’s find out…

Description: no age statement, matured in twice as many 1st fill sherry casks as the regular 12yo, bottled at 46.8% ABV, mahogany in colour.

Nose: a rounded sherry nose with a full assembly of appetizing fragrances: dark damp earth, heather, honey and roasted chestnuts. Want more? It has some chocolate notes, lush camphor, a soft touch of orange, while an odd note of potatoes (Glenesk anyone?) is lurking in the background.

Mouth: medium dry body, a palate born in wood smoke and liquorice, with notes of raisins, rough grind dark pepper and cinnamon.

Finish: a medium finish with tones of ham and camphor, the iodine gives it a nice salty edge.

Verdict: To answer my own question: definitely a flavour-driven dram. While expecting an easy sherry bomb, the nature of this beast is something entirely different. While this dram presumable has a young body, inside still beats the heart of an old man, resulting in multiple layers worth exploring. Given the acceptable price, definitely one worth buying.


HP have a history of making quality drams so I was pleased to purchase and open this bottle. It is made from spirit matured in different cask types. 80% first-fill Sherry casks (20% refill) - 60% are first-fill European oak, with 20% being first-fill American oak

Amber in the glass, bottled at 46.8% and bottled in a black bottle.

The nose is smoky, bitter coffee, cinnamon, vanilla and dark fruits.

The palate gives pepper, smoke, coffee and peat.

The finish is long, drying pepper, dark chocolate, fading bitter coffee, peat and smoke.

It is interesting and whilst its good I feel ever so slightly disappointed. I think the HP 12 is bang for buck, the HP 18 is just great and this expression is good....but... for the money its not as good as it should be. Whilst we shouldn't judge on value when tasting it does nag a little. I feel that if you drank it without knowing what it was and you like HP you will like this. Does it fall short of the hype and my expectations? I think both but I still like it, will still drink it and may even buy another bottle in the future.

Great notes! I'd happily drink this any day of the week however I agree that for the price it's not quite up to the point it should be which is a big shame. It's being discontinued soon though so make the most of it until then joy

@GentlemanGrimm , it's being discontinued? Good!

Not that I'm vehemently opposed to it or anything, but I tried it once at a buddy's house and found it pretty lackluster. Mostly, I find its concept and branding to be stupid, childish, and out of step with HP's overall vibe—even the Viking things, which are still mature in a way even when they're dumb.

I'll say it once again: What HP really needs in their lineup a more fully peated whisky that showcases that supposedly "heathery" Orcadian peat that people always go on about, but which I never really discern in HP's normal (light) peating levels.


In my experience I have found HP to have an awful lot of batch variance in their releases, particularly their standard 12YO. Sometimes it's a rich smokey experience, other times I've found it rather bland. The 18YO is generally excellent, (although I've had some samples of that which were not as great as they should have been) and have also been fortunate enough to try the 21YO. But I've also had a very forgettable Indie Bottle recently, (so forgettable I've forgotten who bottled it).

So given the mixed experiences I've had with Highland Park, and my general skepticism towards NAS releases I was in two minds about whether to go for this one.

On the nose I get strong honey and smoke. It's definitely at the far smokey end of HP's general profile. Quite rich, but there is a hint of sharp fruit cutting through. Stewed dates and a bit of fruit pudding. Treacle, which becomes more pronounced as it opens up. Everything stays wrapped in a pleasant smokiness.

Palate: Intense treacle and honey with lots of smoke. Liquorice and Fennel notes. Some black cooked fruit is there - not so much at first but becomes prominent after a bit of time in the glass.

A fairly short-medium finish of rich treacle and smoke, becoming slightly bitter.

Like many, I am not keen on the trend to NAS whiskies but that does not mean they are all bad. This could almost be HP's answer to Ardbeg Uigedail, (well if it was Cask Strength). It is a very nice dram - at the rich smokey end of Highland Park's profile which is just the style I like.

I was rather disappointed with this. Sulphur doesn't usually bother me too much in small quantities, but it ruined this bottling for me. I love HP - this was probably the worst bottling of theirs I've had. One of my all time favorites was a stunning bottling of HP12 - I was new to whisky but if that had been today I would have gone back for more of that!


This Dark Origins from Highland Park is a NAS-release that saw the light of day last year. According to official sources it contains twice as many sherry casks in the mix (next to bourbon) than are used in the classic HP12. That should make for some more dark fruit, no? I am happy that it is bottled at a higher strength, though: 46,8% ABV.

The nose is warm and dark for sure. Pleasant. Loads of sherry influences which translates into raisins, roasted chestnuts, warm oak, touches of earth, nuts of all sorts, a doused bonfire on the beach. Hints of coconut and loads of cinnamon. After a few moments some chocolate kicks in. Yes, this is quite good.

It is creamy and very sweet from the start, but also very spicy. Loads of dried fruits such as raisins, plums and blood oranges. Nicely smoky too. A lot of woodsmoke that promotes the slightly bitter oranges. Liquorice, candied ginger: those are the spices on duty. Midpalate it becomes a tad dry. The oak starts to roar.

The finish is long and offers even more smoke. At the death, a salty edge appears.

Well, well, for a NAS-expression this is quite good. I would have been excellent if there was just a little less wood on the palate. Around 65 EUR.

@Markjedi1 You have got the good Dark Origins. I think there is a lot of variations on that one. I personnaly have tasted it in British Colombia and in Quebec and the sherry influence, the smoke, the peat, the vanilla, the honey where in very different balances. One I would have rate in the low 80' and the other in the high 80'. To be honest, even the quality of the sherry was note the same. But the barley is superb in both. So thanks for another great review that is, as usual, spot on!

@Robert99, cheers, sir! I guess I got lucky.


The first bottle of Highland Park Dark Origins which I sampled and reviewed was very bad, with nothing to smell and taste, after 6 weeks open, but sulphur. Happily, Take # 2 from a different bottle is a better experience. The currently reviewed bottle is owned by @Nock, and has been open for 6 weeks

I make a big deal online and in person of pointing out that two or more bottles of whisky with the same labels can taste and smell markedly different from one another

Sometimes you get a great bottle, and then find disappointment in a second one of the same expression. Other times you get a bad bottle, but find a later bottle of the "same" whisky to be much different and much better. I have had quite a few experiences of both of these extreme examples of whisky brand 'cognitive dissonance'. Some very popular whiskies I was ready to abandon for good until I realised that it could be that only one bottle in 5, 10, 20, or 100 was of the crappy sort of my first experience of it. I did indeed find out that more often than not that whisky was indeed much better than had been my first experience of it

Nose: decent Highland Park malt, with nice sherry wine flavours, and some sulphur. In this bottle the nose sulphur is noticeable and a defect, but it is not enough to ruin the whisky. You can still also smell most of the other flavours

Taste: sulphured sherry is 'dirty sherry'. The sulphur presence in this bottle is more noticeable on the palate than in the nose. It is still not enough to dominate the whisky and to override the other flavours. You can taste the Highland Park barley malt. You can taste the sherry wine flavours. The wine and malt flavours are quite pleasant here, and only partially marred by the sulphur presence

Finish: the continuation of the palate finishes on the dirty side of the sherry

Balance: subtract the sulphur and Dark Origins is another great Highland Park whisky. I am not surprised that those who are not sulphur sensitive like this batch of Dark Origins whisky. This is still a significantly damaged whisky. Every sample of Highland Park 15 yo and 18 yo which I have tasted, has been much cleaner than is this, the cleaner of the two bottles of Highland Park Dark Origins from which I have sampled

I managed to total score this better bottle of Dark Origins the same as did Jim Murray. Don't buy the OTHER bottle of this which I reviewed. But then, you won't know which of those bottles being sold are the ringer bottles

Water added: 1) bundled the nose flavours, and mades the whisky higher pitched and sweeter, 2) bundled and homogenised the flavours on the palate, and somewhat reduced the sulphur influence, and 3) greatly lessened the sulphur influence on the finish. Water is a good way to go with this partiular bottle of this particular whisky. I would say that water adds 3 points to the score

Strength: 22/25; very good strength of flavours across the board

Quality: 18/22; some very good flavours, some lousy flavours

Variety: 21/25; good variety, but you just wish one of the prominent flavours were absent

Harmony: 20/25; it's hard for sulphur to harmonise with anything else

Comment: this is the sort of review which I love to do, because it illustrates two points which I think need to be more emphasised, 1) that there is frequent significant batch and bottle variation in whisky, and 2) that for those who are sensitive to it, sulphur currently frequently ruins even the best brands of Scottish malt

Thanks for the update @Victor. A great and comprehensive review, as always. Everyone and everything deserves a second chance. Although it sounds as if this batch is better than your first one, I think I will still give this one a miss. Sad to see the dreaded sulphur rearing its ugly head yet again. I have always been happy with the 12, which in my experience has been a reliable and consistent dram. And it costs considerably less than the DO, so I think that's where I will continue to put my HP dollars.

@BlueNote, I've had 3 or 4 BenRiachs, including, I think, the 12 yo sherry matured among them. I don't remember smelling or tasting sulphur in the ones I've sampled.

I like Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX so much I named one of my cars Sonnalta. You and I will have to have some Sonnalta PX if we ever taste face to face. I made a point of putting several bottles of it away.

Macallan is tricky. The North American Cask Strength had a good clean sherry, but that one is getting rare to find.

Even Glenfarclas isn't always clean in the quality of its sherry.

If I want flawless sherried malt, I drink Amrut Intermediate Sherry.


Highland Park Dark Origins is 'Double first fill sherry cask' matured. There is No Age Statement. The reviewed bottle has been open for 2 months

Nose: can you say 'Sulphur'? The sulphur is intense and dominates the nose from sniff # 1. Sure, there's sherry there too, and some malt, but if you can smell sulphur, you will smell it here in spades. This is no little sulphur, and really gives the whisky a big hit

Taste: yes, the sulphur also dominates the palate. I cannot get past it

Finish: more of the same...sulphur, sulphur, and more sulphur

Balance: there is only one obvious element here, so there is really nothing to balance. If you are highly sulphur insensitive you may like Dark Origins. Otherwise Highland Park Dark Origins is a classic example of a completely sulphur-dominated malt whisky. I usually like Highland Park whisky, but I have a hard time drinking Highland Park Dark Origins

Adding water doesn't change things much

@Victor I'm very sorry to ear that. It is always a deception when you get a bad bottle. I think there must be a few casks with sulphur but I doubt we can say that Dark Origins has sulphur as part of its profile. At least I hope so, since I bought two bottles. I tasted it before I purchased it and it was very good. Viewing all the mixed reviews, there is probably more than one batch on the market or there was some bad casks. In any case, it is good that you raise a flag and I hope you'll get the opportunity to taste an HP Dark Origins without sulphur soon.

@FMichael, I appreciate your concern for me. In this case the bottle was bought by my sister. She likes the whisky fine, so everything is OK. Big Sis doesn't do descriptors in her appreciation of her enormous spirits collection. Either she likes it or she doesn't.

I did quickly notice the sulphur in Dark Origins when this bottle was first opened, but two months of air exposure just accentuated the sulphur a great deal more. I would have rated this bottle 5 or 10 points higher based strictly on Dark Origins on the day the bottle was opened.


Let’s welcome the newest member of the HP core range. This NAS expression was matured in 80% first-fill sherry butts and 20% refills, so we can expect a good dose of fruity depth here. Apparently the “dark” character of this whisky alludes to a legendary illicit distiller on Orkney, Magnus Eunson, who ran his business under the cloak of night before he founded HP as a legitimate operation. Ok, sure. Let’s taste.

Nose: Initially quite closed, this needs time and water. Caramel, oranges, sherry, heather, coffee, and barley. With time we get cinnamon and sweet cocoa.

Palate: Thick, sweet mouthfeel. Big sherry, tangerines, sweet sultanas, dark berries, milk chocolate, peanut brittle, and some hazelnuts.

Finish: Medium length and sweet. There’s lots of heavy caramel, butter, tangerines, faint smoke, nuts, heather, baking spices, oak, licorice, and loads of both milk chocolate and dark chocolate.

Thoughts: This definitely benefits from water and time. Initially it’s a pretty closed-off whisky. The longer it sits in the glass, the more luxurious it becomes, as sherry, tangerines, and chocolate come to the fore. This is balanced and rich, and the evolution in the glass makes it especially interesting.

Overall this is a very solid Highland Park. It’s nice to have a member of their core range with a decent abv. As usual, the caramel note tends to steal some of the clarity of the peripheral flavours. But the traditional HP flavours of thick caramel, quality sherry, and lush barley are here in spades. But after all the marketing and talk of added sherry casks, this is still closer to the standard profile than I’d hoped. It’s delicious and recommended, but just a tad expensive and over-hyped for what it is.

Very interesting and informative. My sister just bought a bottle of this, so I will get to taste and review this soon.

'Closed off' is common with Highland Park, in my experience of it. I'll bet that Dark Origins will be extremely interesting with somewhere between 3 and 7 months of air time.

Thanks for your review, @hunggar!

Thanks, @Victor. It's for precisely that reason that I waited several months before reviewing it. This benefits greatly from time in the bottle as well as time in the glass.

Looking forward to your review.


Well this is really a shift from the norm by Highland Park. I did not really know what to expect after all the hype but I was not disappointed. This is a fabulous dessert whisky. On the nose there is delicious sherry spice with lots of fruit and nut. The palate offers a hint of peat smoke followed by loads of dark chocolate and cherries. Lots of tongue tingling flavours. The finish is long with a huge hit of chocolate and subtle smokiness. Mmmm time for another!

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